Zabu Studios and Reiner Knizia Roll the Dice with Pickomino

Few members of any entertainment medium in the United States can boast of more than 500 published creations in their field; certainly no board or card game designer. Not so of Reiner Knizia, a household name in Germany and most of Europe. Dr. Knizia has been creating board and card games since he was a child. In 2008, he made the leap to interactive media when card game Lost Cities was published on XBLA. Original titles for the Nintendo DS and iPhone soon followed. With the release of Lost Cities in November of last year, Knizia entered the social game space. In early January, publisher Zabu Studios followed up with the release of one of Dr. Knizia’s fastest selling titles ever, Pickomino, and a promise of more to come.

Pickomino (known originally as Heck Meck) feels like a mash-up of Bunco, Yahtzee, and Farkle. Using eight 6-sided dice numbered one through five with the sixth side a dragon worth five points, the goal is to earn the most pearls. This is achieved by rolling the dice and earning 21 through 36 points; each score is represented on a tile. Pearls are earned for each tile, for doing so with as many dragons as possible, for completing scores in numerical order and so on. If a dragon is not rolled or the needed score is not achieved before all eight dice are used, the most valuable tile is removed.

The game is simple to learn, the UI clean and intuitive, visuals are pleasing, and the sound reinforces positive achievements.  There are three different modes: Classic – trying to roll for tiles worth 21 to 36 points; Random – six random tiles are placed in a bonus pile with the remaining ten that will be pull from as the player tries to clear five (the ten can be numbers 23-32); and a newly released Progressive mode that uses both fewer and greater quantities of dice, dice with greater numbers, lower and higher valued spectrums and vary the rules with each successive round.

As a dice game in and of itself, Pickomino is pleasing but not particularly outstanding. What Zabu Studios has done to integrate the title with its first release, Lost Cities, and its upcoming releases (all Knizia titles) is where this truly shines.

Like Lost Cities, at the end of each game, the player receives gems as a reward. There are four different gem colors, and three win options available: a chest with a red gem and one other, a chest with 2 to 3 gems, and a third with one to five gems. These gems can be used in wildly varying combinations to purchase power-ups in both Pickomino and Lost Cities. Additional energy to continue playing requires using Facebook Credits. As Zabu Studios and Knizia continue to publish, the gems will be available in Lost Cities, Pickomino, Ra, Take it Easy, Poseidon’s Realm, Buccaneer, Deck Buster Poker, and Tower Tycoon.

The mitigated risk behind the design is rather impressive. As proven titles that work well in single- as well as multi- player the risk of designing a bad game is very low; board/card/dice games require a far less rigorous development schedule and allow for greater polish; and in using the same designer to create a network of games with a shared currency, building a sticky player base is much simpler task. Zabu Studios could still fail, but I for one, would be surprised.