A CORNUCOPIA OF CARD GAMES: PEVANS LOOKS AT NEW CARD GAMES
I seem to have picked up quite a few card games while I was in Essen last October. Well, they’re so much easier to carry when you’re flying. And easier on the budget, too. This article is thus a brief review of each of them. They’re in alphabetical order of title, as I can’t think of a better way of organising this.
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(Adlung Spiele, 2-4 players, ages 8 and up, 20-40 minutes; about $8)
First up is thus Fliegende Teppiche (Flying Carpets in English), designed by Lorenz Kutschke and published by Adlung. One of my first ports of call at Spiel is always the Adlung Spiele stand. Adlung only produces card games, usually 3-4 each year (though I tend to avoid the ones aimed at children). As each game is simply a deck of cards (plus rules), they are easy on the pocket and inexpensive. And there have been some gems amongst them over the years.
At first sight, Fliegende Teppiche is a dexterity game: everybody throws their ‘flying carpet’ onto the table. As the carpets are cards, this involves a flick of the wrist rather than hurling. Players collect the other card/s their carpet lands on. Disputes are settled by secretly choosing a Genie card – each player starts with part of the set. High card wins, but the loser gains the high card, making them more likely to win the next dispute. More target cards are turned over for the next round and the game lasts as many rounds as there are players.
So far, so simple. However, the scoring system makes this rather more than a card-flicking game and gives it some strategy. There are points to be gained (and lost) at the end of each round, for the players who’ve collected the most/least palaces in the round. The bulk of the points are at the end of the game, when players score for their collections of cards. Depending on the type of card, these will be of the same card or of different ones. Any ‘Desert’ cards are penalties and wild cards can be used to augment a set or ignore a penalty.
There is a definite knack to throwing the cards, which can take a while to master. The second stage of this is getting them to land in the right place – something I’m still struggling with. The strategy is pretty straightforward, but the physical element makes the game quite tricky. I’ve really enjoyed playing Fliegende Teppiche, not least because it gets everybody out of their seats and standing round the table. There are some similarities with Beer and Pretzels, but this is a more subtle game than Ted Alspach’s creation. I give it an initial 7/10 on my highly subjective scale.
(Mayday Games, 3-6 players, ages 7 and up, 10-20 minutes; $25)
Mayday Games is best known to me as a purveyor of card sleeves, but they were at Spiel with several new games. Get Bit! is probably the silliest of these: designed by Dave Chalker, it’s a game of robot-eating sharks. Yes, robots being eaten by a shark! Each player has a set of cards and a model robot (with detachable limbs) in the same colour. The robots start in a line with the shark at the back. Each turn, players choose a card secretly. When revealed, players move their robot to the front in card order. Unless they’ve played the same number as anyone else, in which case they’re not going anywhere.
The robot at the back loses a limb to the shark, Man-eater style. On the plus side, that robot catapults to the front of the line and the player gets to pick up their used cards (otherwise you have to wait until you’ve used all your cards, which severely limits your options towards the end). When a robot has lost all four limbs, that player is out of the game. The game continues until there are only two robots left. The one in front wins the game. Get Bit! is a neat tactical game and wonderfully silly. It may be a knock-out game, but it doesn’t last long enough for this to be a serious issue. It’s been going down well with my games group and gets 8/10 on my highly subjective scale.
Old Men of the Forest
(Treefrog, 3-4 players, ages 10 and up, 30 minutes, $15)
As I recall, Martin Wallace’s first commercially published game (i.e. one that was published by a company other than Warfrog) was the neat little card game, …und tschüss! Since then, I don’t think he’s done a pure card game. Until, that is, the appearance of Old Men of the Forest, from Treefrog, at Spiel ’10. This is a relatively simple game – the rules fit on just one side of a sheet of paper. It consists of a five-suit deck of cards plus ‘Orangutan’ cards that players buy for victory points. Players get a hand of cards and several Orangutans are laid out for purchase.
Old Men of the Forest is a kind of trick-taking game. In turn, everybody plays a card, but there’s no requirement to follow suit. The players of the two highest value cards each gets to each claim one card from those played (other than their own). They can hold onto their stock of claimed cards or use it to buy an Orangutan, if they have the right set of cards. They must use all the cards they have, with any that are not required to buy the Orangutan being kept as penalties. One suit, ‘Deforestation’, is not used to buy Orangutans and is thus just penalties.
At the end of the hand, players score points for the Orangutans they hold, less any penalties. Scores accumulate over a number of hands, as required, and the winner is the player with the most points at the end. Old Men of the Forest is a neat game that’s quick to play and entertaining – though not particularly demanding. What’s more, all profits from the sale of the game go to the UK Orangutan Foundation, which works to conserve the Orangutan and its habitat. The game gets 6/10 from me.
On the Cards
(Surprised Stare Games, 2 to 6 players, ages 10 and up, 30-60 minutes; about $18)
On the Cards (published by Surprised Stare Games) was designed by Sebastian Bleasdale, the man who gave us On the Underground featured in the Winter 2007 issue of Gamers Alliance Report (I detect a certain similarity in the titles). The box contains two decks of cards. One is a standard, 52-card, 4-suit pack of playing cards. The other is rather different. Sebastian has divided the rules of trick-taking card games into four elements: the deal, the aim, card play and winning the trick. Instead of four suits, the second pack has a set of cards for each element. Taking one card from each set gives the rules for a particular game.
The game starts with the four sets shuffled. The top cards give the rules for the first round. The players play this game and score: the winner takes a rule card. This, of course, reveals a new card, giving a slightly different set of rules for the next round! The first player to get a set number of cards wins. This is such a clever idea! It takes the variability generated by a game like Fluxx, but sets it in a structure. This means the game is both more challenging and more rewarding than the randomness of Fluxx.
In practice, I found the actual game a bit awkward. With so many possibilities, some combinations are tricky to play. I strongly recommend using the standard, ‘Introductory Game’ detailed in the rules for your first game. This provides an undemanding way of learning the game. Once you’re familiar with it, a fifth set of cards can be introduced to provide a ‘twist’ for each round. I can see On the Cards being a big hit with fans of trick-taking games as it provides an opportunity to thoroughly test their skills. It gets 7/10 on my highly subjective scale.
(Le Joueur, 3-6 players, ages 6 and up, 15 minutes; $11.95)
There was a big stand at Spiel that was shared by several French publishers. Amongst them was Le Joueur, whose Sandwich (a good French word that!) I was introduced to by Kris Gould of Wattsalpoag. Designed by Christophe Raimbault, Sandwich is a terrific way of filling 15 minutes – especially when waiting for your burger to arrive. The cards all represent something that could go into a sandwich. Players are dealt nine each, but don’t play with these. Instead, they all flip over their top card and grab a card from another player. Thus players have some (!) control over the nine cards they end up with.
Then everybody makes three sandwiches, each with three ingredients, and gives them to the three players on their left. Once everybody has their sandwiches, they evaluate them, ranking them best to worst. The donor of each sandwich earns points according to how high up the ranking it is. After a few rounds, the player with the most points wins! What I really like about this game is that the crucial thing is giving the right sandwich to the right person. It’s been great fun every time I’ve played it and I give it 9/10 on my highly subjective scale.
(Adlung Spiele, 2-5 players, ages 10 and up, 30 minutes; about $12)
Tuareg was the second game I picked up from Adlung. Designed by Francesco Berardi, this is a game of acquiring goods around the desert. Players have a couple of camels, onto which they can load goods. Their main options each turn are to draw cards into their hand (though at least one must go back onto the table – the ‘market’), load commodity cards from their hand or load cards from the market. There are specific restrictions on loading goods that have to be complied with, so it isn’t as straightforward as all that.
When the deck runs out, players score points for those commodities that they have the most of. Each commodity has a different value and consists of a different number of cards, so players have some tactical decisions about which to collect. There’s also a memory element to the game, as everybody will have seen (almost) all the cards in play. After the second time through the deck, points are counted again and the player with the most is, of course, the winner.
The other element to the game is the special cards. Players can buy these, using commodities from their hand. Each of them provides some advantage: a cave to hide commodities in, a thief to steal them and so on. Players have to weigh up when and whether it’s worth buying these – it’s quite possible to buy one and then not get much (any!) use from it. Tuareg is a neat little game: it forces players to make some tricky decisions while not being too demanding. And at around 30 minutes to play, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. I give it 8/10 on my highly subjective scale.
Here are a few additional games that I haven’t played enough to be able to review properly yet.
Black Dove is a new publisher from Singapore and had one new game available at Spiel: For Fame & Fortune. It’s played with a five-suit deck where the aim is to get the highest-scoring Poker-style hand after several rounds of passing cards between players. Players can also play cards as their ‘bet’ on winning the hand. This reduces the number of cards passed, but the cards played also act as a Poker-style ‘flop’ – cards that can be used by any player as part of their hand. It’s a neat idea that combines several aspects of other games in a novel way.
Swedish publisher Gigantoskop had a new edition of Forceball, about a futuristic game that seems to have some similarities to (ice) hockey. Players’ cards show attacking moves – pass, dribble, shoot – or defensive actions – block, tackle, intercept. The attacking player tries to score a goal, while the defender tries to take the ball for themselves. The game plays at a furious pace once players know what they’re doing (which doesn’t take long). After three periods, the higher score wins. I found Forceball entertaining enough, but very dependent on luck.
Amalgam is the first games publisher I’ve come across from Croatia. Their first game is Uskoci, a card game about Croatian pirates. The aim of the game is to be the first to collect exactly 25 points worth of treasure – and hold off the other players. Game play is pretty straightforward (the rules only take up three pages). The cards are divided into suits and each is numbered. You play one card a turn – adding to the value of your treasure – along with any action card(s). The heart of the game is in the interplay between players – and their grudges! The designer’s advice is to “play like a pirate!”
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Winter 2012 GA Report Articles