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TIN SOLDIERS

Reviewed by Dave Rapp

TIN SOLDIERS (R&R Games, 3 to 4 players, less than an hour; $9.99)

 

Tin Soldiers, from R& R Games, is great little trick-taking game created by Al Newman with enough new twists to charm even the most jaded card playing gamer. Before I begin describing the game, I do think it’s fair to warn the reader that I am listed in the instructions as a playtester on the design. However, I would not call this review biased, as much as enamored – I was hurling praises at it before Al Newman even shopped it to R&R. I have even convinced myself that it was because of my appreciative comments that he elected to pursue publication of the game. Believe me, I would have had no qualms telling Mr. Newman to “refile this one under the name “Brussel Sprouts” had I felt the design deserved it.

Anyway, back to the game. Tin Soldiers comes packaged in a metallic tin of the Band-Aid bandage variety. Inside the tin you will find a rules booklet, 55 cards, and a neat little Crackerjack bonus: a spinning metal finger for determining the start player. The game plays 3-5 gamers, although I feel it plays best in its 4 player partnership version. The card art is cartoonish, depicting cans of corn, peas, beets, and tomatoes in various angry poses. I hope the food fight theme doesn’t turn some gamers off before they give the deck a deal.tinsolbox

The deck contains four suits, with ten cards each from 0 to 9, as well as a flag card. There are also five catsup cannon cards, five bonus scoring cards, and a single Trump placeholder card. In a four-player game a cannon card and bonus card are removed.

Each player begins the game by receiving a cabinet card, and setting it so the 0 indicator faces the center of the table. The deck is shuffled and each player is dealt nine cards. These cards are kept in the player’s hand. An additional three cards are dealt underneath the player’s cabinet card in a stack. A single card remains and this card indicates the trump suit. Therefore, whoever was dealt the Trump placeholder can consider that final card as their own, claiming it when they actually play the placeholder card. (In some rare cases, there may not be a trump if say, the placeholder card is the final card ). Each player can now swap three cards with their partner, in an attempt to convey (or collect) information on their strong suits and valuable cards.

The previously determined start player (remember that free spinning finger?) leads to the trick. Players must follow suit if they can. Higher cards in a suit beat lower cards, with the exception of a 0 beating only a 9. Each card also depicts between 0 and 4 cans in the upper right corner (0s and 9s have none, 1s and 2s have 1, 3s and 4s have two, and so on). Cans are points at the end of a hand, so you want to win as many of them as possible. Flag cards have no numerical value and so are the worst cards in each suit. However, the more flags that are collected by a team, the more points that team gets at the end of the hand (1, 5, 10, or 20 points for collecting 1, 2, 3, or all 4 flags). A cannon card allows the player to eliminate any single card played within a trick, possibly changing the unfolding outcome of the trick. So within the basic game, there are several neat little twists to keep things interesting.

The most ingenious part of the game comes from the stack of cards stored under the cabinet card. A player on their turn may elect to play a card from that stack rather than a card from their hand, even if they have the appropriate card to follow suit. If a player wins the trick with that card, they turn their cabinet card counter-clockwise 90 degrees to the next scoring indicator. For your first trick won in that fashion, gain 5 points, for your second, gain 15, and for your third, gain 30.tinsolcards

How do you know when to go to your cabinet? Well, there are two methods for doing so. First, if a player ever wins tricks that contain a 3 card from any of the suits (labeled a spy card), that player can peek at anyone’s top cabinet card. If you are fortunate enough (or clever enough) to collect more than one, you can examine that number of cabinet cards! A little extra information never hurt anyone, except your opponents. Second, players can attempt to keep some mental track of the cards played to determine the likelihood and probability of a useful card still remaining in the game. Good communication between players can afford information about cards stored in the cabinets, leading players to “go to the cabinet” when they are feeling queasy about their chances of winning a trick. At the end of each hand, cards remaining in cabinets are worth double points, so in some cases it may be wise to leave the cabinet closed.

So there you have it, several new card types and a great deductive mechanic that adds to up a classy trick-taking game. My main concerns with the game are what I often refer to as “human factor” issues. I wish the scoring cans were depicted on both corners of the cards. When the cards are fanned into a player’s hand, it’s hard to see them. Also, given that this game has gotten quite a bit of play in my group and the cardstock is less Bicycle™ than I’d hoped, I’ve elected to place the cards in plastic sleeves which makes a tight fit in the metal storing tin. And, as I’ve mentioned before, some have balked at the art. Anecdotally, those who have done so in my group have universally lauded the gameplay after giving it a try.

Overall, Tin Soldiers is a tight card game that deserves a spot in your card game collection. I’ve been very pleased with several of R&R’s recent games (and upcoming acquisitions). They’ve begun to secure a nice position in the marketplace as producers of games enjoyed by both casual and career game players. I look forward to seeing what else they have planned, as well as what else Mr. Newman has in his file cabinets. I hope we can see more from this young designer in the future. – – – – – – – – – – Dave Rapp


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