A gnome-sized Q&Play.  First, we have a mini-interview with the designer, Robbie Munn. Then it’s on to the gnome-sized preview of the game.

The rundown

The gist of Sumo Gnomes as described by the designer: 

“At its core, this is a sumo style wrestling game between two Gnomes battling atop a tree stump dohyō (arena). The wrestling starts by rolling four action dice and choosing which two actions you want to use and which two to keep in reserve for potential use next turn. If your opponent is still on the stump, then it’s their go, to do the same. From that point onwards you only roll the action dice you used previously and pick two actions from the newly rolled dice and what you have in reserve, whatever is not used refills the reserve and so on. It can be a super quick game, you could push your luck by going in hard and fast early, or play more cautiously until the right combo of actions turn up, either way, a game should last no more than 1-5min, with the first to win two out of three bouts claiming the bragging rights.”


The Qs

Robbie, thanks for agreeing to do this interview with us. What is the story behind the creation of this game? Where did the idea of Sumo Gnomes come from?

Robbie: Thank you for having me, it’s a pleasure to talk to you and talk about Sumo Gnomes. Well, I’m not entirely sure to be honest. It started life as a game about Gnomes gambling with stones (dice) in a bid to get the best place to sit in the garden that night. It was quirky but I was never happy quite happy with how it played, I all but gave up on the idea until someone suggested the Gnomes fight. I wasn’t initially sold on the idea but it got creative juices flowing and in no time at all I had completely redesigned the game to be wrestling Gnomes, the Sumo part came complementary to the mental imagery of sparring Gnomes, so I then watched lots of Sumo and designed actions to suit :)

So, it was important to you that the game actually plays out or “feels” like a Sumo match then? 

Robbie: Absolutely! You can push, shove, grab and throw your opponents about the tree stump dohyō and the “Trick” action allows you to manipulate your opponent’s position as I noticed many bouts were won by taking advantage of your opponent’s poor footing. The only major thing missing is that there is no rule to push your opponent to the ground. I dabbled with it, but it started over complicating what should be a quick simple game. Plus Sumo matches do not tend to last very long, so a 1-5min playtime works wonderfully 🙂

With its unique theme. What has been the reaction to the theme of the game when people see it for the first time?

Robbie: It’s quite lovely to witness actually. At conventions people would see the banner and pause, you’d see them mouth the words “Sumo Gnomes?” and then smirk as the mental imagery plays out. I did try to come up with clever witty names for the game early on, but in the end “Sumo Gnomes” tells you exactly what’s in the box 🙂

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What was the best advice a playtester gave you about Sumo Gnomes?

Robbie: The best advice was to lose a mechanic. In an early version you had the chance to block an attack, not only did this not feel very sumo but it also slowed the game down. It ended up being replaced by a grab action which is not only more thematic but much more satisfying 🙂

Do you think we will see more Gnome Sports games from you? And if you were going to try to design another, what sport would be next – curling?  kayak racing? or maybe some Soccer (Football)? 

Robbie: I certainly wouldn’t rule it out! I do enjoy playing Blood Bowl and have often wondered about making a faster, lighter version. Maybe Gnome Bowl? 😀

As we come to a close, what has been the biggest lesson as a designer you’ve learned from designing Sumo Gnomes? 

Robbie: There’s a twofold answer here. From a game design perspective, it definitely revolves around listening to playtesters and accepting that it’s okay to keep things simple as early on I kept trying to overcomplicate it.

The component design has been a real challenge too. To ensure the game fits in a small box, to keep the components tactile, to be as forest-friendly as possible and to keep it all within budget. It hasn’t been easy and I’ve had to redesign the components several times to make it work, but I’ve learnt a great deal as well as developed a good relationship with the printers. I’m really excited for the end product, it should be ace 🙂


The play

Sumo Gnomes is a really cool little travel game, that really has a lot going on for a game that only takes 5 minutes to play. In Sumo Gnomes there are 7 moves (one for each die face and one die face allows you to either move OR push) however, need to be within range to do those moves.  Players also have combos and special moves they can try to pull off as well. Instead of players rolling all 4-dice on a turn (other than the first turn) the two dice they didn’t use go into a reserve and won’t be rolled until used and you will start your turn rolling the two you used the last turn. This makes it so the game isn’t totally random, as you know at least some of the moves you may be able to pull off for sure (and so will your opponent). Rounds play within 30 seconds to a couple of minutes, with the winner be the first to win 3 rounds. However, if you don’t want to play a game that takes 5-7 minutes, you can always play just one round.

I will say, it may take you a few rounds, maybe even a couple of games to get use to the different things you can do, so there is a slight learning curve to this game.  That said,  I actually hope after it’s out some time Robbie, releases some advance combos (maybe 3 different dice face combos and some more 2 die game like the Grab+Switch) even if it’s just via a ruleset on BGG. Also, I like to note this could be a fun game to do some kind of tournament play with. 

As a side note: As a parent of 5 that has been through the baby stage multiple times, this one could be a good on to play if you want to play board games but are too tired or don’t have a lot of time, due to having a newborn. 

I don’t know what the final age limit will be on Sumo Gnomes, but I know that my 5th-grader (age 11) was able to handle the game. Maybe a little too well, as I have yet to win a complete game (of winning 3 matches) against him. This is a game in his is words is “awesome.” and he also recommended that people back this game on Kickstarter. While I am not sure it reaches the level of “awesome” to me, it is a very good game and that has a unique theme (which I really like seeing), and I agree with him about checking out Sumo Gnomes on Kickstarter.


Sumo Gnomes prototype in play



The last word

Meeple-Sized Summary:
In some ways, Sumo Gnomes reminds me of the old late 80s/early 90s action/sports arcade games, where you would only have only a few buttons, but there are combo moves you can pull off. If you are looking for a fast action, fast playing, small footprint game for 2-players, that you can take with you on the go then Sumo Gnomes is what you are looking for!

The last word
Thanks to Robbie for both the interview and sending me a copy of Sumo Gnomes for an honest (p)review.


Sumo Gnomes will be on Kickstarter on October 8th, 2019.