Every other week Scott Jon Siegel contributes Off the Grid, a column on gaming away from the television screen or monitor.
The card game Set
has been around since 1991, but I only learned about it recently. During a recent trip to Israel, a friend introduced me to the game. He was surprised that I hadn't heard of it, so I asked him the logical question: "Is it any good?"
His answer: "It's not very fun, but it's good."
I must have missed something. For me, a game being "good" is all about it being "fun." I believed my friend to be mistaken in one of two ways: either the game is
fun and he just had poor taste, or it wasn't good
, and he still had poor taste (sorry, Daniel).Set
's biggest claim to fame is its association with Mensa International
, a society exclusively for people with high IQs. In 1991, Mensa chose Set
as one of their top five games of the year, and it's been riding that honor ever since. At heart, Set
is a matching game, where players have to create sets of three cards, where attributes of each card must either agree or disagree completely with the other two. Trust me, it's harder than it sounds.
The trick to Set
is the sheer number of attribute permutations. Each card features a shape (either an oval, a squiggle, or a diamond), of a certain color (red, green, or purple), with a certain shading (filled in, outlined, or striped), and of a certain number (with each card having either one, two, or three of the same shape on it). The image accompanying this column highlights an example set. The three glowing cards all agree on color (purple), and shading (striped), but all disagree on shape and number. For that reason, the set is successful. Player who make successful sets then collect those cards, and the player with the most cards at the end of the game wins.
On one of our last nights in Israel, my friend broke out Set
for a couple of rounds over drinks. It's an easy enough game to learn, but the task of matching shapes to numbers to colors to shading quickly proved to be migraine-inducing. After a couple of rounds of play, I discovered that my friend was right: it's a very smart game, but it's not very fun to play. See for yourself
's one of those rare games that actually makes you feel stupid as you play it, and maybe that's why it's just not enjoyable. Numbers and colors and shapes are things I learned when I was six. Now I'm 21 and I suck
at this game. And when you suck at Set
, you become a passive player. Participation in the game is dependent upon seeing sets, then declaring "Set!" and collecting your three cards. If you're bad at Set
, you just sit there. Whole minutes can pass without anybody collecting cards, with the only sound being uncomfortable laughter, and the occasional "Set! Wait... never mind."
In theory, the more you play Set
, the better you get. And I suppose that it's good brain exercise. But if anyone ever tells you that a good game is by definition a fun one, be sure to clue them in. Set
's out there, waiting to tickle your brain, and bore the rest of you. Enjoy.
Scott Jon Siegel is a fledgling game designer, and fancies himself a bit of a writer on the topic as well. His words and games can be found at numberless, which is almost always a work in progress.