Reviewed by Joe Huber
LUZ (Korokorodou/Big Cat Games, 3 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 30-45 minutes; $35)
One of the most popular game design challenges is coming up with a truly novel trick-taking game. There are thousands of trick-taking games – both with special decks and using traditional cards (from many different traditions) – and while many are novel, and many are enjoyable, it’s quite difficult to design a game that meets both criteria. Luz (designed by Taiki Shinzawa and originally published in 2014, and then released in a new edition in 2021) dives into this challenge.
The deck consists of five suits, numbered 1-10 in each suit – with the suit visible from both the front and back of the cards. This particular twist is not new – Alex Randolph released a game, Indiscretion, in 1987, with multiple games (both from Randolph and other well-known designers) included in various editions. But that’s not really the relevant twist here. Because each player (the game can be played with 3 or 4) is dealt 10 cards, which represent NOT their hand, but the hand of the player to their left. They then sort these cards – adding a “high” card to show, within a suit, which card is the highest (and on down), and hand the sorted cards to the player on their left. Everyone then picks up their cards so that they can only see the suits (and the high card marker), while everyone else can see their whole hand. There are always ten cards not dealt, so that each player can garner some information about their holdings – but no certainty.
A round of bidding then follows, starting with the dealer. Each player must bid the number of tricks they believe they will take. However, at the penalty of a lower reward for being correct, a player may also take an “and 1” marker, allowing them to take either of two possible numbers of tricks and make their bid. There are no restrictions on bidding; players may bid to take exactly 10 tricks collectively, or more, or fewer, as they see fit.
After all players have bid, the dealer leads to the first trick in the usual fashion. The white suit is always trump, and players must follow suit if possible but otherwise may play any card they wish. Once all ten tricks are complete, players compare the number of tricks they took to their bids. If an exact bid (no “and 1”) was made, the player receives 40 points for making their bid, -10 for each trick missed by for failing. If an “and 1” bid was made, the player receives 20 points for making their bid, -10 for each trick missed by for failing – using the more forgiving bid. (For example, if a player bids 1 and 1, and takes 0 tricks, the penalty is -10. If they take 3 tricks, the penalty is also -10.) Each player deals once (with four) or twice (with three), and the game ends, with the highest score winning.
Luz is a nicely produced card game. The artwork on the cards is fine but isn’t going to stand out from other card games. The quality is solid, typical of what is expected for a card game – a well-designed, functional box, and good quality cards.
The most well-known game like Luz is probably 2018’s Pikoko. But in Pikoko, players don’t play their own cards, which makes for a fairly chaotic experience. In Luz, playing your own hand makes for a far greater sense of control, which makes – at least for me – a much better experience.
As noted above, there are a lot of trick-taking card games. For me some are among my favorite games but most of them end up being just yet another trick-taking card game. So does Luz stand above this? To be honest, I’m not sure yet. I’ve played four times, and I’ve greatly enjoyed my plays; in particular, there’s a lot of opportunity to learn during the play of each hand. But with only four plays, I’m not certain just how well it will hold up. I’m optimistic – just not certain.
If you’re not a fan of trick-taking games, Luz is an easy one to pass on; it’s very unlikely to be the game that changes your opinion of the genre. If you are a fan of trick-taking games, Luz is well worth trying – if you can track down a copy. In particular, Luz emphasizes card uncertainty (similar to other games in which only a portion of the deck is dealt) and deduction (there’s a lot of information available with which to work out the situation even if some of it comes too late). And most importantly – it really doesn’t feel like anything else. – – – – – – – – – Joe Huber
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