Iron Piecepack Designer Episode 2

The Iron Piecepack Designer Contest Episode 2: Piecepack Matchsticks Judging notes by Dan Burkey

Both competing entries in this episode contain sparks of brilliance. Both also ran into some issues that almost certainly arose from the difficulty of playtesting during the pandemic. This was especially challenging with piecepack matchsticks, which don’t have a good virtual presence (I crashed Tabletop Simulator with my attempts to model them as 3D objects), and their sheer numbers make them hard to manage over Zoom. Still, both games captured the spirit and possibility of the piecepack matchsticks in ways that I couldn’t have expected when I designed the expansion. I hope more people get to try both of these games now that it’s easier to play in person.

Palo Largo

Antonio Recuenco Munoz brings a bit of tactile pizazz to the auction genre.


Players begin by choosing a coin to announce the number of pieces they will bid. Then they secretly place that number of matchsticks in their fists and reveal them. Each player then assembles their matchsticks into one long stick, and the player with the longest stick wins the bid. It’s possible to bluff here: I know you will bid four sticks, but will they be long or short ones? Could I win with two long ones?

The catch is that while you are trying to win bids with longer sticks, the goal of the game is to have the shortest longest stick at the end of the game. In other words, the winner’s highest bid over the course of the game was lower than any other player’s highest bid. So the tactics of winning bids create tension with the long-term strategy of bidding low.

The structure of this game plays out in two parts. In the first half, players bid for tiles, and in the second half they bid for turn order in placing those tiles adjacent to each other in the hopes of being able to remove their longest sticks from play. The tile placement puzzle was engaging, but didn’t feel strongly affected by the auction.


There isn’t a lot of theme here, but the English translation of the name (“long stick”) tells you what you need to know about how to win an auction. Some theme for the tile drafting and placement element might have been helpful.

Clarity of Rules

Antonio brings out his signature brevity in a quick 2-page ruleset. One minor confusion was that the endgame refers to players who have “11 or 12 sticks left”- this should be 9 or 10, as there are only 10 bids that produce sticks (there are 12 bids, but null bids allow other actions).

Fun Factor

The auction at the heart of this game is delightful. The moment where players dramatically reveal a fistful of pieces, then scrabble with their fingers to assemble them into sticks and compare them was great every time. The weird lengths of the matchsticks make estimating the relative value of your own bid a hilarious challenge, and several bids were won by an eighth of an inch.

Replay Value and Strategy

After playing the game, none of the testers felt we had a grasp of the strategy behind the tiles we were bidding on for the first half of the game. We could see that it was helpful to have a varied hand to avoid getting boxed out and taking penalties during the placement phase, as well as having varied colors to increase stick-removing bonus. But with random tiles coming out each round there wasn’t much tension because we weren’t motivated to bid for the same tiles. So the stakes of each bid felt pretty low.

Early pawn placement in the tile phase was a strong advantage, which allowed the player to focus the rest of the round on creating color diversity in the pawn’s row. This strategy allowed the winner to place tiles of all 4 colors in one row, which allowed him to remove his four longest sticks from consideration at the end. The 4th stick pushed him to victory.

I wonder if it might be simpler to have players bidding for tiles whose value gave them the right to remove different numbers of long sticks from their final collection. Perhaps highest tile value total= 4 sticks, 2nd place= 3 sticks, 3rd place=2 sticks, 4th place = 1 stick. This wouldn’t allow for the lovely symmetry of using all the matchsticks over the course of the game, though, unless it was limited to 2 players (which isn’t ideal for an auction game) or used multiple piecepacks.

Liquid Crystals

Tim Schutz might have created the most true-to-form euro game I have seen for the piecepack. In strict euro terms, it’s an auction game in which players bid to draft variable lots of resources in a race to complete contracts, then score points based on how well they completed the contracts. In this case, the resources are piecepack matchsticks which form segments of a letter on a 16-segment display. The letters and words are the contracts to complete.


Lots of interesting interconnected systems, and nearly every feature of the piecepack and matchsticks found a use.

Supply tile generation

This is a little fiddly but a great use of the piecepack features. Dice determine the size of matchsticks in all 4 colors for each supply tile. Upkeep did slow down play between rounds. The tile value as minimum bid rule was easy to forget and not really related to the utility value of a tile. In general, players were content with bids of 5+ anyway.


This is a fixed-bid auction where each piecepack coin is a bid value. The first auction winner also gets the first player token, which usually stayed with the first person to win it in our tests. We quickly discovered a degenerate auction strategy that allowed the first player to repeatedly take the best tiles. Very frequently one or two tiles would be vastly more valuable, while the others were all but worthless.The first player could make an all-in bid to lock in the best tile, reclaim first player status, then use any useful matchsticks right away and dump the rest to reclaim the bidding coins.

Supply tile limits

The timing of when to dump a supply or display tile was unspecified, which seemed to defeat the purpose of the 3-tile limit for supply tiles along with the mechanism for locking up used bidding coins.

Claiming Letters

Alongside the auction is the race to complete letters. There is a tension between two forces: fewer/worse sticks with quicker completion to win lots of letters with lower score per letter vs. winning a few slower (or sometimes luckier) high scoring letters


When I first saw the game, I thought “Oooh! A word game!” But it isn’t really a word game- it’s more of a word-themed auction game. The words exist as a theme for the scoring contracts. The game’s reference to LCD screens could be considered a theme- it did create a sense that each panel of a digital display is a hectic construction site.

Clarity of Rules

Scoring was easy to teach and fairly intuitive once everyone understood the relationships between matchsticks and tiles.

With so many phases, it was easy to miss rules and run into edge cases. For example, we missed the rule that each round’s unselected tile should be sweetened with an extra matchstick of the same color as the tile. This would have immediately solved a problem we were having with a run of crummy lots.The rules don’t specify if matchsticks can overlap for the X; we decided no.

It wasn’t clear from the rules whether other players’ in-progress display tiles were public information. Some of the strategy comes from looking at the pool of available letters and starting with segments that could evolve into different options. If it’s clear that someone with turn order priority is working on the same letter, you’re more likely to abandon it.

Fun Factor

The promise of “A word game where you make the letters” gave way to a fairly dry experience. The players who ended up with the worst lots of resources had very little fun. Often the worst tiles had no usable matchsticks, which left the richer players mulling their optimization strategies while their resource-poor neighbors stared at a blank tile. They knew they could not score letters or gain ground in the auction without first player advantage.

Replay Value and Strategy

If the auction could be improved (or perhaps if the first player advantage could be overcome some other way), there would be a lot of room for interesting strategic play. Each letter needs a different combination of matchsticks to complete. There are so many words in the English language (and many others) that each game will be a bit different. It would be interesting to generate a list of words that would create variety and tactical challenge, and players familiar with the game’s systems might be able to bring words to the table with consideration for the shape and value of their letters.

Gambling on taking the majority of a word first with slapdash typography seemed to be the best strategy. The winner jumped on 3 letters of QUEST with low-scoring makeshift letters, including one that doubled the negatives from a misused 5, and a T made of 4’s for 0 points.

Stick lengths vary wildly in scoring utility, considering how frequently they are used in the alphabet. On the other hand, the design choices for how to lay out letters include lots of useful overlaps. Some examples:

3 points per letter for the majority of a word seemed overpowered. Getting 9-21 points for 2-4 letters is much harder with more careful crafting, so successful players were less likely to take the time out of the race to build high-scoring letters.

Final Comparison

I found myself in a dilemma judging this episode: Two auction games filled with brilliant ideas, both held back from full realization by the challenges of socially distanced playtesting. Palo Largo unveiled a delightful auction mechanism that filled the table with laughter, but the tiles made a confusing motivation for the bidding. Liquid Crystals built an intriguing economy around the spatial properties of the matchsticks, but the auction that formed the game’s core loop fell flat for the testing group. Time to put the criteria head to head:

Final score

Palo Largo: 3

Liquid Crystals: 2

Antonio Recuenco Muñoz takes the win for Episode 2!