If you’ve been paying any attention to the blog or our podcast recently you have heard me talking about the hottest game I found at Origins: Go Cuckoo by Haba games.
Ever since first watching a quick demo game at the Haba booth at Origins 2019, I’ve been hooked on this game. We played it a ton of times while still at the con and have been playing it even more often since coming home. At this point, it’s my most played board game of 2019.
So what is it that has made Go Cuckoo such a hit? That’s what I’m going to try to figure out.
Disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links. As an associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. There is no cost to you, we just get a small kickback from people using these links. I was provided a review copy of Go Cuckoo from Haba games. No other compensation was provided by Haba.
Why I am even looking at Go Cuckoo, a kids’ game for ages 4 and up?
I first heard about this game from my friend Wayne “The Star Wars Guy” Humfleet. I’ve known Wayne since the early G+ days and first met him in person during the Origins Game Fair in 2015. We really hit it off and have been good long distance friends since. This year at Origins, Wayne and I met up a few times, after the exhibit hall closed and hung out, usually over a few pints of beer. During one of those meetings, he went on and on about this new game from Haba USA called Go Cuckoo. He described it as a game about building a bird’s nest that was kind of like reverse Kerplunk. Knowing Wayne’s taste in games, I knew I had to check this one out.
This was my first year attending Origins as press, and part of that was a series of meetings. One of those meetings was with T. Caires from Haba. While meeting with T. I specifically asked to check out this particular game. After doing a short demo and already knowing I was digging it, T. offered to provide me with a review copy of Go Cuckoo, which I jumped at.
That night, we met up with Wayne again and I tried the game with him, Deanna and I (over a few more drinks) and we all had a great time. The shocking part about this is that Deanna liked it and she hates dexterity games.
There is something special about Go Cuckoo, it has a quality that even my dexterity game hating wife liked. I can’t get her to play Hamsterolle, yet she will play Go Cuckoo pretty much any time I bring it out.
Over the last couple of days of Origins, I played a bunch more games of Go Cuckoo. I broke it out at G.E.M. Home Base. I had it on the table at an end of convention party at The Three-Legged Mare. We played it in the basement at Barley’s Brewing Company. Everyone I showed this game to has loved it. What I think is worth noting is that none of the people I had played with at this point were kids. These were all adults who were having a great time playing this kids’ game.
One of the things T. noted during our meeting was that Haba is really trying to promote that Haba games aren’t just for kids. I have to say that this game is a perfect example of just that.
What is Go Cuckoo, a silly kids’ game that adults seem to love, all about?
Go Cuckoo is a dexterity game designed by Josep M. Allué, and Viktor Bustista i Roca, featuring art by Gabriela Silveira. It was published by Haba USA in 2016 when it was released in time for Easter. The game comes in a tin that is about a foot tall and maybe 1/4 of a foot around. Inside the tin, you will find a bunch of wooden sticks, each of these sticks has the tips painted in one of four colours. There are also twenty cuckoo eggs, a pretty large wooden cuckoo meeple, and the instructions.
You start the game by giving each of the two to five players an equal number of eggs. Then one of the players drops the sticks back into half of the container. Extra eggs and the instruction can be stored in the other half while you play.
On a player’s turn, assuming they have eggs left, they draw one of the sticks from the can. They then look at the opposite end of the stick and note the colour.
If the colours don’t match the player then has to draw another stick. That new stick’s tip colour has to match the end colour of the stick just drawn. This is repeated up to two times, with a maximum of three sticks being drawn, unless a stick is drawn with matching ends.
If a stick is drawn with matching ends, then the player stops drawing. They then have to build the nest by placing all of their drawn stick horizontally across the cup, between the vertical sticks. Finally, if the last stick drawn had painted ends that match, the player must also try to place an egg on the growing nest structure.
The goal is for players to place all of their eggs. Once a player has done so, they then have to attempt to balance the wooden cuckoo meeple onto the nest. If they manage to do that they win. Of course, during all of this sticks and eggs are going to fall.
If sticks fall the player’s turn stops and instead of continuing to pull sticks or place eggs (or the cuckoo) they instead have to rebuild the nest with all of the fallen sticks.
If an egg falls out of the nest the player who caused the fall collects the egg and adds it to those they already have. If an egg falls into the nest, below the lip of the can, the player that caused this has to take an egg from the player with the most eggs at that time.
That’s basically it. There are a few other rules for special situations that aren’t worth getting into here. Like rules for if the table gets bumped or if a stick end colour runs out.
So pick sticks hoping for a match, if you get a match play your egg. Try not to cause anything to drop, play all your eggs and place the cuckoo to win! So simple even a four year old could play.
The thing is, there’s something about this game that is fun for people way older than four.
Go Cuckoo has almost universal appeal, I’ve yet to find someone who didn’t find some joy in playing
I have played Go Cuckoo with hardcore gamers. I have played Go Cuckoo with family members. I have played Go Cuckoo with kids. I have played Go Cuckoo with strangers at a pub. I have played Go Cuckoo with brand new gamers who had only ever played Clue and Monopoly. The one thing that each of those plays has had in common is that everyone I have played this game with has loved it. Most of them have also asked me where they can get a copy of their own. This game seems to have almost universal appeal.
There’s a quality to Go Cuckoo that hooks people. All kinds of people. It’s a quality that transcends age and gaming experience. Actually, I think it may be a variety of qualities and I’m going to try to break down what I think some of them are.
Go Cuckoo is, in essence, a simple game. It’s simple to teach and it’s simple to play, at least mechanically as far as what your options are on your turn. There is almost no set up time, and clean up can actually be fun, watching the structure you have all built together be destroyed.
Which leads me to the next part. In Go Cuckoo you are building something. Something physical. This isn’t an engine building euro where you build an engine out of cards representing abstract concepts. This is a game where you build an actual physical nest out of wooden sticks. There’s something to be said for having the physical artifact of that nest there in front of you on the table and watching it grow as the game goes on.
The theme is right there in front of you. How much more thematic can you get. A game about building a bird’s nest where you actually build a bird nest. There’s also the fact that the theme is universally accessible. Everyone knows that birds make nests out of sticks. While a child may not get the cuckoo reference, they are going to get the theme immediately.
Now here’s the important one for adults and gamers — tactics, and in a small part strategy, can be important in Go Cuckoo. Choosing what stick to pull is important, especially noticing “load bearing” sticks but, what’s even more important is where you place those sticks and your eggs when building the nest.
Your tactics are going to change whether you are placing an egg or not. If you are placing an egg you want to make sure you have somewhere to put that egg, and you probably want somewhere stable enough to hold it this turn but not any longer than that. If you aren’t placing an egg you want to set up the sticks so that something falls, either sticks or eggs. I have found myself actually planning ahead for my next turn, knowing that I didn’t get to place an egg this turn but knowing that I probably will next turn.
It’s this variety of options and actual meaningful decisions that, to me, is what makes Go Cuckoo so much more than just a silly kids’ game.
At this point, I’m a Go Cuckoo fanboy and an ambassador for this kids’ game that everyone loves
I honestly can’t remember the last time I found a game that so many different groups of people seem to enjoy equally. I knew I would like Go Cuckoo after watching that demo at the Haba booth at Origins. I knew I enjoyed it that first night playing with Deanna and Wayne. I realized it was something special when Deanna actually enjoyed it, but I had no clue that it would be as popular as it is with every person I show it to.
Go Cuckoo is now part of my kit that I take with me any time I host a game night. It was one of the games I bought for our first event at EZY Mode a couple of weeks ago. I brought Go Cuckoo to a back yard party hosted by the girls’ music teacher. I brought Go Cuckoo to Queen City Conquest. I bring it with me to the local game store game nights. At this point, I’m starting to wonder why I don’t just leave it in the van.
Obviously, I really dig this game. It’s a fantastic dexterity game that’s easy to teach, just as easy to learn, but actually rewards tactical play and planning ahead. That’s not something you find regularly in a game marketed to kids. I also think it’s the perfect example of the fact that Haba’s games aren’t just for kids anymore.