Reading Time: 7 minutes
In CONEX, the field of play grows like a colorful hydra as players lay cards from their hands onto an ever-expanding tableau.
What Is CONEX?
CONEX is an abstract, family friendly card-laying game in which players try to place a card from their hand onto the tableau, overlapping an existing card in an orientation that will yield the most benefit. A variety of different colors, point values, and rules of placement can make this a tricky proposition. It’s for 2-4 players ages 8 and older, plays in 15-20 minutes, and retails for $21.99.
Inside the box you’ll find:
- 1 point tracker/starting action tableau
- 1 starting player card
- 4 player score markers
- 52 cards
- 1 symbol die
- 2 action stars (1 each of 2x Star and Lightning Star)
The point tracker is a square-shaped card with the score track in the middle and squares of the four playing colors (yellow, red, turquoise, and purple) on the corners. These areas serve as starting points on which players can begin laying their cards.
The cards each have one main color (yellow, red, turquoise, or purple) and several smaller sections—referred to in the game as “CONEX corners”—in differing sizes and orientations along the edge. The CONEX corners each display a color (other than the primary color of the card) and a point value from 1 to 5. Some of the cards have an additional symbol in the middle, either a die or a +2 (plus two), indicating a special action for that card during play.
The six-sided symbol die has one side displaying a card, one side displaying two cards, and two sides each that correspond to the Action Stars—2x and Lightning. The uses of the CONEX corners and the symbols on the cards and other components will be explained further below.
All the components are good quality and designed for intuitive gameplay. The colors on the cards are bright and appealing and create a lively tableau as the field of play snakes outward.
How to Play CONEX
Place the score tracker tableau in the center of the play area. The play area will be defined by the surface you’re playing on, so keep in mind that a small table will be more limiting than a larger one. If you want an unlimited area, you could play on a smooth floor. Each player places their score marker on the starting CONEX square of the score track.
Shuffle all the cards together and deal five to each player face-down. The remaining cards become the face-down draw deck, which should be within reach of all players along with the die and Action Stars. The youngest player receives the starting player card, which they keep throughout the game.
What to Do on Your Turn
Players have two options on their turn. They can:
- Play a card from their hand onto the tableau, resolve any actions as necessary, and score the turn, or
- Draw two cards from the draw pile.
To play a card, you must lay it so one of its colored CONEX corners overlaps either the scoring tableau or a card already played on the table. This seems simple enough, but you’re limited by several rules of placement:
- The CONEX corner must be laid on a card of the identical color (for instance, a yellow CONEX corner must overlap a yellow card).
- The card must be laid so that the border of the CONEX corner lines up with the border of the card on which it is placed.
- The card may touch only the card on which it is being placed, and cannot overlap any other card on the tableau.
- The card may not cover up part of any CONEX corners on the background card.
- The card must be fully within the playing area—so if you’re playing on a table, no part of it may exceed the edge.
After a card is played, the player moves their scoring token forward the number of spaces indicated by the CONEX corner they have connected. The CONEX corners have differing values from 1-5, so obviously it behooves players to try to use the high-value CONEX corners, though that’s not always possible given the existing layout of cards.
If the turn involves an action card, the player must also resolve the action indicated by the symbol. The “plus two” cards—indicated by the +2 symbol—are tricky. The player who lays the card does not receive any additional points for playing it. However, once the +2 card has been played, any player who connects their card to the +2 card receives two additional points on top of what’s indicated on the CONEX corner.
When a player lays a card that displays a die, the player rolls the symbol die and takes the resulting action. There are four possible results and actions:
- If the die shows one card, the player draws one card into their hand.
- If the die shows two cards, the player draws two cards into their hand
- If the die shows the Lightning Star, the player claims the Lightning Star, even if it’s currently in another player’s possession
- Similarly, if the die shows the 2x Star, the player claims the 2x Star, even if another player has it
Both the Lightning Star and 2x Star can be used to the player’s benefit on a future turn:
- The Lightning Star allows the player to remove on a card that has already been placed on the tableau, as long as it’s not underneath another card. All other players are forced to discard one card from their hand to the bottom of the draw pile (players with no cards in hand are exempt).
- When a player places the 2x Star on a card they’ve just played, they receive double the points for that turn.
If you roll a Star, it’s tempting to try to hang onto it until a turn that allows optimal use—but remember that another player can take the Star from you if they roll that result on a subsequent turn, so if you don’t use it quickly you may lose the chance (or you may never get a chance at all if you lose it right after you get it). Once used, the player discards the Star and places it back into the common area.
The end of the game can be triggered in two ways:
- When one player’s score token lands on or exceeds the final spot on the tracker tableau, players complete the current round. If necessary, players can start over on the scoring track to determine who is in front.
- If space runs out or nobody has a card they can play
In either case, the player whose score token is furthest ahead at the end of the game wins. If multiple players finish in the same spot, the game is a draw.
Why You Should Play CONEX
CONEX would make a good addition to your library if you’re seeking a family-friendly game that is quick, light, and appropriate for a variety of potential players including children, new gamers, and non-gamers who may periodically want to join in on the fun. It’s in a similar vein as Kodama, but simpler and without a more intricate thematic skin, so would be a great introduction to that kind of card-laying game.
There is some very light decision-making in CONEX, enough to be stimulating without demanding too much brainpower, and perfect for introducing younger players to strategic thinking. For instance, players need to be cognizant of the different point values of their CONEX corners, and on their turn decide whether to play a card or to draw additional cards depending on the opportunities offered by the board. Action cards and Stars offer potential benefits for future turns, which is worth keeping in mind. For instance, if you have in hand a rare CONEX corner valued at 5 points, you might try to hang onto it until you can play it with a 2x Star. Yet while there’s obvious competitive strategic play, the game is also designed so it doesn’t have much direct player interaction or “take that” action, which can help ease the soreness of players who are easily frustrated. It’s hard to block or disadvantage other players on purpose because you don’t know what cards they have in hand. The worst thing you can do to another player is take an Action Star from their hand, but that’s just luck of the roll.
My only small complaint about CONEX is that it’s difficult to keep everything in place through the course of the game. As players lean over the board and place new cards, other cards tend to move a bit—I guess you could leave these little shifts alone, but if you’re neurotic about positioning cards just so (guilty), you’ll have to spend some time nudging them back into alignment.
I enjoyed CONEX and would recommend it for a family collection—it’s colorful and fun, lightweight in intensity, comes in a small portable box, and can be enjoyed by kids, great-grandparents, and everyone in between.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of ‘CONEX’ for review purposes.