Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday 14 July 2020

The Game Shelf Previews:- Dollars to Donuts

Game: Dollars to Donuts

Publisher: Crafty Games

Designer: Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, Shawn Stankewich

Year: 2020

Dollars to Donuts is a puzz-ly tile-laying game coming to Kickstarter from small publisher Crafty Games. Don't be fooled though - the three designers credited for Dollars to Donuts are the same three names you'll see on the box of Point Salad - one of the best family card games to be released in 2019! Much like Point Salad, Dollars to Donuts is a family weight game a similar short gameplay and caused us to want to play over and over again.

As a partly Portland-based design team, perhaps there's a nod here to the famous Voodoo Donut store in Portland, where I have queued for a maple bacon donut with the tourist masses. In Dollars to Donuts you'll be trying to create the most enticing and customer pleasing tray of donuts for your shop window, but with just three varieties of ring donut, some jelly donuts and a few donut holes. Perhaps the classic donuts are best after all?

Or perhaps not?

Each player will start the game with a personal grid and 4 small donut trays, each on a unique row and column of their grid. These small trays each show 2 half donuts of one of the four types, which must be completed during the game to reap rewards. Each player also starts with a small amount of money tokens. On your turn you choose on of the donut trays to buy from the central market. The first tile is free, with the fresher costing increasing amounts of money. Once you buy a tray you must add it to your board. Each of the trays gained during the game are four by one tiles which you can freely rotate, and also have hanging off the edge of your grid.

Whenever these donut trays cause you to create a completed donut (2 halves put together) then you get a reward. If the donut is made of two halves of the same type then you simply take a donut token of the respective type. If the donut is made of two distinct colours then you immediately sell it for up to three money tokens. Money tokens can be used to expand your choice of trays during the buying phase, but also can be flipped over revealing bonus tiles that can be added to your board to fill in awkward gaps. On money tiles you'll find half donuts, but also donut holes which score you bonus points for every pair you have on your board. You can only add one bonus tile to your board every turn, so you can't wait too long to start placing them.

Once you have a collection of donut tokens you might wish to start selling them to customers. Customers come from three different locations to try your deep fried delicacies and there are bonus points for having the most customers from each of the locations, as well as for having complete sets of three. Each customer has three tiers that you can serve them at, costing more donuts, but scoring more bonus points. The game ends once one player has completed their grid, at which point each player will score points for served customers, sets of customers and any spare donuts (of varying value) they had left at the end of the game.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

I think Dollars to Donuts may be the first tile placement game I've played to give me a personal board and then say "Go over the edge if you like, we're not the boss of you". It's strangely freeing and presents a huge change to the way you approach the puzzle. Almost everything you add to the board is a 1x4 stick of do-nutty goodness, which makes it trivially easy to accidentally make sections of the board that wouldn't normally be able to fit any new tiles. But by not letting the outside of the board be a limiting factor, you are far less likely to be caught out by such mistakes. Since the tiles may have half donuts on any side, including the short ones, the strategy of simply lining them up in a row doesn't work as well as you might think, even without the starting tiles getting in the way. You soon start placing tiles in different orientations to make the best donuts and you'll often be spending money to get that optimal tile for you during the buying phase.

Going over the edge might be freeing, but you can't make money from donuts that are out of bounds, so it's still a less efficient play. As such the game keeps the spatial puzzle you'd expect from a tile laying game despite only having one tile shape. I'm not sure that I necessarily prefer it that way, certainly the good old Tetris L shape would have come in handy numerous times while playing, but it works, which is far more than I expected when I first saw the components.

Which customer to serve is often the key choice in the game, especially the age old question of quality vs quantity. The customers in the game need at least 2 donuts to be served and typically offer just above market value in points for those first 2 donuts, if you give them a third donut, that typically comes with a bigger points bonus and the fourth gives the biggest. However with the addition of set collection it can be extremely tempting to serve anyone minimum portions and get through more customers for those bonuses. After all who really needs to eat 4 donuts? What kind of greedy person would possibly need that many calories of fried batter in one serving... Oh, right... Me.

Dollars to Donuts is a lighthearted, charming tile laying game which is easy to pick up. The tile laying is fraught with more difficult decisions than you might expect. The biggest downside to me was the pure bias towards ring donuts! Where's the jam-love Crafty Games?

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Dollars to Donuts really grabs you with its theme and it's hard to resist the way that your board looks at the end of the game. It's really intuitive to see which are the best and most valuable donuts and the board of freshness really makes me smile with its 'Fresh', 'Fresh-ish', 'Not So Fresh' labeling.

I don't think I've encountered a tile laying game quite like Dollars to Donuts. I lie that you're not just thinking about the four sides of your square tile like you would be in Carcassonne or many, many other games, you've got essentially a 4 x 1 tile and it has 10 different possible edges that can match or not match with something else. Then again, it doesn't matter if you don't match and you need to decide whether its more important to get donuts or some spending money. Getting currency is cool and lets you buy a tile that might fit more neatly into your board, but the flip side of currency is half donut rings or Timbits donut holes, which are also a great way to fill gaps and rack up some points. I've lost games because Amy was far more on top of her game with filling up the board as she went - there's a lot of negatives if you have empty space on your board!

The tile-laying is fun to optimise by itself, but the addition of customers to focus the type of donuts you want to collect is the epitome of sprinkles on top. The end game points for set collection of people from the same and different neighbourhoods can be a deal breaker, and boosting the points of your donuts is pretty good too. It seems to be a valid strategy to either collect lots of customers of to completely fulfil their orders, which I wasn't expecting on face value.

The design team at Flatout Games have a great track record and while I'm not sure Dollars to Donuts as the same magic as Point Salad it's still a fantastic tile laying game, with a delicious theme. There's a lot to enjoy with the theme and mechanisms of Dollars to Donuts and it is a great family-weight tile-laying option.

You Might Like...
  • The characters are diverse in gender and race, but they are all decidedly hipster!
  • There's always something good to do on your turn, even if it's not perfect.
  • Dollars to Donuts has a theme, art style and sense of fun that really makes you smile.
You Might Not Like...
  • Initial board setup feels pretty crucial and can be a weakness for first time players.
  • It's possible to get a little trapped with no money and few options in the early game.

The Verdict
Dollars to Donuts brings a theme that makes you smile into a game that makes you think. It's a tile laying game like no other we've played with lots of options for optimisation and some clever set collection mechanics alongside the tile-laying puzzle. It's got style and substance and is a great family weight tile-laying game.

Dollars to Donuts was a review copy kindly provided to us by Crafty Games. All photos are of a prototype copy. It is coming to Kickstarter during July 2020.

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