On the Rocks – Stirring up Trouble
There’s something mysterious about a bartender.
They know how to combine ingredients in just the right proportions to make drinks that are attractive (and hopefully delicious). In On the Rocks, we all get to pretend to be “mixologists” and compete to make the most money.
On the Rocks is a game for 1-4 players by Michael and Christina Pittre, published by Pentree Games and 25th Century Games. The box says it’s best for ages 14+ and takes about an hour to play.
Setup – Prep the Bar
Prep the bar for your prospective mixologists. In the center, surround the Coaster with jigger bowls. Draft three standard ingredient marbles into each bowl, then make sure the “shaker” bag and the dice are within reach.
Off to the side, place the four stacks of Recipe cards, along with Tip cards, Spill cards, and bonus coins.
Give each player their own section of the “bar” with a player board; this is where they’ll mix and serve drinks and keep track of their tips. Players choose Recipe cards of unique types to prepare for the first Round.
How to Play
Start your turn by rolling the dice (unless you received a Complaint card from another player; in that case, resolve the complaint first). The amount shown on the dice indicates how many marbles you pull from the Ingredient bag.
Once you have your handful of marbles, choose how you want to “mix” them into the jigger bowls. You must start with the empty bowl and distribute them one by one, clockwise, until every marble has been placed.
Mix carefully, because the next step is to pick one of the jigger bowls for your own use. Place marbles from the bowl onto your board and try to fill one or more recipes. You may save a few marbles for later use on your Extra Ingredients Shelf, but anything else you can’t use is returned to the bag.
Before ending your turn, resolve any gold premium marbles you took (exchange for two ingredients of your choice), then gray spill marbles (draw a Spill card and discard marbles from your board as directed).
If you finished crafting any drinks, flip over the recipe card(s) and take a Tip card for each drink you finished.
You can play Tip cards on your turn to help you, hurt another player, or help you and help another player together. Of course, you could also save your Tips – if they’re not used, they count toward your money at the end of the game.
If you finished your last drink recipe, you’ve completed this order! Put a lemon on your shelf to show the round is finished for you. Start your next round by choosing either three or four Recipe cards. If you have leftover ingredient marbles, you may place them on the new recipes.
Last Call & Scoring
When any player finishes their third order, it’s Last Call. All other players get one more turn to complete Recipes on their own boards. Get a bonus coin if you can complete all three of your drink orders before the game ends. (Yes, this means that the player who triggers Last Call gets the highest value bonus coin).
Add up the dollar values of your completed Recipe cards, your unused Tip cards, and bonus coin. Then subtract $2 for any incomplete Recipes still on your board.
The player who has the most money is the night’s best Mixologist!
On the Rocks is a gorgeous game. Kids and adults alike will be pulled in by the sparkly marbles. Every element of the design adds to the fantasy of tending bar. The double-ply cardboard makes it very easy to build your drinks with the marbles.
I loved the way On the Rocks handles rounds – there will always be three rounds to the game, but not everyone starts their next round at the same time. This gives players time to catch up but also encourages them to play more aggressively if they’re running behind everyone else.
But the drafting can lead to indecision. It was always the slowest part of our games, as the active player tried to decide where to place each marble to give themselves maximum advantage and keep other players from getting exactly what they need.
And the drafting decision is one of the biggest in the game. Generally which jigger to grab is fairly obvious (the one that gets you closest to finishing your recipes), but distributing the marbles in drafting only has a small effect, and mostly on the player next in turn order.
The only way to affect other players is through the use of the Complaint Tip Cards. Play these on an opponent to slow them down – hopefully it will be worth the Tip money you lose by playing it!
The Complaints and Spills can feel punitive. Picking them up is pretty random. So the luck of the draw means a player might get slammed with these negative effects over and over again, especially in a two player game.
We had fun playing On the Rocks as a family, and think it’s completely appropriate – but despite its prettiness, it couldn’t keep our kids’ attention (ages 10 & 13). My guess is that they couldn’t really connect with the theme. We’d recommend it for adults, who can enjoy the fantasy of being a mixologist in a fancy bar, or maybe for some kids who love creating their own special drink concoctions without the special adult flavors.
Look for a new printing of On the Rocks from 25th Century Games this spring.
The Family Gamers received a copy of On the Rocks from 25th Century Games for this review.
On the Rocks
Number of Players: 1-4
Age Range: 14+ (kids can play but won’t love theme)
Playtime: 45-60 minutes