Docker

Small and quick games - we don't write about them much just because they are small and quick. But we all play them. Between other games. Before dinner. Sitting in a pub waiting for people to show up. And then, sometimes, we do write about them.
StrategyLuckInteractionComponents and DesignComplexity6.5 

Docker , originally published as Omba in 2009, is a small game, in all respects: it comes in a small box – about card game box sizes, only square – has a game board the same size, a total of 15 components including the rulebook and plays in five to ten minutes. It is, however, larger than many other games in height, because Docker is a three-dimensional roll-and-move game, that’s one whole dimension more than typical board games include.

But what is a dock worker to do when a ship comes in with three containers for him to unload, and the space to put them is limited? The answer is obvious: stack them up. That’s exactly what happens in Docker, each player has to unload his three containers onto the 3×3 board and then move them around until he is the only dock worker left who’s containers can move. I’m not entirely sure if that is how unloading a ship really works. Wouldn’t the last one still moving his containers be the loser because all the others are in the pub down the street already?

Stuck and out

Stuck and out

To move containers into the storage area you start by rolling a standard dice and moving it onto  the board through one of the starting squares in the middle of each side. For the first player, that’s it. The only restriction is that you may never enter the same field twice in one turn. For the second player and on, things become more interesting because of the way elevation works in Docker. To put your container on top of another, moving upwards – or downwards, to get down again – costs the same as moving from one field to the other. So standing next to a container to move on top of it you need a two to move one up and then one over. To get one top of a stack of three you need a four, three up and one over. And to get on top of a stack of five you need to be desperate or an idiot, because the only way down is rolling another six.

A container that is not on top of the stack can not be moved, and a player who cannot move any of his containers is eliminated. Usually that would be a bad thing when I mention it, just because I have issues with player elimination, but we’re talking about a game that rarely even lasts the 15 minutes it says on the package. After the first player is eliminated, Docker literally takes less time to finish than you have to wait for your next turn in many other games, so player elimination is really not a big deal. Having other players put containers on top of yours is not the only way to be unable to move, by the way, you can also quite simply roll a number that you can’t make a legal move with – that’s why you never, never, move on top of that five container tower if you can avoid it, chances are you’ll be stuck there. For added fun, the eliminated player’s pieces stay in the game, permanently locking down all containers stuck below them.

It should be clear at this point Docker is not 3D chess, there is some strategy involved in keeping options available to you, but don’t expect to break a sweat on your brain. The most thought-intensive part is to find a meandering way to use your five points between all the other towers without ending up in mid-air, which is obviously illegal. Luck plays a big part, rolling the wrong numbers will always ruin your best plans, no matter how carefully laid they are. But in a game that finishes in 10 minutes, that’s okay, too. The thing is, Docker is a quick and easy piece of fun, with a good pinch of take-that and some added schadenfreude. Setup takes as long as opening the box, playing takes not much longer, but it’s still fun to play. The perfect game to say “dinner will be done in two games of Docker.” In two players the board tends to be too empty to have a tense game, but with three or four players it’s a brilliant pastime.