Review: Pass the Pigs

Players:  2-10
Ages:  8+
Time to play:  30 minutes

How much fun can you have with a pad a pencil and a couple of pigs?  A question we've all asked ourselves at some point or another..  luckily for all of us, the answer lies below, as today I'll be reviewing the classic game "pass the pigs"

It's worth noting that me and pass the pigs go way back.  When I wasn't getting collared for pitching pennies against my school playground wall, I was playing pass the pigs with my mates whilst our names were being called on the school register.  I've seen it all, the highs and the lows, I've basked in the glory of a leaning jowler and held my head in my hands when I've lost it all on a single throw.  I was a broken man... well... a broken 12 year old - which is probably worse.

It's fair to say that it'll be difficult for me to stay objective during this review, but I'll do my best not to get misty eyed.  I've got a lot of fond memories it's true, but with age comes wisdom and although I remember the good times, it's fair to say that pass the pigs can also be a harsh mistress.

Now, to give you some background, pass the pigs as we know it has been around for a while.  In Germany at least since 1965 in it's original form "Pigmania" and was then introduced to the UK in the late seventies.  The version of pass the pigs that I am most familiar with is the MB version made in the mid eighties, but I wont be reviewing that version, my copy is around 30 years old and spent most of its time lodged in my old pencil case.

Instead I'll be reviewing the latest edition from "winning moves" which have owned the licence for pass the pigs since around 2001.

To be fair, this isn't a component heavy game, but even after a cursory glance at the case I can say that it's much better than my 1980's original.  The design is sleek and ergonomic and has a nice transparent section at the top to show off the pigs.

One of the major failings of the 1980's case, which was designed like a hinged wallet was that the catch would become loose and the case would just open, spilling its contents everywhere.  Too often would I open my pencil case to find the scoresheets all over the place and the pigs covered in pencil shavings and god knows what else, and forget about carrying this game in your pocket, it would open at the slightest bump.

This new version overcomes these issues by redesigning the case to slide open rather than being hinged, and doing so reveals the score pad, scoring card, rules and two pencils which were neatly hidden inside.

The case definitely feels sturdy and well made, and does take a decent amount of effort to open and close it.  It would easily survive the daily stresses of being confined to a pocket or bag, making it perfect for travel.

Overall, I can say that this new version is a welcome improvement on my 1980's version.

Well now I guess I should talk about how to play, and it's so easy that I can remember the rules even now after 30 years, though I did need double check some of the pig themed terminology!

So essentially, one player is the designated scorekeeper and is known as "the swineherd", this player keeps the pad and a pencil.  Then when you have decided who will go first, that player takes the two pigs and throws them on an even playing surface.  The pigs are then scored according to how they land and the player makes a mental note of that score.

That player can now make the choice to either stop rolling and score (in which case the swineherd marks down his score and play passes to the left).  Or he can pick up the pigs and roll again to keep adding to his score.  The first player to reach 100 wins the game!

If a player chooses to keep rolling then he can do this as many times as he likes, adding to his score mentally until one of the following happens to end his turn:

1.  The player simply stops and marks his score

2.  He rolls a "pig out", where both pigs are on their sides one with a spot showing and one without.  If this happens he loses all of his points for that turn!

3.  He rolls an "Oinker" (or "makin' bacon" in my old version of the game) where both pigs are touching. In which case he loses all of his points for the entire game!

4.  He rolls a "Piggy Back" where one pigs lands on top of the other in a rather... ahem... compromising position.  The rules state that this is an unnatural position for pigs so that player is out of the game! Don't worry though, this is almost impossible and is just included in the rules for fun!

I mean this is pretty much it, but there are a couple of advanced rules that can sometimes get brought into play.  One of them is a "hog Call" which is similar to the Calza rule in Perudo.

Any player can make the "Hog Call" if they have over 20 points and are not the current pig roller.

If a player shouts "sooee" they can predict how the pigs will land on the next roll.  If they are correct, they score double the points that are scored on the roll and the pig-roller must subtract the same amount from their score.  If they are incorrect then they must subtract double the points that are scored on the roll and the pig-roller will score double the points rolled.

But lets be honest, I've never shouted "sooee" (at least not when playing pass the pigs) and probably never will, so I think you could probably come up with your own way of making a hog call if you really wanted to play that rule...

Rules aside, Pass the pigs can simply be described as a risk management game, similar in some senses to games like Yahtzee, where the fundamental premise is to either keep what score you've got or gamble for more at the risk of losing everything.  And of course, the higher the score, the higher the risk.

Now the game isn't simply about scoring though, it's also about testing your resolve against other players on the table.  You can play it safe or risk another throw to give you the edge, or try to goad your opponent into throwing again and hoping he'll make a mistake.  Everyone is trying to outdo everyone else, and when it's your turn to throw, this gives you the perfect platform to show off your bravado.

Well, I know what you're thinking, playing pass the pigs is just like rolling a couple of dice right? but this isn't the case, the pigs are moulded in a way that makes certain positions statistically less likely.  So you'll see plenty of trotters and razorbacks but not so many snouters or leaning jowlers.  In fact if you do throw a leaning jowler be prepared for grudging nods of approval from your competitors - it can be quite rare.

The pigs also feel much more satisfying to throw than dice and can often slowly tip into place at the end of the roll, adding to the drama.  Also, because of their strange shape you can't help but feel like throwing them in a certain way will yield better results, like adding a bit of spin perhaps to encourage them to stay up on their snouts.  This makes the game feel much less luck base and introduces an element of skill, even though its only a small bit.

Overall, it's difficult to give a non-biased opinion on this game as I'm seeing it through the rose coloured spectacles of my youth.  There's not a lot to it, but it is fun and makes a great filler between more meaty games.  Kids will love it because of the simplicity of it's rules and the mental arithmetic required is suitably non-taxing but decent enough to give your brain a light workout.

Overall I'm recommended this one because I've got to, it's cheap as chips and great for 10 minutes of fun here and there, and easily stands up to other modern dice filler games.  It's tiny size makes it great as a travel game too.

You can pick up a copy of Pass the Pigs here.


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