As a big fan of golf, and an even bigger fan of tabletop dice games, it’s only natural I’d be drawn to Pocket Golf – a strategic dice game in the Pocket Sports series.
Pocket Sports work on a simple premise: provide the player with a simple yet enjoyable game, which is portable enough to be able to be played almost anywhere. Each game consists of only 8 custom dice in a cloth bag with instructions, but you don’t need more than this, as the pieces are enough to provide a framework that’s easy to pick up, but detailed enough to be interesting.
Unlike other Pocket Sports games, Pocket Golf can be played solo and requires players to think strategically rather than rely on luck alone. A basic knowledge of golf is advisable, but everything you need to play the game is covered in the instructions. Each d6 represents one of your clubs and has different distances printed on the sides. Hitting the ball is as easy as rolling a die for your selected club and subtracting that number from the distance to the hole… or adding it to a running total until the required distance is reached… whatever takes your fancy. Luckily you don’t have to worry about hook, slice, or fade in Pocket Golf, as it deems your aim always true. Of course, if that were all there was to the game, it would get boring fast.
As such, holes are often loaded with every golfer’s nemesis. No, I’m not talking about your short game ruining the perfect setup – I’m talking about sand traps, trees, water, and boundaries! Listed beside each hole, hazards are listed with a numerical range. For example hole 3 has rough between 90 and 95 metres and any shot over 120 is out of bounds. That means, if you roll anywhere within those ranges, you must apply the effect of the hazard. Effects vary depending on the hazard and all feel accurate to the real game. Hit the ball into water or out of bounds and you receive a 1-shot penalty. Land in the sand, rough, or trees and your next shot only goes a percentage of the distance.
You’re not totally without recourse however, and when your ball is flying towards a hazard, you may use shot modifiers (called “caddy tips”) to change the result of a roll. Say you tee off on hole three with a 7 iron, but roll a 95. On this hole, a roll of 90-95 results in you landing in the rough (50% distance for your next shot). You don’t want that to happen, so you use the 10% backspin caddy tip allowing you to reduce your shot by 9.5 (rounds up to 10). This means your new shot was 85 and you’re shy of the hazard. You are able to use all four caddy tips per round, which adds a further strategic element to your game.
Keeping track of all these numbers may seem daunting; however, each copy of the game comes with scorecard full of useful reference charts to remind you of the specifics. The club distance chart shows all possible results for each die, which is amazingly helpful when selecting a club to play. The percentage modifiers for hazards and caddy tips are all shown alongside hole information and a place to note your score. At the time of this review, there was only one course available (Green Moose Valley); however, there are more on the way, which can be downloaded for free from the website. Or, of course, you could always make your own courses – the logic isn’t too hard.
All this is irrelevant, of course, unless you have a firm grasp on basic mathematics. Adding roll values together isn’t that difficult, but it can become confusing when coupled with percentage modifiers for caddy tips and hazards. “270 plus 215 is 495, then I roll 130, which brings me to 625, but… uh oh, that puts me in a hazard, so I’ll use 10% backspin on that, which brings that last roll to 117, meaning I’m actually at 612. Now I chip onto the green, but… uh oh, sand trap, so this next chip only goes 20% of distance and it’s time to putt…. oh wait… how many shots have I taken again?” Not a huge problem, of course, and particularly when coupled with the strategic approach and 18 individual scores, this makes Pocket Golf feel a lot less portable than the others.
It’s quite surprising how this mix of luck and strategy manages to capture the feel of an actual game of golf! So many times I got the ball onto the green in a couple of shots only to have a few bad putter rolls ruin my chance at par! Frustrating, yes, but amusingly so and, sadly, just like my game in real life! If you know someone who enjoys golf this game is sure to please. It’s taken over as my lunchtime “time filler” for sure.