Terence Fletcher: Why do you suppose I just hurled a chair at your head, Nieman?
Andrew: I-I don’t know.
Terence Fletcher: Sure, you do.
Andrew: The tempo?
Terence Fletcher: Were you rushing or were you dragging?
Andrew: I-I don’t know.
Terence Fletcher: Start counting!
Andrew: One, two, three, four!
Prepare to get taken to school by Okey Dokey, a charming looking game with a monstrously hard heart. While it won’t quite reach the point of throwing chairs, it demands absolute attention. You better hit all the right notes and keep your tempo in check.
No rushing now.
This table-consuming display is what you, cooperatively, are trying to create. All the instruments are playing their notes, from the bird and its whistling flute to all the animals on the drums, none of which is a gorilla! But anyway. Even better those notes are all in the right order! That is, ascending, with the exception of the grey reset cards which (as the name suggests) reset that row to zero so you may start ascending again. It may seem like everyone is just stopping and starting but no! This is intentional. Each column of the grid must have a single reset card in it. No that doesn’t lead to a horrific cacophony of stop/starts! It’s jazz, dammit, you obviously just don’t appreciate it.
I’m playing all the right notes…
So you and your band of friends are trying to recreate a grid according to those restrictive rules but that’s only half the challenge. Naturally you each have a limited hand of cards and if ever you can’t place, you all lose. Even worse, each column must be completely filled before you move on to the next. And to top it all off, you aren’t allowed to say what numbers you have in your hand. Because you can’t talk during a performance! Or something. Look, I’m just going to stop trying to justify the theme because we all know it’s nonsense.
Okey Dokey is an abstract puzzle of colours and numbers and rules. No background melody is going to hide that… unless you imagine the players collaboratively manning a giant one man band set. Yes, I can reach the symbols! I’ve got the best piano key! And as hilarious as that is, we’re just going to ignore theme from here on out. Although at least it’s nicer to look at than Okey Dokey’s closest competitor, The Game.
…but not necessarily in the right order
Okey Dokey is all about the puzzle and I’m now going to tell you why that puzzle is absolutely awesome. It’s all down to those reset cards. You see, you have to reset a single row every column. At the start of the game, this means having to play a reset to an empty column. That’s a difficult choice to make so early. In round 2 you’ll reset a row with only a single card in it. Not much easier. These rows are now going to be more challenging to complete, because you want to use the resets when you can follow up with low numbers. Indeed, you only have 3 opportunities to place the “1” card of a row since each section of a row must be in ascending order.
The high cards present the opposite problem: once you place an 8, the highest card available, you have to use a reset card in that column. It’s all too easy to blunder into needing to reset two rows at the same time because no one has cards of the right colour to fit the space, let alone actually playing the highest remaining card of a row inadvertently. From the very start of the game you need to be thinking at least one column ahead, maybe even two.
Because you are dealing with a random draw deck and limited hand size you simply won’t have perfect information available. You’ll be taking risks or having to handle crises where one colour of card refuses to come out of the deck, or the only one you have is a terrible one to play. I suppose it is feasible for every card of a given colour to be buried at the bottom of the draw pile but the number of cards available around the table is large enough to make this kind of occurrence unlikely – while I’ve been in some tight spots I’ve always been able to continue making progress. My losses (and there have been several!) have always felt like my fault. Or my team’s fault. Yes. Let’s blame them!
Now, completing a grid requires you to play every card from every suit. This leaves no room for error! You have to play out every card which, if colours, values and column timing don’t all coordinate, means you can be left unable to play even with the draw deck empty. Okey Dokey does not let up until the very last beat!
To make life easier, and to allow you to adjust the difficulty to something more manageable, there are 3 “=” cards that can be played in any position to match the colour and value of the card to its left. These give you a bit of freedom and breathing space when things get tight. Which they inevitably will. Winning requires dedicated focus! The nature of hand sizes and communication does mean that the 5 player game is much harder than the 2 player game. Everyone has fewer options and there are so many people to coordinate with.
One of the few issues that is present in Okey Dokey is the same issue that bothers any game with restrictions on what you can say about your cards. It always feels a little loose. So you can’t say the value of a card. Fine. But that just leads to comments like, “I’ve got the best card for this spot!” or, “I’ve got a very good card but maybe not the best card,” which, when there’s only 8 cards available means you can generally still communicate what you have. Now, I’m not much of a stickler about this. So long as players are having fun, that’s what matters, and it hardly harms the gameplay. As you get better as a group, you can be more strict about things.
I have thoroughly enjoyed Okey Dokey! It has been a wonderfully engaging puzzle in such a small box. It may be themeless, and more challenging at higher player counts, but those are such minor issues! It’s a game that asks difficult questions right from the first card and doesn’t let up until the very end, throwing you curve balls throughout. For those who enjoy puzzley co-ops, this is highly recommended!
Rating: On my time
My copy of Okey Dokey was provided for review by its publisher, Tasty Minstrel Games.