Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser
TRUFFLE SHUFFLE (AEG, 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, 30 minutes; $19.99)
NOTE: Thanks to the social distancing caused by COVID-19, this review is based solely on playing the game with two players.
Of all of the wonderful tastes in this great big world, chocolate is certainly near the very top. I admit that I am a chocoholic. I find it difficult, if not impossible to pass up a delicious morsel of this delectable derivative of the cocoa plant. Just wandering into a confectionery launches my taste buds into a frenzy of anticipation. It is difficult to control the drool as I survey the tempting array of chocolate truffles in the display cases. Resistance is futile.
So, combine my love of chocolate with my love of board games, and you have a completely irresistible treat. There have been several games using the chocolate theme — Schoko & Company, Cacao, King Chocolate, Chocolate Factory and others — some of which were good, while others were, well, akin to stale chocolate. The latest entry into this field is Truffle Shuffle by the trio of designers who brought us Point Salad: Molly Johnson, Shawn Stankewich and Robert Melvin.
As with Point Salad, the game is designed to be a light, pleasant affair, squarely marketed at families and casual gamers. It combines elements of the traditional card games Rummy and Solitaire, with players grabbing chocolate cards in attempts to assemble tasty sets. These sets are sold to eager customers, with the rarer sets garnering more cash and renown.
The game consists of 117 “Truffle” cards, each depicting a tempting chocolate delight. There are four different suits (colors) with values ranging from 1 – 5. There are numerous special cards as well, which allow the player to manipulate a card’s value or suit, skip a turn, select multiple cards, etc. Optimizing the use of these special cards is a key to assembling the most valuable sets.
The game is played over the course of three rounds. Each round, 39 cards are arranged in a pyramid-shaped tableau, with cards slightly overlapping the cards in the row above it. The first row consists of four cards, while the sixth and final row, which forms the base of the pyramid, consists of nine cards. The first, third and fifth row are face-up, while the other three rows are face-down. Grabbing one of these cards is akin to the famous quote from Forrest Gump: “…life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get!” To be fair, however, the backs of the cards correspond to the suit color, so at least you know the suit of the card you are taking.
A player’s turn is quite simple: take a card from the display, or play a special “skip” or “take 2” card. In order to take a card, it cannot be partially covered by another card. The card is placed in a player’s hand and she may, if desired, form a set. After that choice, it is the next player’s turn. That simple.
Forming sets is the key to the game. There are several sets that consumers seek:
One of each color or four of one color
Small or large straight
Small or large straight flush
Number set or number set flush
Depending upon the set formed and number of cards in the set, income (points) earned varies from 3 to a whopping 10. Plus, a bonus (2, 1, 1) is earned for the first three sets formed in a round, as long as those sets consist of at least four chocolates. While forming valuable sets is more lucrative, it does take longer to assemble, which may cause one to miss out on that bonus income. So, early in a round, it may be wise to try to form a quick set so one of those limited bonuses can be earned.
As mentioned, there are special cards that allow players to manipulate the value or suit of cards, as well as wild cards which can serve as any suit or value. These can be quite handy when forming sets. The “skip” allows a player to forego his current turn, allowing him to take three cards on his next turn. The “take 2” card allows the player to take two cards on his current turn. Properly timing the use of these cards so multiple desired cards can be taken can prove quite beneficial.
When the final card is taken from the tableau, the round ends after that player’s turn. Players must discard down to two cards, so one should keep a careful eye on when the round may end so they can use excess cards to form sets. Nothing is quite so sad as discarded chocolate.
Three rounds are conducted in the same fashion. The player who has amassed the greatest wealth at the end of those three rounds is the victor and recognized as the community’s outstanding chocolatier. A typical game can be played to completion in 30 minutes or less, making it an ideal selection for casual gamers or as a filler between meatier fare.
The big tension in Truffle Shuffle is whether to try to assemble large, valuable sets, which earn more coins, or go for an abundance of easier, although less lucrative sets. With two players, each player has well over a dozen selections from the tableau, giving them time to assemble larger sets. With three or four players, the number of selections each player gets each round is more limited, making assembling larger sets more difficult. So, going for the easier-to-assemble sets may be a more viable approach.
Choosing a face-down card carries a degree of uncertainty, but, as mentioned, at least you know the suit of the card being selected. This gives you choices. There is no hand limit during the round, so there is freedom to alter one’s tactics as needed based on the cards selected. As the tableau depletes, however, it becomes more urgent to form sets so as to not waste chocolate at the end of the round.
Sadly, aside from the tempting bonbon artwork, the game has little to do with chocolate. The theme is virtually non-existent, as during game play one is really only concerned with the suits and values of the cards. I am fine with this, as it is intended to be a light, fun card game and nothing more. Those who want a theme to be strong or perhaps paramount will be left wanting here.
My wife and I have played numerous times and have found the game to be enjoyable. She is predisposed to enjoy games based on familiar card game mechanisms, so the Rummy and Solitaire aspects appealed to her. She also enjoys games that are easy to learn and play, not encumbered by a proliferation of rules or seemingly unlimited decisions. She fits perfectly into the “family” and “casual” gamer classifications, the market that will undoubtedly find this title to be most appealing. As an admittedly more hardcore gamer, I, too, find the game to be entertaining. Truffle Shuffle is the type of game you can bring to the table when you have a bit of time and don’t want something taxing. It is light, fun and enjoyable … and has none of the waist-expanding or sugar-elevating attributes of a real box of chocolates! That is a plus! – – – – Greg J. Schloesser
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