Review – Tuned
You ain't nothing but a hound dog, cryin' all the time... after I beat you at Tuned
“Don, Wof, Paw and Peck are a bunch of old animals, they are all very rusty and tired after working their whole lives for very neglecting owners. They formed a band together…” Thus begins the story of Tuned, where players will place the animals and help them practice until they can play in front of a crowd. Does Tuned live up to its name, or is it out-of-tune, in need of more tuning*?
Tuned is a 3-in-a-row stacking game. Each player begins the game with 1 rooster (who acts as an action marker) and 2 of each other animal and will place or move pieces on the 3×3 grid until someone gets a 3-in-a-row of the same animal. The catch? There are 3 animals besides the rooster: donkeys, dogs, and cats. Whether moved or placed, donkeys must go on an empty space, dogs must go on an empty space or a donkey, and cats must go on an empty space or a dog. Moreover, the 3-in-a-row only counts the animals on top, so each turn you’re trying to set yourself up to win on your next turn while also keeping your opponent from winning on their next turn.
The strategy is deeper than it first appears. Deciding where to place pieces in order to put your opponent on the defensive is important, but it’s also important to properly time when you use the “move piece” action because you can’t move pieces twice in a row (unless you’re completely out of pieces, which rarely happens). For example, if my opponent moves their rooster onto to the “move piece” action, I know that next time they will have to place a piece, so I can try and set the board up in a way that forces them to place the piece to make a 2-in-a-row, so on my turn I can make a 3-in-row for the win.
Something about the strategy feels like it could be too loose. I can’t verify that, nor do I have a computer that can analyze it. This is a pure vibes-only thought that may or may not be worth mentioning, but there were times where it felt like I had a meaningless piece placement, even after I had played the game a couple times and understood it pretty well. In short, I’m unsure how high the strategy ceiling is. However, even if the strategy escapes your grasp, it’s still a fun time moving the oversized pieces around the board.
The components are exceptional. The animal pieces are cute and robust, the few bits of Paolo Voto’s artwork are whimsical, the book-looking box holds all the pieces snug for flat or side storage, and the rulebook even provides a short backstory as to why all these animals are playing instruments in the barn. If there’s anything to critique, it’s the 3×3 foldable grid. It’s not bad at all, it’s even what I would call good, but given the over-the-top production of the other components, it feels like it almost doesn’t belong.
Tuned is the same vein as modern abstracts like Hive (review here) and Quarto, only the theme is more in tune with Hive than Quarto (read: there’s actually a theme that makes sense and works with the game). Tuned offers players fun, simple gameplay with deeper-than-expected strategy and robust, cuter-than-necessary game pieces. Those factors, along with its short playtime, make it a nice addition for anyone looking for a 2-player filler/family game with enough strategy to chew on.
Thundergryph Games (Amsodee North America) kindly provided a review copy.
*Ever heard the difference between a tuba and a fish? You can tune a tuba, but you can’t tuna fish.
The Bottom Line
Tuned's short playtime, deeper-than-expected strategy, and robust pieces make it a solid purchase for anyone looking for a 2-player family filler.