Deer in the Headlights – Card and Dice Game Review

Deer in the Headlights Game Box.
Deer in the Headlights Game Box.

Deer in the Headlights is a combination card game and dice game published and released in 2014 by University Games Corporation under the Front Porch Classics brand.

Deer in the Headlights includes three proprietary dice seemingly exclusive to the game as well as two full 54-card standard playing card decks. The standard playing card decks are branded on one side with the Deer in the Headlights logo, but have the same card designs on the play side you would expect to see with any deck of playing cards purchased at the local drug store. The decks even come with two jokers even though jokers are never mentioned anywhere in the rules. It is important to discard the jokers prior to beginning play.

The Deer in the Headlights cards are standard playing cards.
The Deer in the Headlights cards are standard playing cards.

Once the jokers are removed, the first round’s dealer combines and shuffles both decks and then deals out all of the cards to everyone playing. The Deer in the Headlights instruction booklet states that the game may be played by two or more players. I would imagine the only limit to the number of players is the number of cards that may be dealt. The included score pad for the game contains a slot for six players, but keeping track of player scores in a notebook or using two sheets from the score pad should be trivial.

The player who manages to discard all of their cards first wins the round. At the end of the round, all other players count up their points which are then tabulated on the score sheet. Number cards are worth their number values. Jacks, queens, and kings are worth ten points, while aces are worth one point. At the end of ten rounds, the player with the lowest score wins the game.

Play begins with the dealer. They roll the dice and play their turn based on what they roll. There is zero strategy involved. Deer in the Headlights is less a game and more an exercise in probability.

There are three six-sided dice, one beige, one blue, and one red. The dice are the only part of the game that cannot be easily interchanged with another game or other rules. Even though this is the case, the one on the red die is meant to indicate an ace. The red die has the lowest point numbers: A, 2, 3, 4, 5, and a Deer with Antlers. The blue die has the middle point numbers: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and a Deer with Antlers. And finally the beige die has the highest point cards represented: J, Q, K, Car, Running Deer, and Deer with Antlers.

The most common rolls are for three card values such as 2, 6, and Q. When this happens and no symbols are rolled (e.g. Running Deer, Car, or Deer with Antlers) the player who rolled may discard all of the cards that match the values rolled to the center discard pile from their hand. If they are unable to play any cards from their hand from this roll, any and all opponents around the table may discard from their own hand those cards and give them to the rolling player. The second most common roll is two middle or lower point numbers and a deer with antlers such as 4, 7, and a deer with antlers. When this happens, the player may discard to the center pile all of the 4’s or 7’s in their hand.

Deer in the Headlights contains three dice, one blue, one beige, and one red.
Deer in the Headlights contains three dice, one blue, one beige, and one red.

A more uncommon roll is to get two numbers and a car. The car essentially indicates that any cards discarded will not go to the center pile but will instead by distributed by the current player to the other opponents around the table as they see fit. When two numbers and a running deer are rolled, the player may discard to the center pile all of the cards in their hand for the numbers shown, plus an additional wild card of their choosing. So if a 3, 8, and running deer are rolled, the player could discard all the 3’s, 8’s, and Kings they have in their hand if they were to so choose.

When a number, a deer with antlers, and a car are rolled, the player may discard any card that matches the number rolled, as well as any number of cards that add up to that number. So if the player rolled a six, she could discard all of her sixes and any other combination within her hand that adds up to six. Three twos, one four and two ones, and one five and one one would all count. Because the car was rolled, all of these cards discarded are distributed to any of the opposing players the current player chooses.

When a number, a deer with antlers, and a running deer are rolled, the player may discard any odd or even cards based on whether the number rolled was odd or even. So, if the player rolled a 10, she would be able to discard all of the even cards in her hand to the center pile. Face cards are not included in the odd/even count, so jacks, queens, and kings may not be discarded in this way.

If two deer with antlers are rolled with one number, the player loses a turn. If however, two deer with antlers and a car are rolled, the player who rolled may select an opponent to lose the turn for them. If two deer with antlers and a running deer are rolled, the player may discard all of any two kinds of cards they choose from their hand to the center pile.

The most tragic move of all is to roll three deer with antlers. This “freezes” the player. They must pick up all cards from the center pile and they are unable to play a full turn again until they successfully roll a set of dice with at least one deer with antlers. This can be a real rotten game changer and has the potential to make a sore loser in a hurry. It is surprising how rare it actually ever happens, however.

Dice Rolls and Corresponding 'Card Plays' sheet from Instruction Manual.
Dice Rolls and Corresponding ‘Card Plays’ sheet from Instruction Manual.

Deer in the Headlights is a good game for teaching young children how to play basic card and dice games. Its sophistication is greater than that of Go Fish and Candy Land so parents won’t be as bored out of their minds playing it. It’s still quite a tedious game for me to play with my six-year-old son where I have my algorithm all worked out for each and every turn while he takes forever trying to figure out how many nines he has in all of the cards strewn about his hand. Given there is no strategy involved, I really can’t wait until he’s graduated from this one.

Deer in the Headlights might also serve as a decent social game for people who don’t like to play games. In most rounds I have played, most players were about to run out of cards at the same time which tends to provide the illusion that a player is playing “well.” This also increases the possibility that a player will have a “good” round regardless of their level of gaming skill. For those who are new to and scared of more sophisticated games, this could be used as a gateway game to get them interested in something more complex as time goes on.

Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game – Card Game Review

Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game Box
Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game Box

Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game is a card game released in 2017 by USAopoly, and licensed by Nintendo. It is designed to be played with three to eight players. Playing with two players is possible, but reduces the complexity of how the game is played making it less fun. This becomes evident as the game progresses since the objective is to be the last player standing.

Each player begins with four extra life tokens. In each round of play one or more losers are declared. These losers must discard an extra life token. When a player runs out of extra life tokens they are eliminated from the game.

The four suits of the level card deck.
The four suits of the level card deck.

There are two card decks. The level card deck is essentially a standard 52 playing card deck you would use for poker or bridge. There are four suits: land level, underground level, water level, and Bowser castle level. The suits are not actually used in the game, it’s just interesting that they still decided to include them. Numbers go from one through twelve, replacing ace through queen. Kings are replaced with castle cards.

The other deck is the question block card deck. This deck consists of special items that can change the outcome of a particular round. All players begin with one question block card. In each round a dealer deals one level card to each player face down. The oldest player is first to be the dealer and the role of dealer passes clockwise around the table with each round.

Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game plays like a gambling game. It feels like blackjack when you look at your level card and decide what course of action you plan to take for your turn. Once the dealer has dealt a level card to each player, the player to the dealer’s left examines her level card and determines whether she will hold on to her level card or trade it with the player on her left. Once this decision has been made and any trade completed, play passes around the table in a clockwise fashion until reaching the dealer. If a player receives a castle card as their level card in a round, they must reveal their card and receive an extra question block card from the top of the question block card deck. When a player has a castle card, no other players may trade with them and they automatically are free from losing an extra life token for the duration of the round.

On the dealer’s turn, the dealer turns over her level card to reveal it to the other players. The dealer may then decide to either hold on to her level card or trade her level card with the top card on the level card deck. After this has been completed, everyone reveals their level cards by turning them over.

Any players with the same number on their level cards each receive a question block card. The player or players with the lowest level card values stand to lose at the end of the round. Beginning with the player to the left of the dealer, players may in turn decide whether they wish to play a question block card in their hand if they have one. Question block cards may be used to boost a player’s own level card value or decrease the level card values of an opponent along with other special abilities. When a question block card is played on a player’s level card where a previous question block card has already been played, the most recently played question block card replaces any previously played question block cards before it.

A typical Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game setup.
A typical Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game setup.

Once everyone has decided whether they wish to effect the level card values on the table with their question block cards, the player or players with the lowest level card value must remove one of their extra life tokens from the game. Play then continues into the next round until only one player is left standing.

With a little tweaking, Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game could be turned into a fun poker night gambling game. Given the card decks’ clear similarity to standard playing card decks, I wondered if this game were a recreation of an older card game that already existed prior to repackaging it as a Nintendo licensed product. To recreate the question block cards using a standard playing card deck would be challenging, but not impossible.

The full question block card deck.
The frequency of the cards in the top row are one, middle two, and bottom three.
The full question block card deck.
The frequency of the cards in the top row are one, middle two, and bottom three.

One thing I noticed while playing is that it is easy for players to feel stuck once level cards have been revealed when they no longer have any question block card to play. The question block card deck only contains 30 cards. If the number of cards in the question block card deck could be expanded while retaining a good probability ratio between the common cards that players expect to see and those more powerful cards that heavily influence a round, maybe the game could be tweaked to not only use two standard 52/54 card decks, but would also be more fun to play. Extra life tokens could be replaced with poker chips and a betting component could probably be added.

Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game is a good game for teaching young children the basic rule mechanics of typical card games. There is more skill involved in this game than most games for young children, but the ultimate outcome of playing this game is largely based on chance. While designed for young players, there may be something deeper here that could be refined and improved for those who enjoy coming up with their own house rules.

Set – Card Game Review

Set Card Game

Set Card Game

Set is a card game developed by Marsha Falco and published by Set Enterprises, Inc. and Cannei, LLC. It was released in 1991 to understandable acclaim, as it is a clever, novel card game. Set may be played solitaire, or with any number of players provided there is enough space around the table for everyone to see what cards are in play.

There are 81 cards in the Set deck. On these cards are combinations of one, two, or three shapes in the form of a squiggle, diamond or oval. These shapes appear in one of three colors: purple, green, or red. Each card’s shape is solidly filled in, unfilled, or shaded. At the game’s start the deck is shuffled, and twelve cards are laid face-up in the center of the table in a 3×4 grid.

Set 3x4 grid arrangement

Set 3×4 grid arrangement

Once all of the cards are laid out, those who are playing examine the grid for potential sets. A set is defined as a group of three cards anywhere within the grid that all either share a similar or completely distinct characteristic for each classification of shape, shading, color, or number of items on the cards. Once a player is sure they see a set, they call out that they’ve found one to everyone else playing. They then pick out the three cards and all other players confirm whether a set has actually been found or not. If a set has indeed been found, the player who found the set keeps those cards and a point is added to their score. Three new cards are drawn from the deck and are used to fill in the places where the cards used to make the set were taken. If a valid set was not confirmed to be found, the player who claimed a set has their score decremented by one set. Play then continues with all players looking for the next set. Play ends and scores are tallied when the deck runs out of cards. Whoever found the most sets becomes the winner of the game.

It is important that all players understand exactly what a set is before play begins. I was mad as a hen when I was picking what I thought were sets and losing points the first time I played Set. Meanwhile my opponent was selecting out sets that I had disregarded because I thought they did not fit the description of a set.

An example of a set is shown where there are three solid green ovals, three solid green squiggles, and three solid green diamonds. These constitute a set because they are all green, there are three shapes on each card, the shapes on each card are all solid, and a distinctly different shape is displayed on each card.

This is a valid set.

This is a valid set.

An example of a group of three cards that is not a set is also shown here. While all three cards are colored purple, each card has a distinct number of shapes, and all of the shapes shown are solid, two of the cards display diamond while the final card is oval. Because not all of the cards contain diamond nor does each card contain a distinct shape, these cards do not constitute a set.

This is not a valid set.

This is not a valid set.

One final example of a set is shown here. The color is different on each card: red, green, then purple. Each card contains diamonds, but each one has a different number of diamonds. The diamonds have distinct shading across all cards. The first is solid, the second shaded, and the third empty. This is a valid set.

This is a valid set.

This is a valid set.

If at any point no set is found within the grid on the table, then three additional cards are pulled from the deck and placed into the grid for a total of 15 cards. Play then continues. When the next set is discovered, no further cards are drawn in order to get the grid back down to twelve cards. Therefore, as I understand it, there should never be more than 15 cards in play at a time. In solitaire play, a player is trying to find as many sets as they can to beat their previous score. When they are unable to find a set in the twelve card grid, they may add the additional three cards, but doing so creates a one set penalty to their score. Of course, who is going to know you’re cheating if you’re playing alone?

Set is a fun little card game that is easy to learn how to play. Given that any number of players may play it, it is an ideal card game for party situations. It has won several game awards including the MENSA Select award. I can vouch that this is a fantastic title that belongs in any serious card gamer’s collection.

Twenty-Two – Card Game Review

Twenty-Two Gameplay

Twenty-Two Gameplay

I went camping this past weekend. As I mentioned in the Mexican Train domino game review I published the other week, dominoes seem like a good durable piece of gaming equipment for rough terrain and weathered environments. I took my double-twelve domino set on the camping trip and we played a few rounds of Mexican Train. It worked well. The dominoes got very dirty as you might expect, however. I would recommend keeping two sets of dominoes, one for indoor use and another for outdoor use. It also might be good to clean the outdoor dominoes from time to time.

The biggest downside to taking a double-twelve set of dominoes camping is that it significantly adds to the weight I carry on the hiking trail. I have a travel sized double-six domino set that is approximately the size and weight of a pack of playing cards. Games played with double six dominoes I feel are over too quickly and tend to leave me hungry for more, though I have begun browsing through domino game rules that use a double-six set to see if there are any exceptions that will prove me wrong.

In the meantime it seems the most logical piece of gaming equipment to take the place of the double-twelve domino set in a camping situation would be the classic deck of cards. While not as durable, standard decks of playing cards are cheap and easily replaceable. Most importantly they are very light and easy to pack.

My wife gets bored from time to time as was the case last night. When she gets bored she corners me and demands that we play a game together. When we can’t agree on a game, we usually look up a new game neither of us have played. That way we have the greatest potential of being equally bad at something new. And if one of us happens to be naturally good at playing the new game, the other can chalk it up to beginner’s luck without feeling taken advantage of.

Last night’s new game is called Twenty-Two. It is played with a standard deck of 52 cards, four suits ace to king sans jokers. The cards are ranked such that aces are high and twos are low. All suits are equally ranked. Twenty-Two is a trick taking game sort of like Hearts, Spades or Euchre, but with a great deal of difference in objective and strategy of gameplay.

The objective for the player when playing Twenty-Two is to be the last player with a total score less than 22 points. Any number of players can play Twenty-Two. For every six players, simply add another deck of cards. So 2-6 players, play with one deck. For 6-12 players, play with two decks, and so forth. Each player is dealt seven cards by the dealer. The first dealer is chosen by everyone drawing a card from the deck, highest card is dealer, ties are redrawn.

After the cards have been dealt, the players beginning with the player to the left of the dealer, may choose to discard any number of cards up to and including their full hand and redraw that number of cards from the draw pile. If you’ve got good cards you don’t have to do this, but this is probably the most important mechanic of Twenty-Two. If the number of cards in the deck run out before everyone has a chance to do this, the remaining players are out of luck and the first trick begins.

Right player led with three jacks. Left player won the trick with two aces and a king.

Right player led with three jacks. Left player won the trick with two aces and a king.

The player to the left of the dealer begins the first trick. A card or multiple cards of any one rank may be played. In one of our games three jacks were led, but it would have been illegal to begin a trick with two jacks and a queen. Play then continues clockwise with each player attempting to beat or equal the leading cards. For instance, with three jacks led a player could beat the jacks by playing three queens or two queens and a jack. The next player could beat the second player’s play with three kings and so forth. If a player cannot beat the highest valued play in the trick before him, he must play his lowest cards. So if three kings are now the highest valued cards in play, he must play the three lowest cards in his hand.

Left player then leads the second trick with a queen. Right player wins trick with a king.

Left player then leads the second trick with a queen. Right player wins this trick with a king.

As soon as everyone has made their play, the player with the highest ranked play wins the trick. That player then leads the next trick. Any number of cards of the same rank may be played to lead any trick, but the last card in everyone’s hand must always be saved for the last trick. On the last trick, everyone plays their card to see who had the highest card. The player with the highest ranked card, or players in case of a tie, in the final trick lost the round of play. They keep their final card to the side as their score. If they rack up the equivalent of 22 or more points in last round cards, they are eliminated from the game. Number cards are scored at their numeric value. Face cards are worth 10 points, and aces are worth 11 points.

Right player leads third trick with two fives. Unable to beat both fives, the left player plays his two lowest cards.

Right player leads third trick with two fives. Unable to beat both fives, the left player plays his two lowest cards.

The person who lost the round becomes the new dealer who deals out seven cards to each player and play continues in the next round. If there is a tie, the tied players draw for who is dealer; the player with the highest draw becomes dealer. The game continues until all but one player is eliminated from the game. The last player standing is the winner.

In the final trick, the left player has the highest card. He loses and becomes the dealer for the next round.

In the final trick, the left player has the highest card. He loses and becomes the dealer for the next round.

In playing Twenty-Two I found myself having to figure out new strategies I’m not used to in a card game. On one hand, you don’t want to run out of low ranked cards in your hand so you can have the lowest card possible in the final trick. This makes the game kind of like Hearts. On the other hand, if you are not taking tricks, you’re at risk of being forced to play a higher card during the final trick, which makes me want to play the game more like Spades. The need to think about these things while balancing my hand make this game really fascinating. Twenty-Two is an easy to learn and easy to teach card game that can be played in most any setting with any number of players. Because of its versatility, I would recommend this game for any setting where other games are unfeasible due to the size of the group or the difficulty of setup in the physical environment.

Depth – Compatibility

Depth Title Screen

Depth Title Screen

System Requirements – Windows

Operating System: Windows 7/8/10
Processor: Intel Core i5-2300 or AMD Phenom II X4 940 or better
Memory: 4GB RAM
Video: ATI Radeon 7870/R9 270 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti/760 or better, DirectX 9.0c compatible
Sound: Windows Compatible Sound Card
Hard Drive: 4GB
Network: Broadband Internet Required

Depth – Windows 10 Game First Impressions

Depth Title Screen

Depth Title Screen

Are you a fan of shark movies? Do you get excited for shark week on The Discovery Channel every year? If so, you might want to check out Depth a sharks vs. divers underwater combat game released on Valve’s Steam platform by Digital Confectioners in 2014. This weekend Depth is free to play on Steam, so it is the perfect time to try it to see if you like it.

I would recommend starting the tutorial in solo mode before venturing off into on-line matchmaking so you’ll have an idea of what you can do with your shark or diver. I went directly into a match upon starting Depth. I enjoyed swimming through the water as a shark and felt fairly capable. I bit some divers a few times, but couldn’t quite get a kill and would get killed very quickly. Movement and basic operation is fairly simple if you have played other first-person shooter games. The diver can swim around and shoot his gun or stab his knife, while the shark can swim around and bite things. The key to being good at Depth is to use the special abilities of the diver to evade the special abilities of the sharks and vice versa. The tutorial instructs the player in many of these things.

I got him. You're not smiling now are you, ya jerk?

I got him. You’re not smiling now are you, ya jerk?

In a full match, there will be four divers huddled close to S.T.E.V.E., their underwater robot lifeline, and four sharks trying to eat them. Divers can collect treasure and turn it into S.T.E.V.E. to get cash to buy better weapons and supplies. Divers can use sonar to look for sharks and use flares to light up dark areas. Sharks can evolve to evade sonar or detect humans easier in the water. Divers will die quicker if you chomp them and then quickly move your mouse back and forth, simulating thrashing and grinding your sharp teeth in the water. Divers may use medkits to heal themselves, but sharks eat seals to regenerate hit points. The sound engineers did an excellent job in using sound effects to make you feel evil with the pitiful, begging cries from the seals as they are chomped and thrashed around in the shark’s mouth.

The cries of this baby seal are pitiful. :(

The cries of this seal are pitiful. 🙁

There are different classes of shark. Some are built for speed, others for constitution, while others have a stronger attack. Each shark class corresponds to a different species of shark, so if you are particular to the great white or hammerhead, you can pick them accordingly.

For a game that came out in 2014, Depth really looks quite good. The detail of the underwater life is nice. There is a lot of variety in the artwork. You can also purchase special skins to make your shark unique in Depth’s micro transaction store.

These divers look so tasty.

These divers look so tasty.

The solo mode outside of the tutorial will allow you to play with bots on easy, medium, and hard difficulty to give you some practice outside of the on-line matchmaking mode. I’m not sure how much fun that would be given that this game was meant to be multiplayer. I would expect it to get bland after a short while like the solo modes in other multiplayer tournament games do.

If you purchase a copy of Depth, you will receive additional quests to complete. Because I don’t yet own a full copy of this game, I wasn’t able to test this feature. Outside of that, this game is pretty much what-you-see-is-what-you-get. It’s 4 vs. 4, sharks vs. divers in match-making mode with fancy skins you can outfit your player in.

Mexican Train – Domino Game Review

Cardinal Mexican Train Domino Kit

Cardinal Mexican Train Domino Kit

Cardinal’s version of Mexican Train is documented to support 2 to 8 players. It is played with a set of double-twelve dominoes. I’ll cover other variations in the future, but this is the one I learned how to play first.

  • With 2, 3, or 4 players, initially draw 15 dominoes each at the beginning of each round.
  • With 5 or 6 players, initially draw 12 dominoes each at the beginning of each round.
  • With 7 or 8 players, initially draw 11 dominoes each at the beginning of each round.

There are thirteen rounds of play, one for each double domino in the set. The dominoes are shuffled and players draw their initial hand out of the pile of dominoes referred to as the bone pile. And whomever has the current round’s double domino places it in the middle of the table. For the first round, the double domino required to start the round would be a double-twelve. For the second round it would be the double-eleven and so forth until the round with the double-blank. If no player in the first round has a double-twelve, each player draws one domino from the bone pile at the same time until someone draws the double-twelve. Once the double-twelve has been played, everyone should have the same number of dominoes in their hand except the person who played the double-twelve. That person will have the same number of dominoes in their hand as everyone else minus one, the missing one being double-twelve that was played.

Play then proceeds clockwise around the table from the person who played the double. In their first turn a player may start their own train. They do this by placing a domino that has a side that matches the current number represented by the starting double. Trains come out of the center like spokes on a wagon wheel. In the first round I would be able to play a domino that has a twelve on it to start my train. If I had no domino with a twelve, I would then have to draw and place a marker on the place where my train would be. In the Cardinal Mexican Train domino set I have, there are small colored plastic train engines provided that may be used as markers. In the past when I didn’t have such frivolous gaming equipment, I would use a penny or bottle cap as a marker. Any sort of token will do.

While the token is on a player’s train, and it must remain there until the player’s next turn, any other player may play on the marked train instead of playing on their own. They may also start the Mexican Train, a public train that anyone may play on. If a player has a marker on their own train, and they play on the Mexican train or someone else’s train, the marker on their own train comes off of their train until such circumstances where it may be put back on their train again.

To review, a player’s turn consists of playing or drawing. If they draw, they must place a marker on their train to indicate it is open for others to play on. Players may play on their own train, a marked train, or the Mexican Train. If the Mexican Train has not been started, it may be started off to the side of the other trains in the same manner the players’ trains were started. If a player plays a double, they may play again. The objective is to run out of dominoes in your own hand.

When a player is down to their last domino, they must tap it on the table to indicate there is a likelihood that they will run out of dominoes in their next turn. This is similar to calling out “Uno!” in Uno. If you get caught not doing this, all the other players may call you names and force you to draw two additional dominoes into your hand.

When a player runs out of dominoes, all of the other players count up the face value of all the other dominoes in their hand. This becomes their score for the round. Scores are summed up and carry forward for each player from round to round. The player with the lowest score after the double-blank round wins the game.

Mexican Train is primarily a game of chance and is fairly easy to learn, which makes it great for children. There are some elements of strategy, however, that can keep it interesting. It is usually best to play your highest point dominoes as early and as frequently as possible so they are not left in your hand by the end of the round.

It’s also good to learn when to be nice and when to let someone stay stuck. In the last game I played, one of my opponents needed a domino she didn’t have and had placed a marker on her train. I had the very domino she needed, but did not provide it since she had fewer dominoes in her hand than I did. I let her sit there for several turns until she had accumulated a hand that was sufficiently and safely larger than my own.

Take care in how you arrange your domino hand since one side of it is somewhat public for others to see. On one hand, you will want to arrange your dominoes in such a way that you have a plan for every one you play so you make the maximum use of each one On the other hand, if people can predict by the way you’re arranging your dominoes which one you plan to play next, and that you are a certain number of turns from going out, they may play accordingly in a manner that is not in your favor. Just some food for thought.

Mexican Train gameplay

Mexican Train game play

Double-twelve dominoes are really easy to find in all sorts of stores. Outside of playing cards, I can’t think of any other piece of gaming equipment that is so versatile in being used to play more distinct kinds of games. Dominoes are also spill and dirt resistant. They are handy for when I want to play games outdoors. I don’t ever worry about getting dominoes dirty. If you don’t already have a domino set and you want to consider yourself a board gamer, then you owe it to yourself to go get one. Mexican Train, is just one of many games you can play with it, though it is a fun one; one I would recommend everyone try.

Codenames – Card Game Review

Codenames game box.

Codenames game box.

Codenames is a party game for two teams consisting of at least two players on each team. The best game I have played so far is one where there were five players on each team and the team member playing spymaster rotates within each team on each round. Codenames was developed by Vlaada Chvatil and released in 2015 by Czech Games.

Codenames Key Cards

Codenames Key Cards

Players divide into two teams: blue and red. Each team selects one person on their team to be spymaster. The codename cards are shuffled and 25 of them are drawn and placed into a 5×5 grid in the middle of the table. The key cards are also shuffled and one key card is drawn at random by a spymaster. The border color around the key card indicates which team will go first. The key card shows which codename cards provide points for the blue team and red team, and which codename cards are for the innocent bystanders (white) or for the assassin (black).

Codenames initial card setup.

Codenames initial card setup.

On each turn a team’s spymaster will say one word out loud as a clue and a number referring to the number of cards on the table that relate to that clue. For instance, given that the key card was chosen where the red team goes first, the red team’s spymaster might say, “Gamble 2.” The players on the red team might then select the codename “Play.” The red team’s spymaster would then place a red card over the codename “Play.” Since the spymaster said there were two related cards, the red team might continue guessing and choose “Game.” The codename “Game” belongs to the blue team. The spymaster would then place a blue card on the codename “Game” which would award a point to the blue team. When a team guesses a codename wrong, their turn is over and play moves to the other team.

Codenames gameplay

Codenames gameplay

On the blue team’s turn their spymaster might say, “Jurassic 2.” Then players on the blue team might point to the codename “Dinosaur.” At that point the spymaster would place a blue card over the codename “Dinosaur” and the blue team will have scored a point. Given that the spymaster stated that there were two cards corresponding to the clue “Jurassic,” the players on the blue team might want to choose again. If they were to choose “Hollywood,” the assassin would be revealed. This is kind of like knocking the 8-ball in a pocket at the wrong moment when playing pool. When a team reveals the assassin the game is over and they lose the game. If instead the blue team had chosen “Screen,” an innocent bystander card would be placed over the clue and the blue team’s turn would end. Play would then go back to the red team. Once a team has correctly guessed the number of codenames their spymaster has given them, if they are bold they can continue guessing. This is helpful when a team is behind and wishes to make a Hail Mary effort to catch up and win the game.

The first team to guess all of their codenames correctly wins the game. The codename cards have codenames written on both sides of them. To quickly set up a new game, simply flip all of the cards over and then choose another key card. Codenames is a fun game for parties as it can be played with nearly any number of players and its easy to learn. I would recommend that this game be in any serious board gamer’s collection.

Apples to Apples – Card Game Review

Apples to Apples Game Box

Apples to Apples Game Box

Apples to Apples: The Game of Crazy Combinations is a party card game released by Mattel. My copy is copyrighted 2013. The game is designed for 4 to 8 players, but I have played games with as many as 12 participants.

My Apples to Apples deck contains 438 red apple cards, 62 green apple cards, 3 blank red apple cards, and 1 blank green apple card. In our house rules we decided to not require players to use the blank cards if they did not want to. They are available to make the game more interesting and more personalized for those who wish to come up with a creative wild card.

All red apple cards are shuffled together and randomly distributed across as many piles as is convenient face down. These are the draw piles for all players. All players draw five cards out of the red apple cards to compose their beginning hands. The green cards are also shuffled together into their own deck and placed in the middle of the table so everyone can reach them.

Apples to Apples Card Piles

Apples to Apples card piles

Someone is selected as the first judge. It’s typically best for this person to be the one with the most prior experience in playing Apples to Apples. The judge takes a green apple card off of the green apple card pile and selects one of the two adjectives written on the card. They then place the card face up on the table where everyone can see it and say what adjective they chose out loud. All other players then play face down the red apple card they feel contains a noun that is best described by the green apple card adjective selected and then draw a new red apple card from the red apple card decks to replenish their hand up to five cards. Once all of the players have played a red apple card, the judge selects which green/red apple card combination they like the best. Once they have picked the winning red apple card, the green apple card is awarded to the winner of that round for score keeping and play continues with the player to the left of the judge acting as new judge in the next round of play.

The rules state that the first person to win four green apple cards wins the game, but there is really no max number you have to stop at. The last time I played this game we exhausted the entire deck of green apple cards. Another interesting twist we made to our own game was to create a dummy player. Each round of play we would toss an additional random red apple card into the pile for the judge to examine. It was fascinating to see how well the non-player did compared to the actual human players around the table. In fact in the game I played last night, the dummy player actually came in second place!

There have been numerous times that I have asked people if they wanted to play Apples to Apples and they have wanted to know what it was. I would then explain it to them and they would say, “Oh, kind of like Cards Against Humanity? I’ve got that one, why don’t we just play that?” Apples to Apples is a family friendly game, while Cards Against Humanity is more adult themed with explicit content. Be aware of this if you are a newcomer to this genre and you want to keep your gaming experiences more family friendly for everyone involved.

The Apples to Apples rulebook contains a couple other play variations that I have yet to try out. In the Crab Apples variation, the objective is to pick the best red apple card that is the opposite of the word chosen for the green apple card. In 2 for 1 Apples, each player attempts to pick the one red apple card in their hand that matches best with both words on the green apple card.

If you were judge, which would you pick?

If you were judge, which would you pick?

Apples to Apples is probably my most frequently used go-to game to take to parties, especially those where I am unsure of the tastes of the hosts and whether they are gamers or not. Given that Apples to Apples is essentially an exercise in understanding other players’ psychology, this game acts as a good icebreaker to better understand and relate to the people I play with without bringing up any over the top embarrassing or offensive themes. One of the red apple cards is “Republicans” while another is “Democrats.” One of the red apple cards is “George W. Bush” while another is “Hillary Rodham Clinton.” I have been able to learn a lot about the people I play with based on the cards they play and how they talk about the subjects on the cards. We all learn a lot more about each other. Apples to Apples has probably helped me build rapport with those I have played it with more than any other game I own.

Any gamer who is serious about being a social gamer should have Apples to Apples in their collection. It’s easily available and fairly inexpensive in most stores with a toy section. I don’t even worry if my copy gets damaged because I know I can always get another copy. Meanwhile its benefits to opening avenues of conversation through a friendly game cannot be understated. I feel this game truly is a treasure to human society.