This year has brought a slew of new titles that make use of polyomino shapes—first popularized by Tetris, brought into tabletop through games like Patchwork. The list includes Realm of Sand—reviewed here a few weeks ago—and flip-and-write titles Second Chance and Patchwork Doodle. The best of the batch, however, is Silver and Gold, a flip-and-write title that moves very quickly but gives players plenty of decisions on each turn and over the course of the game. It’s my most-played title of 2019 so far, and everyone I’ve introduced to the game has loved it right off the bat.
Designed by Phil Walker-Harding (Gizmos, Bärenpark), Silver and Gold doesn’t have much of a theme to it, but for an abstract title it is incredibly fun. There are no actual tiles in the game; there’s a deck of eight cards showing polyomino shapes comprising from two to four squares that will be shuffled and played four times over the course of the game. Players start the game with two cards that have larger shapes that contain eight, 10, 12, or 14 squares, and every time a polyomino card is revealed, players color in that shape on one of their two cards using dry-erase markers (which, if I’m being honest here, definitely adds to the fun).
The cards are worth points at the end of the game equal to the number of squares shown on their shapes. When a player completes one of those cards, they select a new one from the display of five, so players can easily complete a half-dozen cards or more over the course of the game. Those cards may show three special characters on some of their squares that are activated when the player fills them in. A space with a star allows the player to fill in one extra square anywhere on either of their two cards. A space with a coin on it lets the player mark off one of the 12 coins shown on their personal score cards; those are worth one extra point at the end of the game, and any time a player crosses off four coins, they can claim one of the trophies on the main card, worth from six points down to one. Some spaces have palm trees on them, worth one to six points depending on how many palm trees are shown on the cards on the display—although this is the one rule that feels disconnected from the rest of the scoring. A few cards also give you one- or two-point bonuses for completing cards of a different denomination, so you could, for example, earn 16 points for every completed card that would ordinarily be worth 14 points.
In each round, the start player will turn over seven of the eight polyomino cards, with one card not revealed in each round. The result is that you can plan a little bit around what shapes are coming as you try to fill in your two cards, but there’s always a chance the card you need won’t come up in the current round. It’s also quite easy to end up unable to use the revealed shape on your cards because you’ve filled in too many other squares; if this happens you must fill in one square on either card, which is better than nothing but obviously worse than getting to fill in two to four squares. These factors turn Silver and Gold into a continuous puzzle game, but one that keeps shifting in a way that most of the other great polyomino games (like Patchwork) don’t offer. You get to plan, finish, and then plan again, and must keep your planning nimble enough to react if the card you need doesn’t appear or your needs shift when you get a new card.
There’s an ostensible theme to Silver and Gold of treasure collection, but it doesn’t mesh with the mechanics and ultimately everyone I played with ended up forgetting the theme and just using the same terms we use in other games. The coin rewards integrate well enough with the main scoring, and a player who targets them aggressively can earn enough points to win the game, while the palm tree scoring is much more random and I don’t think it works as any sort of strategy, even though you could, if lucky, rack up almost as many points that way as from the coins.
Silver and Gold plays from two to four players and games take up to a half hour, not counting the time required to wipe the cards clean from the dry-erase markings. The game itself comes with four markers, although I have a feeling I’ll be replacing them frequently. It’s also highly portable, since the game is just cards and markers, and in my experience so far it’s very quick to teach even to non-gamers. It’s definitely on the light side of the games I review, but it’s the best light game I’ve tried this year.
Keith Law is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com and an analyst on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. You can read his baseball content at search.espn.go.com/keith-law and his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.