Review – Donuts

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Designer Bruno Cathala

Publisher Funforge (Flat River Group)

Category Abstract Game, Two-Player Game

Length 5-15 minutes

Release Date Spring 2024

Player Count 2

Price $24.99 MSRP

Bruno Cathala has become a household name for many board gamers, winning awards for tile-laying games like Kingdomino, two-player games like Splendor Duel and 7 Wonders: Duel, and advanced strategy games like Shadows over Camelot and Five Tribes. However, throughout his career he’s also published several 2-player abstract games as well, in the vein of Chess or the GIPF series. Donuts, originally published as INSERT, is one of many similar games designed by Mr. Cathala. Is it a worthy entry in his catalog? Let’s take a look!

While Donuts is a generic X-in-a-row (here, 5) abstract game on the surface, there are two key “gimmicks” that separate it from other abstracts. The first is that the board is covered in vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines. When you play a piece to the board, your opponent is obligated to play along the same line as pictured on the space you covered. If no space is available, though, they’re allowed to play anywhere. This mechanism is actually pretty great, for several reasons. One, for someone like me who can’t handle completely open abstracts and all the possibilities at once, it reduces your choices to 4 or 5 or maybe just 1 or 2, making the pace of the game manageable. Second, it allows for some clever moves where part of your decision of where to place is how to force your opponent into a bad spot (for example, they have to take the last spot in a column that you’d have to play on, so you get to play anywhere). Third, the game comes with 4 double-sided boards that are randomized, to keep the concept from becoming too static.

The second gimmick inspired the original name for the game, INSERT. While most abstract games want you to surround other players’ pieces with yours, in this game you want to be surrounded, but as a result of your own move: you want to “insert” your piece(s) between two opposing pieces, at which point they flip and become yours. This inversion of traditional abstract strategy makes the game more unique and appealing than it would be otherwise. It also makes particularly “setups” of your own dangerous, and makes particular spots on the board intensely appealing, which dovetails nicely with the first gimmick and the occasional chance to play anywhere. 

And now, a comment on the theme: yes, it’s pointless; no, I don’t care. I would much rather look at cute pictures of donuts than a cold, sterile-looking abstract game. I’m a university professor, so I play a lot of games with students who are uninitiated to the modern board gaming industry and just think it sounds fun to play a quick game. Math majors love games in general, but you can tell the difference when a game is actually fun-looking and attractive. They’re way more excited to jump in. So, call it a “thin veneer of theme paint,” sure, but to me that’s a compliment. At least they painted!

Finally, keep in mind, this is a 5-10 minute “filler” game. And for that short time frame, it’s incredibly appealing, something to play not only during lunch but maybe in a short break between classes! It’s relatively cheap ($25), in an attractive package with simple components, but has a lot of replayability. It’s not something I would elevate to a favorite simply because it’s too short to have much of an appealing “arc” like my favorite engine builders do, but it’s a wonderful game for its scope.

The Bottom Line

Elegant, fast, affordable, and fun - Donuts has a lot of things going for it.

 

8

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Author: Derek Thompson


I’ve been a board game reviewer on Geeks Under Grace since 2011. I love card-driven games and party games. I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics and teach the subject at Taylor University in Upland, IN. My wife and kids are my favorite gaming partners.