What's Eric Playing? #145: Problem Picnic: Attack of the Ants
I used to have a fair bit of issues in my game groups with people taking games a bit too seriously. This would cause some problems if they lost and got upset or people would yell at each other and honestly the whole thing was a bit too much. It’s part of the reason I don’t really play Avalon anymore — some games lend themselves to that kind of behavior. The nice thing is, some games just … don’t. Ice Cool is one, Rhino Hero: Super Battle is another, Flip Ships is on that list too. (That said, I’ve seen people get pretty salty about Mars Open: Tabletop Golf.) Something about sillier / dexterity games tend to be a bit more calm than the sort of social deduction genre / high complexity games.
To add another potential entry to that list, let’s talk about Problem Picnic: Attack of the Ants, from Kids Table Board Gaming. In Problem Picnic, you play as competing ant colonies trying their absolute best to ruin someone’s delightful picnic. This is not a good thing to do. Why are you doing this? Well, you’re ants. You don’t care. So send out your workers and soldiers and scouts for the glory of your Queen. Can you just absolutely wreck someone’s picnic?
So the core of the game are these dice:
Split them up by color and give each player one, along with an anthill card in their color:
It’s kind of surprising how long it takes to notice that the flower on those cards are different. Anyways, you’ll also want to shuffle the Picnic cards and lay them out in one of these three orientations:
Left to right is 2 – 4 players. Try to leave room in between the cards such that a large die could fit in between them without touching any card. Place the stack of Picnic cards out of the play area, near the Puddle Card. Neither of these cards should interfere with dice rolls. Now, set out the Majority card and X Scoring cards, where X is the number of players + 1:
Shuffle the large Reward tokens and put one on each white half circle on the various cards:
The small tokens are Tie tokens, and you won’t need those until the game ends.
Now, shuffle the Round Cards:
Put 5 in a pile, face-down, and set them next to the Action tokens, outside of the play area:
Those are a Whole Thing. Anyways, once you’ve done that, you should be ready to start!
Problem Picnic is played over 5 rounds. Each round, you and your ants rudely conspire to wreak havoc upon some unsuspecting picnic. How do you do that?
Well, all your ants are dice, so … I’m sure you have some idea.
Basically, on your turn, you’ll roll any of your ant dice towards the Picnic cards. There are three types:
- Scouts (the small d6s) can be re-rolled once if they don’t hit anything or land on a Picnic card.
- Workers (the big d6) have no special abilities, but they have lots of ants!
- Soldiers (the big d12) can’t get tired. More on that later.
Each player does so in turn order until everyone is out of dice. You may end up knocking another player’s die with your die; that’s not only allowed, it’s strictly encouraged. Once you’ve run out of dice, resolve them:
- If any player has a die on more than one card, let them choose in turn order which Picnic card to keep their die on.
- Figure out who claims each Picnic card:
- The player with the highest number of ants (each ant on a die counts as one ant) claims the card.
- If there’s a tie, the player with more dice on the Picnic card claims it.
- If there’s still a tie, the player with the bigger dice on the Picnic card claims it.
- If there’s somehow still a tie, nobody claims it.
- Move all of the winner’s dice on the card to the Puddle; they’ll be taking a break next round instead of going to get more food. If any of those dice are the Soldier, return the Soldier to the Anthill instead of the Puddle; as mentioned, the Soldier ants can’t get tired.
For each card you claim, immediately add it to your Colony by flipping it face-down and playing it on one of the visible ants in your Colony. Naturally, for your first card, you’ll just play it. You can rotate cards before you place them, but you cannot cover any plates and you must place on an ant. Once placed, you cannot move cards. These cards will help you score later, sort of like this:
Now, refill the Picnic cards that got claimed and choose a starting player for next round. The starting player is the player who currently has the fewest plates in their colony. If there’s a tie, it’s the player with the fewest dice on their anthill, currently. Again, if still tied, roll all your dice, and the player with more ants showing is the starting player.
The starting player takes the Round card and reveals it to everyone — these allow you to use Action tokens to do fun actions like stomping on your opponents’ ants, setting up a wine bottle to block dice rolls, or throwing winged ants onto the field. Round cards tell you when they can be used, so make sure not to forget!
Now, take any ant dice that were in the Puddle from last round (not the dice you just sent to the Puddle), and you’re ready to start a new round! If there were no Round cards for the new starting player to draw, then you’ve played 5 rounds and the game is over!
Look at the scoring cards. The Majority card will give points to any player who has the most blue plates, green plates, purple plates, watermelons, sandwiches, or cookies. The other Scoring cards give you points for obeying certain criteria, like having the largest or smallest colony. If you tie with another player, instead of taken the big token, all tied players get a 3 point Tie token.
Once all Rewards are resolved, the player with the most points wins!
PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES
The major differences at various player counts is the level of contention. There are just a lot of dice at higher player counts and it’s not the easiest thing to control or aim for. That said, at two players, there isn’t quite enough contention, at times? It’s not bad at two players; far from it, in fact. I’m just a big fan of this game at three players, which is also nice because three is a notoriously difficult number to get games for (five is harder, though, which is why I appreciated Bemused). The nice thing at higher player counts is that you also have more Picnic cards in play, which helps players who can’t aim at all (me).
I don’t think any player count is bad, but my personal preference is for three players.
I don’t think I’ve ever won this game? Either way, I’ll give you my best advice.
- Focus on the higher-scoring stuff. It’s a small point swing, but it’s worth it if you can get it.
- It’s better to be part of a tie than get nothing at all. Try to horn in on ties if you see another player getting away from you.
- I usually lead with the Scouts. There are fewer dice for them to hit, so it’s more likely that I’ll get to reroll them. And, given that my aim is atrocious, I reroll them a lot.
- The Workers have the most ants on their sides. Use them to win Picnic cards, as four ants on one die isn’t too bad.
- If you can’t take something, make your opponent fight you for it. This is particularly good if you can force an opponent to use three dice to take a Picnic card from you. This means that they lose access to three dice next round and you have a better shot of getting more stuff.
- In the same vein, know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. Don’t go three or four dice in just to win a single Picnic card. If someone’s got two dice on it, just let them have it. Or, well, take another route.
- Don’t be afraid to use dice to slam other players’ dice away. Not only is it good strategy, but it’s also … a lot of fun?
- Use your Round cards. For some reason I occasionally see players just … forget to use their Round cards over the course of the game. They’re game-changers, so … don’t forget. Even if you save them all until the last round, there are only so many cards you can get in a single round, and that makes it hard to catch up.
PROS, MEHS, AND CONS
- Love the theme. It’s pretty hilarious — you’re just throwing fancy dice at a picnic to try and ruin it. The dice are ants, the whole thing just really works. That + really bright colors sells it. That’s part of the reason I backed it in the first place — I saw it being demoed at Gen Con and I wanted to
- Very quick to learn. The rulebook even includes a pretty good primer, which I really appreciate. It’s nice to have an overview of the game before diving right into it.
- Plays pretty quickly. 30 minutes isn’t too long, though you’ll find yourself playing multiple games back-to-back, occasionally.
- Seems to have a pretty wide appeal. It’s simple enough for younger players but has a nice bit of strategy / dexterity to appeal to more experienced players, which seems to be the schtick for KTBG. That’s a good schtick, though, so, I’m here for it. I also like that you can remove complex scoring cards if you’re just looking to play with younger folks but the core of the game (silly dice rolling antics) is preserved, which is nice. I think the only game I know of off-hand with similar accommodations is Kodama: The Tree Spirits.
- The high variability of the scoring means that the strategies tend to be highly variable as well. You won’t have the same scoring configuration in any two games, so you’ll need to be flexible to think of how best to shoot for Picnic cards that you need in order to score a lot of points. I actually like that a lot — even more so with the score tokens being drawn each game. I think that’s a really cool idea and I’d like to see it in more games.
- Square cards continue to be the bane of my existence. It’s an ongoing problem. Nobody’s fault, just a challenge.
- Getting a die to roll where / how you want can be pretty difficult. I think it’s partially because the dice are fairly rounded, so I wouldn’t go into this game thinking that you’re going to be able to wield a super-coherent strategy. Honestly, though, that’s half the fun. Sometimes I find it frustrating, but, that’s probably because I’m not very good at it.
- Colony construction and ant dice rolling feel like two pretty different games. This is a similar thing that I noticed in The Great Dinosaur Rush, in that it felt like two different games mashed up, but I think this one works a lot more than it did for The Great Dinosaur Rush, even if I do really enjoy building fake dinosaurs.
- The Round cards are fun enough that it’s almost a bummer if you’re never in last place. If you look me in the eyes and tell me you’re not even slightly disappointed by the idea of never getting to put a large shoe onto a game board to squish some fake ants, I … I won’t believe you. They’re pretty fun. Not all of them are incredibly useful, but most of them are pretty fun. They’re also a good catch-up mechanic.
- Some of the round cards are a bit … powerful. I think one in particular is a Kickstarter promo, but it lets you wait until your turn to reroll all your dice that are currently on the field, which is … a lot. I usually don’t play with that one, as a result.
- Can feel a bit luck-dependent. I think that’s partially just due to the randomzied nature of the Scoring Cards, Round Cards, Picnic Cards, and Reward Tokens, but it can occasionally feel tough to have too coherent of a strategy, as certain cards you might need may never come up again. Add in that it’s hard to control the dice much / at all, and that may frustrate players who care more about strategy, as I mentioned above. I don’t have as much of a problem with this, but it’s probably worth noting.
OVERALL: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I think Problem Picnic: Attack of the Ants is a solid game! I actually like it a lot, if I’m being perfectly honest. It’s the right level of silly and strategy that works for me. I wish I were a bit better at it (seriously; I’m pretty bad) but what can you do. I think the major point of appeal is, like Ice Cool, it’s a game that will be fun to play with younger players but still has something for more experienced players, and that’s a huge draw, especially if you are worried that you’re going to be playing Candyland for a few years. Don’t do that to yourself; check out Problem Picnic: Attack of the Ants, instead!