Originally published to the Daily Worker Placement on December 11th, 2020.
As a young lad, my understanding of dice was twofold – they either moved your pieces around the board in Monopoly, or they were used to attack your foes in Risk. In my limited world view, dice literally had no other lot in life.
Someone must have given the simple six sided die a solid pep talk, telling them they can grow up to be anything they want. Because these days, dice have evolved to become the exalted one of all components! Worker Placement? Dice can do it! Action Selection? Dice are up to the task! Need some building materials? Dice can be the foundation, drywall, and even the windows!
Black Oak Games brings several new purposes to our noble six sided cube with Knot Dice and its expansion, Knot Dice: Squared.
What is Knot Dice, you ask? It’s a collection of games and logic puzzles, most of which are designed by Matthew O’Malley. You might recognize O’Malley’s name from his co-designs of popular titles such as Between Two Cities (Stonemaier Games), the sequel/smash-up game Between Two Cities of Mad King Ludwig, and The Search for Planet X (Foxtrot Games, Renegade Game Studios).
Inside the base Knot Dice box are 18 dice, a handful of tokens, and a separate rulebook for each collection of games and puzzles. The Squared expansion adds in another 26 dice, a few more tokens, and another two books with both new and updated games and puzzles.
Before we jump into the games and puzzles themselves, let’s take a moment to marvel at the quality of these dice. Both durable and beautiful, these cubes feel fantastic in our hands, have a satisfying weight, and are quite the showpiece to keep out on the table. Both of my daughters were attracted to them and were quick to take over the table as soon as I looked the other direction. I was able to leave these two Destructicons alone with Knot Dice, trusting that no damage would come to them. (We’ll ignore the fact that they quickly started fighting over who got to play with more of them!)
Each die in the boxes feature weaving patterns, and when they are assembled in certain ways, they create the image of a closed knot. Whether it be through the puzzles or games offered by this package, Knot Dice is all about creating these complete and closed Celtic knot designs.
The introductory game is a cooperative jaunt for 1 to 3 players, entitled Kells. Each player begins with two of the dice, with the remainder set aside as a pool to draw from later. Turns are comprised of two steps – take a die from the pool and roll it into your personal supply, then add one die to a central design shared by all players. If a player is unable to add one of their dice, or perhaps does not want to, one of their dice is discarded from the game. Three discarded dice will end the game, and result in a cooperative loss. Any number of dice formed into a closed knot will win the game for players, and the team’s score is calculated by counting the number of dice used, and subtracting the largest dimension between the knot’s width or length. For instance, using 9 dice in a perfect 3 by 3 square would score six points for the team.
Eleven other games are included in the base box. Some of these are more complex variants of Kells, while others involve storytelling, competitive speed puzzling, a snake-based push your luck game, and even a knot-building nod to Between Two Cities! The number of unique experiences offered in this package is truly impressive, and will appeal to a diverse array of gamer styles. All this is without even mentioning the 50+ logic puzzles included in the other rulebook!
Before moving on to the Squared expansion, I’d like to quickly mention a couple memorable experiences from the base game. Despite all of the interesting experiences, the one I keep coming back to is Kells and its two variants – The Book and The Abbey. It’s the most intuitive of the lot, and if Knot Dice only offered these games it would be worth the asking price of $35 USD. As of this writing, it’s also the only game my 5 year old Big Bean has had the attention span to enjoy from start to finish. The turns are quick, and teams need to decide early if they want a quick and easy victory, or if they should push for a larger knot design for more victory points. Many games of Kells have hinged on the final dice placement, which is a really satisfying moment to experience, win or lose!
Minarets is designed by Suzanne & Chris Zinsli (creators of 2018’s Ceylon), and is the game previously mentioned as being inspired by Between Two Cities. I had the most pure fun playing this game, building towers on either side of me. Other players at my table had mixed feelings about this one, but even if it doesn’t quite stack up to its predecessor for everyone, having this game as an option with the same components is absolute gravy.
Now let’s move on to Knot Dice: Squared, which adds 26 more dice to the system and three new types of dice. Whereas the classic Knot Dice faces have at most a single exit point from each side, these expansion dice have two lanes of traffic. The designs on the Squared dice feature sharper corners than those on the originals, and the two types of dice can only be connected via Bridge dice. Each Bridge die includes both single and parallel access points, making these the most important dice of the expansion, but also the most frustrating!
From the Squared games, 4 Get Me Knots is a really twisty solo challenge making use of all 44 dice. Each turn involves taking any four dice, rolling them, and then assigning them to eight different knot designs. These designs must each contain a different number of dice, from two all the way up to nine total dice. One point is earned for each complete Celtic knot, with the best possible score being 8 points.
Most of my other Squared experiences have been boosting the challenge level of the original Knot Dice games. Making sure to ration out the Bridge dice adds a new level of stress in nearly every game, and takes some of them from a casual experience to something that encourages some serious brain sweat. Of the new games, I’m most excited to play Hedgerows, which is co-designed by O’Malley and Elizabeth Hargrave (of Wingspan and Mariposas fame), a competitive game of building dice hedges both up and out, but never more than dice length away from what your opponent is building.
I absolutely love games that can be tossed into a backpack for coffee dates or hiking breaks, and there are few packages that fill this role better than Knot Dice. My plan is to find a nice drawstring bag to store all the dice in, and keep digital copies of the rulebooks on my smartphone for this exact purpose. My children enjoyed their free play exploration of the dice, just building random patterns with no direction from me. As mentioned previously, Big Bean really enjoyed the Kells game, and has asked to revisit the game without any parental prodding – always a good sign!
Not all of the games and puzzles were a smash hit with my adult friends, but everyone found at least one game they wanted to play a second and third time. And for solo players, the Knot Dice package is an amazing value for the variety of challenges offered.
If you’re curious to give it a try, Knot Dice can be purchased directly from the Black Oak Games website. For players new to puzzle games, the base box is probably plenty, but those seeking a stressful challenge might want to pick up the Squared expansion as well.
The Daily Worker Placement thanks Black Oak Games for sending a review copy of Knot Dice and Knot Dice Squared.
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Reading this makes me want to give some of the other variants a try!
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