Triominos & Chickenfoot | Case Study

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A few months ago I played a 5-player game of Triominos. Dominos but 3-sided? Count me curious. In summary, it’s a game that’s both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time, and now having played Chickenfoot just a few days ago, what better time is there to discuss why Chickenfoot works so much better than Triominos and the strategies involved.

In game design, depth always comes with complexity, so as a general rule you want to maximize depth whilst minimizing complexity. Triominos is a great example of a game that takes a tile-laying network game like Dominoes (or similar variations like Chickenfoot) and significantly increases the complexity without adding any depth, simply because there’s a good amount more to keep track of between the additional numbers and sides.

You can get an idea of how Triominos plays from the cover. You have to match the numbers on each side of a triomino with the triominos you’re placing yours next to.

Board game cover of Triominos.

Compare this to Dominoes (pictured below) and therein lies the problem. Triominos is practically the same game, but with a massive jump in complexity. You not only have to pay attention to three numbers instead of two but also the order or configuration that the numbers are in on any given triomino. You end up taking several times longer checking and rechecking your hand and the triomino blobs on the table endlessly for numbers that match when the same goal can be achieved in a much more streamlined manner in domino games like Chickenfoot.

Image of dominos tiled together.

Even worse, Triominos not only increases the complexity of Dominoes but actually decreases the strategy and depth.

Since Triominos is more restrictive with more sides and numbers to match than domino games like Chickenfoot, I found my options to be pretty limited most of the time which decreases whatever little bit of strategy exists in domino games. By options I mean a combination of how many of your triominos can you play from your hand at any given point and how many already placed triominos can you place your triomino next to. Luckily, I had many more options in Chickenfoot, and as a result, more strategy to consider.

Chickenfoot is a variation of Dominoes and starts with a double domino in the center of the table. Players take turns placing a domino with a matching side around the double domino until 8 surround that double domino. Once that’s done you may play a new domino anywhere, either putting a number against a number or playing a double domino in a T arrangement across another domino, this double domino becomes a new Chickenfoot and must be filled with 3 dominos (similar to the starting double domino) before continuing. A player draws a tile if they can’t finish the Chickenfoot. The round ends when one player has no tiles or there are no tiles left to play on a Chickenfoot, then each player counts the numbers on their leftover dominos in their hand. After 10 rounds, whoever has the lowest score wins.

Chickenfoot leads to more of a network of tiles on the table compared to Triominos, providing many different options, and thus, opening the door to strategy. While Chickenfoot is still not much different from other domino games insofar as they’re mostly just the luck of the draw, there are a couple strategies at play that maintained my interest at the time.

The first is the most obvious of the two: keep the low value dominos in your hand for as long as you can so you can get rid of as many high value dominos as you can before the round ends. If the round ends and you have two dominos left in your hand, you better hope the numbers add up to a low value like 5 and not 25. Again, the lowest score wins, so you want to get rid of as many high value dominos as possible before the round ends and the score is counted.

The second strategy: play the dominos that have the least amount of options or places they can be placed. If you have domino #1 that you can place next to 3 different dominos and domino #2 that you can place next to 1 domino… if you place domino #1 first, then before your next turn rolls around someone may inadvertently block domino #2. You’re now drawing a domino which results in a net loss of two dominos. You’re trying to get rid of all of your dominos from your hand so that’s a big deal.

Both of these strategies, especially strategy #2, only exist if you often have more than one option to play, whether through luck or optimal play via strategy #2. While Chickenfoot offers the options to afford these strategies, Triominos instead increases its complexity and decreases its options and therefore strategy primarily due to its 3-sided nature. Overall, Triominos is overcomplicated for a game driven entirely by luck. It’s a great example of a cash grab and is, unfortunately, by no means the love letter to domino games that it should’ve been.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re both pretty luck-driven so Chickenfoot doesn’t deserve higher than a 4/10 from me, but Chickenfoot is fantastic compared to the 1/10 I’d give Triominos.

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