Game: Junk Drawer

Release Year: 2023

Publisher: Winsmith Games and 25th Century Games

Designer: David Smith

Player Count: 1 to 4 players

Play Time: About 5 to 15 minutes

Rules Complexity: Very simple

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I'm so enamored by the idea of polyomino board games. I previously reviewed Project L and I've also played Bärenpark, Patchwork, and Silver & Gold, but found them all to be rather forgettable. The only polyomino game I really like so far has been Cartographers (which I've also reviewed).

So, when Junk Drawer came out in 2023, I was instantly intrigued. It's a lightweight family board game that takes the polyomino puzzle concept and puts a few spins on it that feel fresh and distinct.

But is it any good?

Here's everything you need to know about Junk Drawer, what my experience with the game has been like, and whether it's one that you should consider getting.

This review is based on a review copy of Junk Drawer provided by Winsmith Games. I played the game 10 times before penning this review and my thoughts and opinions are solely my own.


In Junk Drawer, you have four different junk drawers that are each 5x5 grids. You also have 21 different pieces of "junk" that are represented as polyomino tiles, with shapes ranging in size from 1 to 5 (i.e., how many spaces they take up).

Every player has their own set of four junk drawers and the same exact set of 21 junk tiles, meaning everyone has the exact same game setup. Junk Drawer also comes with a 21-card deck of cards corresponding to each of the junk pieces.

Here's how Junk Drawer is played:

Each round consists of 4 cards drawn from the Junk Deck one by one. Players must simultaneously play the corresponding tile from their own sets to their own boards, but players can independently choose which of their four drawers to play in.

But here's the twist: the 4 tiles played in a round must all go in separate drawers. In other words, each drawer gets 1 tile added per round. Everyone is playing the exact same 4 tiles in the exact same order, but the drawer choices and placements within those drawers are up to the players.

As soon as any player is unable to place the next drawn tile into any of their drawers, the game ends and scores are tallied.

How does the scoring work in Junk Drawer?

Each of the four drawers is assigned a random scoring condition at the start of the game. The same scoring conditions apply to all players for their respective drawers, but it's up to players to decide how to play their tiles to maximize their scores.

For example, one drawer might score for every space that's covered while another drawer might score for every space left uncovered, and yet another drawer might score for the number of gaps between tiles, etc.

At the end, everyone scores their own drawers based on how they placed their pieces and how well they satisfy the Goals. Then, compare scores to see who wins.

Setup and Table Footprint

One of the things I like about Junk Drawer is that it's pretty quick to set up, even for a game with lots of polyomino tiles.

Whereas most polyomino board games have you painstakingly initializing a bunch of different stacks of different tiles, Junk Drawer doesn't need you to organize anything. In fact, as long as you keep each player's set of tiles in its own separate bag, the setup is painless—just hand out a bag to each player.

From there, each player grabs a playing board while the host shuffles the Goal Cards and randomly selects four to play with. Finally, shuffle up the Junk Deck and you're ready to go. The whole process takes 1 to 2 minutes.

I also appreciate that Junk Drawer doesn't take up much space. There are some really big table hogs out there when it comes to polyomino games—New York Zoo comes to mind—but this one is surprisingly compact for how it plays.

Not only are the player boards small, but the fact that you don't need to organize your polyomino tiles means you can just keep everything in a pile and grab the necessary tiles as they're drawn from the deck.

The central Goals board and the Junk Deck itself don't need much room either, so it's really easy to fit all four players on a modest-sized table if needed.

Learning Curve

Junk Drawer is so, so easy to learn.

At its core, the gameplay boils down to this: draw a card and play the corresponding tile. The only "hiccup" is that you can only play one tile to each drawer per round, and that's a concept so simple that anyone could grasp it.

The Goals that dictate how the drawers score are also simple to grasp. Even a non-gamer can understand what it means to only gain points for covering the "interior" spaces in a drawer, and the gameplay itself—of placing polyomino tiles in grids—is intuitive enough that someone who's just walking by can see how to play.

Game Experience

Decision Space

Junk Drawer really boils down to two simple decisions every turn: in which drawer am I going to place this tile and in what orientation will I place it.

However, simple decisions aren't necessarily boring or easy! In fact, I find the placement decisions in Junk Drawer to be more engaging than in the other polyomino puzzle games I've played. Here's why.

When it comes to the which drawer decision, you have four factors to consider:

  • How does each drawer score?
  • Which drawers are still available?
  • Which pieces have been used?
  • Which pieces still remain?

For example, when you're holding the Flashlight piece (which is a straight 1x5 tile), you want to avoid placing it in a drawer that scores for uncovered spaces—because you'd be covering up five spaces with a single tile. You'd rather place it in the drawer that scores for covered perimeter spaces, especially since you can cover so many of them in a single placement.

However, the choice isn't always straightforward due to Junk Drawer's clever rule where you have to place 1 tile in each drawer every round.

What if you place a tile in one drawer but a better tile that's better-fitting for that drawer comes along next? Maybe you decide to put the tile in a different drawer, hoping for that perfect tile to show up instead.

Each player has the same exact set of 21 tiles, so you know which tiles have already shown up and which tiles still have a chance to show. The only problem is, you don't know when—or if—a particular tile is going to show up.

In other words, Junk Drawer is very much a push-your-luck game disguised as a polyomino puzzle game. Every turn, you're pushing your luck in several ways: you don't want to play the wrong drawer, you don't want to trap yourself into playing a crappy tile, you don't want to box yourself out of options.

The puzzle aspect is pretty tame in Junk Drawer, especially if you play the easier Goal cards. The harder ones are certainly more interesting and force you to really think about your tile orientations and placements. But overall, Junk Drawer is mainly about drawer choice; the puzzly part is secondary.

Luck Factor

The luck factor in Junk Drawer is pretty strong, but it's not overwhelming. I'd classify it as a solid 50-50 split between luck and strategy.

It's all about the Junk Deck and the order in which the polyomino tiles are revealed. You can sort of plan your decisions around the odds—which tiles remain and their likelihoods of showing up—but at the end of the day, the deck will play out as it will and you might get boned for no other reason than luck.

In practice, though, the luck factor doesn't feel too bad because everyone is up against the exact same order of polyomino tiles. It's not like Timmy comes out ahead because he drew the better cards; rather, he just happened to play his tiles differently and it just happened to work out for him better.

Over many games, the better player with the better tactical decisions will win more often than not. But in any given game? Anyone could win.

Fun Factor

While Junk Drawer tends to be more of a contemplative puzzle game, the luck factor can lead to some exciting moments—especially when you're holding out for one particular polyomino tile and it appears at just the right time.

But as the game progresses, it does get more tense. You have less space in your drawers, so your choices become tougher. With every Junk Card that gets flipped over, you find yourself one step closer to failure. You're just hoping you can last one more turn, then one more turn, and one more turn yet again.

The fun in Junk Drawer is a combination between doing the best you can with luck-driven draws and delaying the inevitable better than your opponents can.


Junk Drawer is a fast game, mainly due to the simultaneous play. There's almost zero downtime, so you're constantly engaged.

Despite 21 cards in the Junk Deck, you won't see all of them in a game—a player will likely bust around turns 15 to 18, at which point the game ends. With each turn only taking about 20 to 40 seconds, you can see how quickly it can fly by.

When you're unable to place a drawn tile in any of your drawers, that triggers the end of the game.

And yet, despite the short play time, Junk Drawer has a satisfying arc. You start off with lots of options, then gradually find that your decisions get harder and harder as you're restricted by your past actions. You're better able to play the odds on Junk Card draws with every turn, but each draw becomes more impactful over time.

You never know who's winning until the game actually ends and everyone scores their four drawers according to the Goals. And Junk Drawer is the kind of game that's so fast and easy to reset that you'll want to play at least a few times in a row.

Player Interaction

Junk Drawer is 100% a multiplayer solitaire game with zero player interaction. I don't say that as a negative, though. In fact, a game like this really wouldn't work with player interaction and would be worse off for it.

In broad strokes, Junk Drawer is that type of game where every player is faced with the same exact stream of decisions, and the competition is in seeing whose decisions result in the highest score at the end.


Junk Drawer isn't fiddly at all. You handle one polyomino tile at a time, and once it's placed into a drawer, it's there permanently. You aren't moving stuff around, there are no trackers or markers to manage, and you aren't inundated with pieces.

It's even better because all of the drawers on the player boards are dual-layered, which helps keep the polyomino tiles secure and in place.


Junk Drawer is very much a filler-type game, but it's one of the better options if you want a filler game that's more than just a handful of cards or dice. It has the same simple-but-addictive quality that casual mobile games have—it may not be the most grandiose experience, but it's fast, engaging, and fun.

Why? Well, for a few reasons.

The Goals are different every game and they feel unique. This is the kind of variable setup that I believe has a positive impact on games. With a different set of Goals per game, your strategies must be different and you're forced to make a different kind of evaluation from game to game. Knowing how to play into a particular set of Goals is how you win, and it's fun to figure that out.

The luck is unpredictable and levels the playing field. Junk Drawer is a short and light-hearted game, so losing due to luck isn't such a big deal. On the contrary, it's a boon because it keeps you on your toes and makes the game unpredictable. The fact that anyone can win keeps things interesting from game to game.

There's enough strategy to make your decisions matter. Luck matters, but so does your strategy. Your strategy needs to accommodate the luck factor, and the player who's best at risk management will win more often over the long term.

Each game of Junk Drawer is like a hand of poker: you might lose any given hand, but you'll come out ahead overall.

The placement of tiles into drawers is satisfying. Polyomino games are so popular because there's just something innately fun about piecing puzzle tiles together, especially in those moments when the perfect piece fits into the perfect spot.

Junk Drawer has plenty of moments like this, which feed into the addictive loop of wondering what the next tile will be and whether you can make it work.

Pull it all back and here's how I feel: Junk Drawer is a bag of potato chips. It's not always my top pick for a filler game, but when it does come out, I'm playing it several times because it's that easy to play and makes you want just one more.

Solo Mode

Junk Drawer's solo mode is played exactly the same way as the normal game, except now you're trying to beat a certain score.

In the normal game, each of the four drawers has a Goal Card assigned to it. You still play with these in solo mode, but you also look at the "Example Score" at the bottom of each Goal Card. These Example Scores add up together to form the final Target Score, which you're trying to exceed with your tile placements.

In this solo game, the Target Score is 16 + 18 + 12 + 12 = 58.

The Example Scores are pretty reasonable, with harder Goals requiring fewer points and easier Goals demanding more. However, when you combine them all together, beating the cumulative Target Score is... pretty tough!

I played the solo mode six times. I won once (barely) and lost the other five times for a win percentage of ~17%. It honestly surprised me how difficult it was to win, and it's clear that the luck factor is way stronger in this mode. At least it wasn't frustrating because each solo game only took about 5 minutes to play.

Overall, Junk Drawer is an okay solo game. It feels sterile and less interesting than when you're playing against others—even just one other player—because you're just playing against luck. An unfortunate combination between Goal Cards and Junk Deck draws can seriously kill you through no fault of your own.

Production Quality

I'm pretty pleased with Junk Drawer's production:

The player boards are dual-layered. This is such a winning feature in any polyomino game, and Junk Drawer has convinced me that every game with polyomino tiles should have dual-layered boards. It elevates the experience so much by keeping pieces in place and preventing accidents from ruining the game.

The polyomino tiles are cleanly cut and tactile. I once played a polyomino game where the pieces were so poorly cut that some of them didn't fit together, which totally ruined the experience. Here, everything fits. Perfect.

The Goal Cards and Junk Cards are thin and flimsy. The card quality in Junk Drawer is far from the best, but I think it's okay in this instance because the cards aren't played in hand. You aren't dealing or playing cards—you're simply drawing cards, so they aren't handled often and don't get much wear. As long as you're careful not to accidentally bend or crease them, they should last a long time.

The graphic design on Junk Cards could be improved. The Junk Cards have the same artwork as their corresponding polyomino tiles, but for whatever reason the artwork isn't outlined to show the actual shape of the tile. I'm not sure how this was overlooked or why they chose not to include the shape on the cards, but it's a nuisance and I really wish they hadn't missed it.

The Bottom Line

Junk Drawer

Recommended Score Guide
  1. Very easy to set up, fast to play, and small table footprint
  2. No downtime because gameplay is simultaneous
  3. Tension and excitement come from the push-your-luck aspect
  4. Variable goals and tactical gameplay make it adequately replayable
  1. Significant luck factor without much luck mitigation
  2. Solo mode is difficult and somewhat lifeless compared to playing with others
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