It's not often you come across a dice game that isn't like anything you've played before, and as such, you keep the deep "unlike anything you've seen before" movie trailer voice tucked away in the desk drawer. Tepiiku, a game by Alex Weldon, is one game that happens to deserve this sound bite, featuring a unique challenge of strategy, risk evaluation, and since we're dealing with dice, luck.
A round of Tepiiku is played in two halves. In the first half, players roll their six dice to determine their score. After your initial roll, you have the option to check or raise the stake. If your score is pretty high, you might want to raise the stake, as you could get more coins coming your way. The stake starts at 1 and increases for every player who raises (for a maximum of 4). To determine your score, it might help to think of these picture dice in terms of regular, "spotty" dice. Here's how you could break it down:
1: Ingot - Worth 1 point.
2: Gem - Worth 2 points.
3: Fire - Worth 3 points, but is canceled by water.
4: Water - Worth 4 points, but is canceled by fire.
5: Person - Each person is worth the total number of people rolled. Thus, one person is worth 1 point, two people is worth 4 points (2+2), three people is worth 9 points (3+3+3), and so on.
6: Skull - Worth -2 points.
The more complex decisions begin in the second half of the round. Each of your opponents' hands is revealed, with the highest-scoring player called the "hook", and the lowest-scoring player declared the "fish". The fish now has a decision to make: Re-roll some dice to try to make a higher score (and escape the role of fish) or pay the current stake to the hook. If you decide to re-roll and successfully raise your score enough to pass your opponents, the stake doubles, and you're in the clear (for now). Re-rolling and increasing but not beating an opponent raises the stake by one. If you re-roll and tie or drop from your previous score, the round immediately ends, and you forfeit double the stake to the hook. If you tie another player's score, they are forced to re-roll some of their dice to break the tie and determine the new hook or fish.
Analysis: As the author claims, Tepiiku is a "completely original game... not based on any existing dice games, commercial or otherwise." So far as our extensive research goes (ie, browsing Wikipedia's list of dice games), this statement is true. As such, the rules may take a bit of playing to get used to, but an in-game tutorial explains a lot of the facets of the game.
Once you get the rules down, Tepiiku provides some interesting strategic tactics for you to consider. Water is worth the most points by itself, but since it could be instantly negated by fire, could it be worth it to re-roll them to shoot for more people, which grow exponentially in value? How far behind the next player do you have to be before you decide it's not worth risking re-rolling and just paying the stake? Or, is there a stake that's not worth paying and always worth re-rolling for?
If there's one annoyance to be marked, it's a slight flaw in how the stake affects play. Occasionally, you'll get a round where two or three players go back and forth playing as the fish, and the stake doubles with each pass. Once the stake is large enough, a player might not have enough chips to equal double the stake (to pay in case of a loss), so the player is forced to immediately pay up. If the game were to continue after a player lost all of his/her chips, this would be somewhat fair, as the potential winner of the round could miss out on a lot of chips they could have earned. However, the game ends immediately when someone goes out, declaring the chip leader as first place, so having such a restriction is unnecessary, and makes coming back from a bad round difficult.
This nitpick aside, Tepiiku is a cleverly designed game that makes you think a bit before you make your move. While the basic gameplay remains the same throughout, you can choose between three modes that change the length of play. Tournament style throws you into several matches in a row, while the Single Match mode gets you, well, a single match. Survival mode adds in the extra hitch of losing an increasing amount of coins with each round that passes, forcing you to win rounds to stay alive. Tepiiku's genuinely unique gameplay makes this little gem worth a visit. So pull up a chair, start shaking, and see if you can conquer the table.