Triplock Review

Triplock Board Game Review

I've mentioned in passing my feelings for Triplock from Chip Theory games a handful of times on the podcast already, so some of you reading this will be doing so with that dangerous glimmer in you eyes that suggests you know what is about to happen.  For others, allow me to summarise my thoughts as: It’s shit.

As much as I am tempted to leave nothing more than that two-word review, it simply isn't enough to tell you that Triplock is shit and that it is by far and away the worst game I have ever had the misfortune to play.  After all, you’ve either come here to read an informed and detailed critique of the game or to watch a good kicking.

With no further ado, may I present my review of Triplock: An Exercise in Futility and Frustration.
Triplock Board Game Review - Master Lock

Triplock is a game about picking locks, about the aeons-old practice that requires deft and nimble fingers, patience, and delicacy.  In Triplock you’ll find none of these things, except the patience required to see the game through to the end.  In fact, pretty much everything I would expect to feature in a game about locking picking is absent here.  (Oddly enough a game I reviewed earlier this year, Sensor Ghosts put me more in mind of lock picking than this.)

Your goal is a relatively simple one, align the Mechanism chips (the yellow ones) to match the Sequence you have chosen on your Diagram card.  These sequences can range from a single symbol, i.e a Gear so all you have to do is ensure the gear symbol is at the top of a stack.  Or it can be a couple of symbols arranged in a specific order, Keypad and Padlock, left to right.  Or you might chase the big points (five) by arranging three mechanisms in any order: Spring, Key, Push.  In its simplest form, that is a player’s goal; match icons on poker chips to icons on a card.

Triplock Board Game Review - Diagram Card

This is made more complicated by the fact that there are eight mechanisms spread over four chips, so you’ll have to make sure the chip is the right way up.  Those chips are topped and bottomed by black  chips called Fail Safes and these temporarily hide the mechanisms.  Thus, in the early game, your task is to arrange symbols that you can’t see.  In this sense, Triplock has more in common with the confidence game of Three-Card-Monte or Find the Lady, but is less exciting and less interesting.

You do get to peek at some of these chips though, giving you some guidance and a smidge of knowledge.  However, as you and your opponent are manipulating the stacks, flipping, swapping, and rotating them you have to try and keep track of what is where and in what orientation.  This I’ve often found to be more frustrating than taxing (although it also really quite hard to keep track of all the Mechanisms I need).  As the game progresses and Failsafes are removed from the stacks and therefore revealing the previously hidden Mechanisms the memory aspect of the game, and arguably the most interesting thing about Triplock becomes moot.

Not only does Triplock steadily becomes less interesting as you play it, but this decline in hidden information also directly affects how you play it, further reducing your choices and the single biggest problem with this game is the lack of choices.  Note I didn’t say interesting choices, I just said choices.  

Triplock Board Game Review - In Play

Choices.  Options.  Alternatives. Agency.  These are as absent in Triplock as vegetarian menus choices in a steakhouse.

All the delicacy, all the careful movements and exploration that you might have thought would come with a game about lock picking are replaced by dice.  Two dice which dictate the actions you can take.  You do get to decide the order of the actions though, which is as interesting as choosing between putting my right shoe on first or my left.  Another option is to ignore both results and choose any action.  

And that ladies and gentlemen is the most interesting choice you’ll ever make in this game. 
You’ll make this interesting/subversively-sub-optimal choice most turns unless you are lucky enough to roll the result you would choose, which always feels more like a random bonus than a strategy. As the game goes on some dice results become invalid, for example, Peek allows you to look at the top two failsafe (black chips) and the Mechanisms underneath - a valuable piece of info in the first five minutes of playing, but once Failsafes are collected that result is meaningless.  It’s a wasted die result that you can’t manipulate.  

In short, your ability to positively affect the game state is minimized to such a degree I would argue Triplock doesn’t really fit the definition of a game, it’s more like a chained series of if-this-then-that conditions based upon the outcomes of dice rolls.   

Triplock Board Game Review - Solo Mode

Whilst playing this game solo I realised within minutes of my third attempt of the first scenario that it was unwinnable.  I sat and stared at the game laid out before me and I couldn’t calculate a series of events that didn’t result in losing the game.  It is almost entirely deterministic.  That’s what it is, a series of events that you fleetingly interact with.  In this regard Triplock is a little bit like a game of Solitaire, some games you simply can’t win, regardless of your choices, but at least in solitaire you get to make the choices.

In a two-player game you’re working at cross purposes to your opponent—and don’t mistake this for player interaction, it isn’t—trying to arrange the same four chips into differing patterns and orientations at the same time.  Like in Three-Card-Monte, you make your selection and then everything changes before you get to do anything else.  Unless you get lucky and roll the results on both dice that you need, your sub-optimal-one-choice will be no-doubt be undone by your opponent.  

Triplock Review - In Play Mechanisms Revealed

The production quality is incredible.  Completely and utterly unnecessary and bordering on the ridiculous, but incredible nonetheless.  I can deal with and forgive the small neoprene mat, Tortuga 1667 has one and it doesn’t feel out of place in that small, well-produced game there either. The poker chips...yeah they give the game a nice heft, and there are only 12 of them, less than half of what you get with Splendor.  The plasticised cards...I’m struggling for a reason for like that make sense in Yogi, but here, not so much.  The two custom dice are necessary but the Action gems take the piss.  The problem with the production of this game though is that the sum of the parts isn’t worth the result, like diamond gears in a watch that marks seventy-minutes to an hour.   It may look great and be well made but simply doesn’t serve its purpose.

Assuming you can make it through the rulebook in one piece and realise that yes, you really do have very little agency and also, yes, the quick reference cards lack key information to actually put the components to work.  Seriously, why the hell is the Rotate action flipping hidden in italics like an example, not as an actual rule?!  This game is far too simple to have such a convoluted rule book.

Triplock Board Game Review - Characters

The beginning of the game is so utterly random and chaotic the choices you make are rendered equally random like watching the splash of a thrown stone into a storm raged sea.  As the game progresses and the previously hidden mechanism are revealed the game like chewed-too-long gum becomes dull as you robotically discard the now almost pointless dice rolls to take one, sub-optimal action.  Your opponent probably doesn’t actually care what you do in your turn, but will no doubt undo your accomplishments in theirs as they strive for their solitary and separate objective.  Triplock is a vacuum of choices, a complete void of player agency and can’t even be used to keep you warm on a winter’s night as its 100% plastic.

This review is based on a full retail copy of the game provided by the publisher. 
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