Tesseract – Cooperative Cube Containment
The impending destruction of the world is a recurring theme in cooperative games. It’s happening again in Tesseract, a cooperative set-collection dice-manipulation game for 1-4 players. It was designed by James Firnhaber and published by Smirk and Dagger Games. Tesseract says it’s rated for gamers age 14+ and lasts about an hour. Are kids allowed when you’re saving the known universe? Let’s take a look at the game and see.
The central feature of Tesseract is, well, the Tesseract. Set up the Base Platform (board, legs, and lazy susan). Then choose a Base Plate to put on the lazy susan. Use the Dice Setup Sleeve to stack the 64 dice randomly in a 4x4x4 cube on the Base Plate. Remove the sleeve to reveal… the Tesseract! The Containment board and Breach Mat (with the token on 0) go in the center of the table as well.
Put a random containment card next to each of the numbers on the containment mat, separate the research cards by level, and shuffle each deck.
Give each player a yellow Lab mat, Action token, a level two research card, and a character card. Then, each player takes a die off the top of the Tesseract, rolls it, and puts in in their lab.
Finally, remove two more cubes from the Tesseract, roll them, and put them in the primed area. Now you’re ready to begin!
The goal of Tesseract is to contain one cube of each color and number combination: 24 cubes total. In order to do this, players must collaborate, sharing their cubes and abilities to share success.
Players take turns taking three actions, and play proceeds around the table until the players win or lose. All information is public, and communication is actively encouraged to make sure everyone is using their abilities to their maximum effect. Each player’s turn has two phases: The Action Phase and the Threat Phase.
On a player’s turn they may:
- Remove – Take a cube off the Tesseract and put it in their lab without changing it. It must have three or more open faces to be removed.
- Adjust – Adjust a cube in the player’s lab OR the primed area up or down by one value. Adjusting a “1” in the Primed area down destroys it.
- Transfer – Move a cube to or from another player’s lab.
- Study – Discard a research card to take a card of the next highest level.
- Contain – Move a cube from the player’s lab to the Containment area. There are specific requirements to contain a cube.
- Unique – Each character card has a unique active ability and a unique passive ability that always happens. Using the active ability counts as an action.
Players may perform the same actions multiple times.
The puzzle of Tesseract consists entirely in players setting up containment for 24 unique cubes. In order to Contain, a player must have at least three cubes that make valid set or run in their lab. These cubes must be either all different colors or all the same color. If so, a player may take the Contain action and move one of the cubes from this set/run to the Containment board.
The player may then choose to reroll the remaining dice from that set/run to draw a research card of that level. For example if the player had a set/run of four cubes, they draw a level three card when rerolling the remaining three dice.
Finally, if there is a cube that exactly matches the contained cube in the primed area, players may destroy it.
If the players contain all four cubes for a number, they may take the containment card for that number. Any player may use these cards.
If the players contain all six cubes for a certain color, they may slow down the implosion, choosing a destroyed cube to put back on the Tesseract.
If the team manages to contain all 24 cubes, they win!
Research and Containment Cards
Research Cards and Containment Cards offer powerful effects without using actions. A player may use a Research card they own or a shared Containment Card at any time during their turn to use its effect. These are powerful cards that can turn the tide of the game!
Once a player takes their three actions, they must take the lowest (level) cube off the Tesseract, roll it, and prime it. If there are multiple cubes at the lowest level, the player must take the cube with the lowest number. If there is still a tie, the player chooses which cube to remove.
Removing the last cube in a stack reveals an event icon on the Base Plate.
Priming a Cube
The Primed area has slots for each of the six cube numbers. If priming a cube results in three (or more) cubes on a number, there is a breach! Move the Breach Token up one on the Breach Track. If there is a seventh breach, the game is lost.
Tesseract can feel like a lot when you sit down to the table. The crazy icons on the dice immediately made me wonder if I was going to remember what everything did. But understanding they were just fancy designs for 1-6 and that there were only four colors quickly helped me categorize the pieces of the game in a way that not only made sense, but helped me start to strategize.
Although the box for Tesseract says 14+, it’s closer to a 10+ game. Do not be afraid to let even a game-savvy 8-year-old play. After all, as a cooperative game, you can certainly help them along. There isn’t a lot of reading here, but enough that reading is a requirement of play. After that, it’s game on.
The core gameplay of Tesseract is a satisfying cooperative experience. You cannot play Tesseract as a side-by-side solo experience, as you’ll need the tactical benefits of multiple players and player abilities to overcome the challenges of the collapsing cube. This means conversations have to take place and avenues open for multiple strategic ideas. Tesseract can be prone to quarterbacking, but because everyone’s powers are different, savvy gamers should recognize this easily and back off on that controlling mindset.
But the opposite is also true. If your game group is built of players who are easily distracted, or they dive into their devices and aren’t paying attention when it isn’t their turn you’re going to struggle. It’s key to allow all players to have agency but also for all players to use their agency to meaningfully collaborate.
This is even more important at higher player counts. Dice come off the Tesseract after each player’s turn. Players need to hold dice loosely, moving them between players to maximize their use. Hoarding dice just makes it harder to Contain without decimating the Tesseract. Again, this requires attention and collaboration in the group.
Tesseract is a deeply replayable game due to the varying character, containment, and research cards. Also, the central puzzle of the game, the Tesseract itself, changes with every game. There are four double-sided base plates on top of (or under?) that.
We only just got our hands on Tesseract in December of 2023, but it made enough of an impression on us that it was one of our ten nominees for Game of the Year.
Smirk and Dagger provided The Family Gamers with a promotional copy of Tesseract for this review.
This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.
Tesseract - Cooperative Cube Containment
Number of Players: 1-4 (best at 2-3)
Age Range: 14+ (we say 10+)
Playtime: 60 minutes