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.

Dragonwood – Card Game Review

Dragonwood Game Box

Dragonwood Game Box

Game night was fast approaching, and it had been made my duty to bring an old game night favorite, Apples to Apples to the festivity. I had many side quests to attend to on my way. In the midst of my engagement to these side quests, I realized I had left all of my games, including Apples to Apples at my abode. Devastated by my error, I made a trip to the local merchant to examine their wares. There I found and purchased a game called Dragonwood, developed by Darren Kisgen and released by Gamewright in 2016, “a game of dice and daring.”

Dragonwood may be played by 2, 3, or 4 adventurers. These adventurers are tasked with slaying all sorts of hideous beasts that seek to threaten the land. These creatures are contained in the green Dragonwood deck. The greatest of these foes are the blue and the orange dragons, the final bosses of the adventurer’s journey. These cards are shuffled into the bottom half of the Dragonwood deck. Prior to this happening, a number of cards must be removed from the Dragonwood deck.

For 2 players, this number is 12 cards.
For 3 players, this number is 10 cards.
For 4 players, this number is 8 cards.

At the beginning of the adventurers’ quest, the top five cards of the Dragonwood deck are drawn and placed face-up in a row in the middle of the table. There are three types of Dragonwood cards: creatures, enhancements, and events. The effects of events occur immediately when drawn. Whatever the event card says must be executed in that moment of play. If an event card is discovered in the original five card reveal, remove it and shuffle it back into the Dragonwood deck and reveal a new card. Enhancements can be used to make the adventurer’s quest easier. And creatures are fodder for the fortune and glory of the adventurers.

The adventurer deck is then shuffled. Five cards from it are dealt to each player. The adventurer deck contains numbered cards 1-12 in five suits along with four joker cards with a Lucky Ladybug on them. When a Lucky Ladybug is drawn, the player discards the Lucky Ladybug and draws two more cards. A player may have no more than 9 adventurer cards in their hand. If they exceed this number, they must immediately discard to bring their total hand size back down to 9.

The adventurer cards are played and creatures are thereby slain and taken as trophies in three ways. The player may strike the creature by playing a straight of numbered cards of any color. An example might be red-9, green-10, blue-11, and green-12. The player may stomp a creature by playing cards of the same number. An example might be purple-4, blue-4, and orange-4. Or the player may scream at a creature by playing cards all of the same color. An example might be cards that are all green.

Each Dragonwood card revealed on the table has a strike, stomp, and scream value. In order to defeat the Hungry Bear I could stomp on him by playing three cards with the number 4 on them. The Hungry Bear’s stomp value is 6, which is the number I have to roll in order to slay the bear and take him as a victory trophy. I receive one die for each card I play in an effort to slay the creature; in this case I would receive three dice. The dice are six-sided and have the following numbers on their faces: 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, and 4. This means with a roll of three dice, it is only slightly probable to get a 12, but impossible to roll an 18. There are six such dice which is the maximum number of cards that may be played at a time. The minimum number of cards a player may play is one. If my roll to slay the Hungry Bear is 6 or above, then I take the Hungry Bear and add him to my personal victory pile and I place the cards I used to attempt to slay him to the adventurer deck’s discard pile. If my roll were less than a 6, then I must discard one card from my hand representing a “wound” from the encounter with the creature. The adventurer card discarded may be from any adventurer card in my possession, not just the cards currently in play. Enchancements are captured in the same way as creatures, but other enhancements cannot be used to aid in capturing new enhancements.

In an adventurer’s turn, the player has two options: draw a card, or attempt to slay a creature or capture an enhancement. The player with the most victory points from slain creatures at the end of the game wins. The game ends when either both the orange and blue dragons have been slain, or the adventurer’s deck has been fully played through then reshuffled and played through a second time.

Dragonwood deck in play, adventurer card combinations, and dice.

Dragonwood deck in play, adventurer card combinations, and dice.

After the rules had been laid down, the adventurers set out on their quest to slay the wild beasts of the land, to ultimately defeat the vicious dragons threatening the safety of their peoples. Laid before us were items of mystical powers and creatures of varying strengths. A Magical Unicorn was charmed by one of my fellow adventurers to give her plus one in subduing any beast. Another fellow adventurer laid claim to a Silver Sword to give her plus two to her strikes against any creature. But me, I chose the way of the sailor, the Bucket of Spinach proved my greatest weapon dealing an extra two stomp damage to any fowl beast.

Along the way we all had our successes and failures, incrementally increasing our victory points, until at last it happened; the blue and orange dragons were revealed. They were the most majestic of creatures: powerful, colorful, graceful in their movements, and deadly. We targeted the blue dragon first, given that it was slightly weaker than the orange dragon. A few of my fellow adventurers tried their luck with the blue dragon, but all wound up wounded from their attempts. As fortune would have it, I had succeeded in obtaining a one time use enchantment, a Lightning Bolt, that would increase my chances against the dragon by 4 damage points. With the help of my trusty Bucket of Spinach, I stomped that blue dragon into the dirt to the cheers of all the people of the land.

Unfortunately for them, the adventurer deck ran out shortly thereafter for the second time. My fellow adventurers and I counted up our victory points, looked at each other, and commended ourselves for the trophies we were able to seize. We’ll let the common folk contend with the Orange Dragon now that we have become rich in our fame and fortune.

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.

The Game of Life Adventures – Card Game Review

The Game of Life Adventures Game Box

The Game of Life Adventures Game Box

The Game of Life Adventures is a card game based off of the Game of Life board game of similar name first released by Milton Bradley in 1960. This card game was released by Hasbro in 2014. To setup the game, the players separate out and shuffle the four types of game cards into four distinct decks. The types of cards are family, career, adventure, and wealth. Family cards relate to getting married, having children, etc. Career cards relate to education, careers, and getting paid. Adventure cards are ways the player could make their life more interesting. Wealth cards provide various tangible assets required to fully take advantage of career and adventure cards.

Cards are shuffled into four draw piles.

Cards are shuffled into four draw piles.

The Game of Life Adventures is designed for two to four players. Once the cards are divided into their four distinct color cards, players take turns drawing one card at a time from whichever pile they desire until all players have five cards in their hand. Within the decks there are cards that have a +10 printed on them. These cards indicate that 10 years have passed. If a player draws one of these cards during an initial draw phase, they are placed to the side and the player then redraws. The +10 cards are then reshuffled back into their respective decks.

After all players have their five card hand, play begins with whomever was selected to go first. Within a turn, a player will play a card, tell a story about how that card relates to their fictional life they are creating there within the game, and then draw a new card from any color pile they choose. Some cards have prerequisites that must be satisfied before they may be played. For instance, it is impossible to celebrate a wedding anniversary if you have not yet gotten married.

This is my life.

This is my life.

Every time someone draws a +10 card, ten years have passed within the game. After sixty years, the game ends. I spent my first ten years working on two degrees while my opponent built an igloo and got herself a pet polar bear and a pet shark. I was stunned at how quickly time had flown, so I raced to catch up doing everything interesting I could while I was young. I began a career as a politician and got paid handsomely. This allowed me to plan an extravagant wedding where my spouse and I exchanged vows while sky diving, and we moved into a beach front property where we had our two twin boys.

Meanwhile my opponent became a rock star sensation, rising in the music charts. While I didn’t think much of her music, my campaign staff apparently thought it would help as background music on the campaign trail. Since she apparently didn’t give them permission to use her songs, she sued (by playing a card) and took my house. Given that I am an expert politician, I passed legislation that allowed me to do what I wanted to do and countersued, taking my house back. From that day on, we were rivals.

This is my opponent's life.

This is my opponent’s life.

Twenty years had passed. I wanted to do everything interesting I could. I wanted to make a mark and be somebody. I purchased a car, a boat, and a plane. I circumnavigated the globe. I learned to do a loop-the-loop in my plane. I even took a rocket ship to the moon. But what I hope I will most be remembered for is skydiving from my hot air balloon with a skateboard in my hand so I could skateboard land into a skateboarding contest for charity, which I won by the way.

The years went by. My opponent had three girls, while I had three boys. I suppose we both decided it was time to give back to society. She completed her Ph.D. and became a rocket scientist. After robbing the taxpayer blind I began a rewarding career in teaching that I held until the end of the game.

The game ends when six +10 cards have been played.

The game ends when six +10 cards have been played.

Once the sixth +10 card has been played, the game ends. Each life event card played has a number on it showing how many points it is worth. The player with the most points wins. I felt I had lived the most rewarding life of all with 1055 points. My opponent got 1050 points, so maybe she wasn’t so boring after all.

The Game of Life Adventures card game is a great party game that you can teach newcomers very quickly and have a lot of fun telling stories about your fictional characters. There is more chance than skill involved in this game, so it might be a good title to pull up when you want to play something with someone who is not very confident in their gaming abilities or when you are playing with children who like to talk more about their fanciful in game character than any gaming strategy. Even though there is a scoring system, there is not much about this game that takes itself seriously. It’s a light-hearted bit of fun to have, much like its board game counterpart.

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.

Minecraft: Card Game? – Card Game Review

Minecraft: Card Game?

Minecraft: Card Game?

In order to capitalize on the success of the best selling game of all time, Minecraft’s license has been used extensively on a host of in real-life products. One of these is the Minecraft: Card Game? card game. Despite the question mark on the cover, it is undeniably a card game. The cards are square instead of the typical rectangular cards you would expect in a normal card deck, but they are cards nonetheless.

The game is designed to be played by 2 to 4 players. There are two types of cards: resource cards and craft cards. Resource cards are used to craft tools: 24 wood, 9 stone, 8 iron, 7 gold, 6 diamond, 11 wild cards, 5 creepers, and 5 TNT cards. A player turns in resource cards to obtain a tool card and with it the number of points that particular tool card grants. The player with the highest point total wins.

The rules are not very well written. It’s almost like the person who wrote the rules never played the game to check that the rules made sense. Most notably there is no mention of how to determine which player goes first. I realize it should be simple enough to roll a die to determine who goes first, but this is a game where turn order actually matters. In a 2-player game, the first person to 24 points is the winner. In a 3-player game, it’s the first player to reach 20 points. And in a 4-player game, the first to 16 points. This potentially gives the first person to play a distinct advantage.

In a similar card game, Splendor, the rules state that if the player who was first to play reaches the winning point total first in her turn, all other players may play to complete the round. This allows every player the same number of turns to get to the winning score. In the Minecraft: Card Game? game I played, the final scores were so tight that using this method only favored one player over another and was seemingly unfair. Another option might be to play multiple games where each player takes their turn as the first player. The player who has won a majority of games is then declared the winner.

Minecraft: Card Game? is set up by shuffling all of the resource cards and then dealing them out into a row of 5 equal piles in the middle of the play surface. Then the craft cards are shuffled and also dealt into a row of 4 equal piles in the middle of the play surface above or below the resource card piles. After distributing the craft cards, you will be left with one remaining craft card. This card is placed into a discard pile, and discarded cards will be placed on top of it.

Minecraft: Card Game? Setup

Minecraft: Card Game? Setup

When a player takes a turn, they may mine a resource card, craft a craft card, or reserve a craft card. A player is typically afforded two actions per turn. When a player mines a resource card, they pick a wood, stone, iron, gold, diamond, or wild card off of a resource card pile and place it in front of them. When a resource card pile becomes exhausted, the cards in the discard pile are shuffled and used to fill in the exhausted resource card pile.

When a TNT card is mined from a resource card pile, the player who mined the card chooses two cards to keep, and then discards all remaining cards from the top of all other resource card piles. When a creeper card is shown when drawing from a resource card pile, each player must discard a card from the resource cards in front of them. What if a creeper happens to be the top card in a resource card pile when the game begins? This scenario is not mentioned in the game rules. When this happened in my game, I just placed the creeper in the discard pile and drew the next card as the top card in the pile. No player may draw a TNT or creeper card as a resource.

When a player crafts a craft card, they place the number of resources shown on the craft card into the discard pile face down. They then take the craft card and place it tool side up in front of them. (Once again, the official rules don’t make this very clear.) Each tool crafted has a special ability that can be used only once for the remainder of the game. Once the tool has been used, the player will flip the craft card back to the craft side to show the tool has been used. The player receives all of the points for crafting the tool, whether or not the tool is used during the game. A resource card may only be used on one craft card. If you have a resource card that states it is worth 3 diamonds, it cannot be used as 1 diamond for one craft card and 2 diamonds for another craft card.

Using a tool does not count as an action, and can be done at any time during the game even outside of a player’s turn. There are five tools which match up to the five basic tools which can be crafted in the Minecraft open world multi-platform game that we all love: sword, shovel, pick axe, axe, and hoe. The sword allows you to forgo discarding a card when a creeper card is exposed in a resource card pile. The shovel allows you to force one player to have one fewer action on their next turn. The pick axe gives you an extra action on your turn. The axe can be used to provide two wood as a resource. The hoe can be used to take the resource card off of all of the resource card piles directly into the discard pile thereby exposing all of the resource cards underneath.

Finally a player may reserve a craft card to be crafted later. The craft card is placed off to the side into that player’s card holder. As far as I can tell, there is no limit to the number of craft cards a player may place in reserve.

Like I said before, Minecraft: Card Game? is a lot like Splendor perhaps crossed with aspects of Monopoly Deal. It’s not in any way a bad game, but it does lack polish. It is a fun little game if you don’t take it too seriously, but experienced card gamers such as myself might expect something more balanced coming from an experienced game maker like Mattel.

Spades – Card Game Review

Spades

Spades

The other night I attended a game day with many people from my local church. I noticed that while a large number of people showed up with the expectation of having a great deal of fun, few were willing to take a plunge on learning a game they had never played before. It seems to me that most people get awkward when approaching a new game. Perhaps they don’t want to appear ignorant or less than proficient at something they don’t have much experience with. Most of the family classics were represented. There was Battleship!, Yahtzee, Jenga, Connect Four, and all sorts of games high on luck with little skill required. I will admit Jenga requires a great level of skill, and the Jenga game played that night was phenomenal. More on that in its own game review. In general however, it is my hypothesis that most people who would consider themselves to be non-gamers prefer games of chance. If they lose they can always blame their situation on simple poor circumstance.

I tend to be the opposite when it comes to these types of game gatherings. Because of my highly introverted nature, talking about a complex game helps me ease into social interaction with people I don’t know well. I think I’d rather play a game I had never encountered before, because talking about that game helps me overcome my social anxiety just enough to break the ice. Gamers who have never met but share a love for a game in common can talk strategy and experience. Doing so conjures up all sorts of powerful good memories that they share in common which in turn builds rapport between people who were complete strangers prior to that interaction.

I think I am going to come up with a new scale to publish along-side all of my game reviews to measure a game’s position on the chance/skill spectrum. Yahtzee might be an example of a game solidly on the chance end of the spectrum with no skill. Maybe it should receive a 100/0 chance/skill rating. Then there is the game of Chess which is solidly on the skill end of the spectrum. Obviously this would receive a 0/100 chance/skill rating.

So I stood there awkwardly at the game day hoping someone would play something interesting I could talk with them about. Meanwhile others stood awkwardly looking at complex games they were hoping they would not be asked to play. I brought the games Codenames and Forbidden Island with me. To my knowledge they didn’t get touched the entire night. I watched people fawn over a really neat looking yard sized checker set someone purchased on Amazon. Many people said they might buy one too, but no one actually played checkers at all.

Thankfully my friend Larry came up to me and asked me if I knew how to play Spades.

Yep!” I said trying not to sound too enthusiastic.

Would you like to be my partner?” he then asked.

Yep!” I replied, happy to get into a game and away from my social anxiety and awkwardness.

Spades is a card game that can be played with a standard 54 playing card deck. Both jokers are removed to make a 52 card deck. It is typically a four player game with two players playing together on each team. Each player sits across from their teammate such that each turn iterates from one team playing to the other. Spades is part chance and part skill. While the cards are dealt to all players at random, it is up to the player by what strategy they play their hand. Measured on my chance/skill spectrum, I would rate it as being C50/S50.

Now Spades is one of those games in which I find it wise to tread carefully as far as the rules are concerned. Because of its wide popularity, the general faultiness of human memory, and the disregard many people have for reading written rules of any sort, many variations of Spades with their own house rules exist. I did my best to not be a bother and played by the rules the opposing team insisted were the correct ones. I still don’t really understand all of the arithmetic my opponent used to calculate our scores, but I can tell you his house rules math did not impede the fun we had playing together.

A starting dealer is selected. The dealer shuffles the card deck and deals out 13 cards to each player, which when dealt properly will exhaust the number of cards in the 52 card deck. With 13 cards in each player’s hands, there are thirteen tricks that will be played in each round. Starting to the left of the dealer, each player examines their cards and makes a bid for the number of tricks they believe they will be able to win.

A trick is won by being the player to play the highest ranked card in that moment of play. Rank is determined first by suit and then by number. By number, Ace is high followed by K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. Spades are trump. Essentially whatever suit (clubs, hearts, diamonds, or spades) is led (played by the person who starts the trick), its highest ranking number will win the trick unless a spade is played, in which case the highest numbered spade will win the trick.

In the first round I examined my hand, noted that I had two aces (diamonds and clubs) and four spades with the Jack being the highest. Therefore I estimated I might be able to take four tricks. The bidding went around the table with everyone estimating the performance of their hands.

Since there are a total of 13 tricks, if one were to bid 13 and successfully take all of them they would receive 130 points. In this particular round, I bid 4 tricks while Larry bid 2. This gave us a combined bid of 6 tricks. When we finished the round, we had taken all 6 tricks, so we received 60 points. If we had not taken all of our tricks, we would have received -60 points. If we had taken 7 tricks, which is one beyond what we had bid, we would have received what was called a sandbag for a total of 61 points. Each sandbag is worth one point a piece, but if you get ten sandbags, you lose 100 points. Finally, if a player were to bid zero, it is called going nil. If a player successfully takes zero tricks while going nil, they will receive 100 points, but -100 if they fail.

In the first trick, everyone plays the lowest club in their hand. If the player does not have a lowest club, they may play any card. Whomever won the trick using the highest ranking card then leads the next trick. A spade cannot be played to lead a trick until a spade has been played in regular play to take a trick. When this occurs, spades are said to have been “broken.” A player may not play any card with a suit that is different from the suit that was led unless that player has no cards with the leading suit. Play continues until all 13 tricks have been won by a team. After the end of the 13th trick, the scores are recorded and play continues until a team reaches or surpasses 500 points thereby becoming the winner.

Our first round was fairly non-eventful. Both sides met their bids. They bid 7 tricks while we bid 6. We were confident everyone knew how to play by the rules. It was time to take it to the next level. In the second round they overbid in order to take more from us. When both team bids add up to 13 or less, both teams have the opportunity to be winners. But when the sum of all bids is higher than 13, someone has to lose points. Unfortunately for the opposing team, we made our bid which pushed their score negative.

In order to pull their score back up, one of our opponents went nil. She almost succeeded, but was forced to take the last trick which left them over 100 points negative. When a team is over one hundred points below their opposing team in Spades, the team is able to make a special bid called a blind nil. A team must announce they are going blind nil before any cards are dealt out by the dealer.

Once blind nil had been announced in our game, the dealer would shuffle the cards and then deal one card to each player who was participating in the blind nil. The player who received the lower of the two cards was called low. This would be the person working their darndest to take zero tricks in the next round. The player who received the higher of the two cards was called high and would bid as normal and would do everything they could to help their teammate take zero tricks. I am not sure what we would have done if both cards had come up with the same number value on them. Maybe we could have played War and drawn again, or allowed the players to then choose who would be high and who would be low.

Once the high and low player was determined, the dealer would once again shuffle the deck and deal out the cards as normal. The player designated as low would look through their hand to find their two worst cards for going nil (official rules is actually three cards I believe) and pass those cards to their teammate. Their teammate would then choose out of their hand the best two cards to use for going nil and hand them back to the teammate playing low. Play would then continue normally.

My partner and I continued to play fairly conservatively, continuing to receive points in moderation and a fair number of sandbags along the way as we attempted to set our opponents. The details of our opponents’ gameplay was a little fuzzy for me, since for the next three or four rounds they went double nil each round, sometimes winning and sometimes losing. Somehow the score right before the final round wound up with us both being roughly one hundred points from victory.

My eyes widened when I saw the score sheet. I was kicking myself for not going nil when I had received a hand with no spades in it. I decided to play it safe while I thought we were far ahead in points since I had an ace of diamonds. As it turned out though, while the other team needed points, our greatest danger would be to get too many sandbags and lose the points we already had that were necessary for victory. We entered that round with six sandbags, received two, and exited the round victorious. Larry makes a point of telling people that as a team we’re still undefeated champions. Time will tell. Maybe we’re just that good, or maybe we just quit while we were ahead.