Rummikub (1998 Pressman Edition) – Tile Based Game Review

Rummikub Game Box
Rummikub Game Box

When I was a little kid, around four to six years old, my grandparents would take me with their friends on big vacations to other states. One time we went to Pennsylvania, another time it was Vermont. We would tour the Liberty Bell or Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream factory during the day and then at night they would try to put my sisters and I to bed and then break out their Rummikub set.

If I were quiet enough, they would let me sneak in and watch the game. One time I asked what a smiley-faced tile was (it was a joker) which got me instantly marched back to bed. I learned quickly to keep my mouth shut about what was in my grandpa’s hand.

My grandparents had a Rummikub set that looked like a padded briefcase. On the side of it was a fancy label that said Tournament Rummikub. The tiles felt fine and exotic though the boards to hold the tiles felt a little flimsy.

My grandpa is now deceased and my grandmother has dementia. The last game she remembers how to play is Rummikub, so we play it with her every chance we get. Years later, we still play with their old Tournament Rummikub set.

Several years ago I acquired a Rummikub set of my own. My son is around the same age I was when I learned how to play while watching my grandpa. My wife and I decided we would teach him how to play during our weekly family game night.

Rummikub is a tile-based game designed by Ephraim Hertzano. The set I currently have was published by Pressman in 1998. Rummikub may be played by two to four players.

My hand at the beginning of the game.
My hand at the beginning of the game.

One thing I discovered rather quickly is that the rules provided with my Pressman set are in many ways different from those from my grandparent’s set. I looked up Rummikub on Wikipedia and found that Hertzano authored a book entitled The Official Rummikub Book in which he provides three versions of the game: American, Sabra, and International. According to the article, the 1998 Pressman edition is the Sabra version.

To set up the game players dump all of the tiles face down in the center of the table and mix them all up. Then each player draws 14 tiles to make up their hand. The objective is to create sets of three or more tiles. A set should contain all of the same number with different colors, or be a run of numbers in sequence with the same color.

There are 106 tiles total. This includes tiles 1-13 of each color blue, black, red, and orange twice, along with two jokers. The same game can also be played with two decks of standard playing cards where two jokers are thrown out.

In order for a player to make their first play into the center of the table, they must be able to play a number of tiles that equals 30 or more points all at once. Jokers are wild tiles that may represent any other tile in the game. When played in the initial play their point value is the same as the point value of whatever tile they are replacing.

I'm out of tiles. I win!
I’m out of tiles. I win!

The first initial play may only consist of tiles from the players hand and may not be played on any other player’s tiles. Each turn after the initial play, a player may play on any set in the center of the table. Tile sets may be added to, split, substituted, and combined in interesting ways to eliminate tiles from the player’s hand.

Most everything is fair game, though players will want to brush up on the rules to make sure a move they are making is legal. Also if you’re making a complicated move, make sure you know how to back out of it if you get stuck and it doesn’t work. Otherwise the other players will hate you. The 1998 Pressman rules have a good template that may be used to determine a move’s legality.

The most crucial rule to remember when playing on the center tiles is that to substitute and reuse a joker, the tile it is being substituted must come from the player’s own hand and not from somewhere else on the board. All tiles that have been played to the center must stay in the center. A player can’t substitute for a joker and then keep that joker in their hand for a later turn.

The first player to successfully play all of their tiles into the center wins the round. In the event where no player is able to play all of their tiles, the player with the fewest and lowest scoring tiles is declared the winner of the round. Jokers remaining in a player’s hand are scored as 30 points. All other tiles are scored at face value.

The final state of the game.
The final state of the game.

The winner receives a positive score for the round that is the sum total of all the points left in each other player’s hand. The non-winning players must then receive a negative score equal to the number of points remaining in their hand. According to the 1998 Pressman rules, the players must agree on the number of rounds or the total number of points to play to in order to determine when the game ends. Whomever has the highest number of points at that agreed upon milestone wins the game.

The Rummikub family rules I played with growing up required 50 points for the initial play and had some heavier restrictions regarding under what conditions a set with a joker could be altered. This 1998 Pressman Sabra version feels really easy by comparison. The next time I visit my grandmother I will look at the rules they had and see if I can compare the two.

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.

Qwirkle – Tile-Based Game Review

Quirkle Game Box

Qwirkle Game Box

Qwirkle is a tile-based game for two to four players. It was released in 2006 by publisher MindWare and was designed by Susan McKinley Ross. It is one of those wonderful games that is approachable to young children while simultaneously rich in complex strategy such that there is a great deal to enjoy for advanced players as well. I was introduced to Qwirkle by my five year old son who learned how to play it with his friends at a board game night we attended. He nearly taught me how to play all on his own, though the more advanced strategies seem to be difficult for him to implement and it will take him some practice to ramp up. It is also one of the rare games that doesn’t vary in gameplay based on the number of players playing. The game plays pretty much the same with two players as it does with four players, and no one will feel like a third wheel when playing it with three players.

The Qwirkle set I purchased at Target on sale for 15 dollars has high quality wooden tiles that fit nicely into the supplied cloth bag. Much like Scrabble, players draw their hand from the bag without looking to see what they will get. Each player’s hand is six tiles to start with. After each player plays, they draw the correct number of tiles to replenish their hand.

Quirkle Game Pieces

Qwirkle Game Pieces

There are six different shapes: a square, an x, a diamond, a circle, a star, and a clover. The six different colors are red, blue, purple, green, yellow, and orange. There are 108 tiles in all which divided out means there are three of every shape and color combination that may be played in any game. Having this knowledge comes in handy in the later stage of the game when you are running out of moves for maximum points and want to know if a move can potentially allow an opponent to qwirkle.

In each turn a player plays a single line of tiles that are alike in one of two ways. They are either the same shape but different colors, or they are the same color with different shapes. After the first turn, these lines of tiles must be played on other lines of tiles in the play area. When a tile or line of tiles is added to the play area, points are given for each tile in each line affected by the play. A line of two tiles is worth two points, while a line of four tiles is worth four points. A line of six tiles is called a qwirkle and is worth 6 points for the number of tiles with a bonus of 6 points totaling 12 points.

Linear Gameplay (Before We Knew What We Were Doing)

Linear Gameplay (Before We Knew What We Were Doing)

It is possible to play Qwirkle quite linearly, that is to make plays in straight, solitary lines for 2 to 12 points, hoping when you get your five pieces in a row that your opponent doesn’t have that sixth piece to qwirkle. However, scoring does not just occur on a single line unless only a single line is touched by the play. If a player plays beside an existing line, they are scored for the line they played as well as each line they added that intersects the played line. So, if a player plays a line of two tiles directly beside another line of two tiles, they receive two points for the line they created, plus two points for each of the new lines that were generated by the two lines sitting side by side for a total of six points. When playing in these successively larger squares, this can lead to significant point increases.

Outside of the linear style of play there are two main strategies. A player can play to block others from getting qwirkles. This keeps the opponents’ scores lower but can also impede the scoring potential of the one who played the blocking move. A player can also play to build out the play area so qwirkles are more easily accomplished for everyone.

The order in which tiles are played is extremely important and will affect how successive plays may be made on those tiles later in the game. I have found the best strategy for me is to only play moves where I can get more than five points in the turn. I do this by splitting out my hand. Wherever I have three or more tiles that could be used toward a qwirkle, I keep them saved so I can qwirkle in one move when the time is right. The remaining pieces I attempt to use to play around the board to maximize my points per turn and impede others from achieving their own qwirkles.

Things Got More Interesting When We Learned How to Score More Points

Things Got More Interesting When We Learned How to Score More Points

There is a legal move in which a player may choose to pass on their turn. The player may set aside all tiles from their hand they don’t want to be discarded. Then they may draw that number of tiles from the bag to replenish their hand. The tiles they discarded are then placed back into the bag and the bag is shuffled. Then that player’s turn ends and they are awarded no points. I have not been able to determine a situation in which this would overwhelmingly help a person, outside of perhaps within the first few turns of play. I have thus far not had a hand poor enough that I was willing to purge it at the expense of a turn’s worth of points.

When played with a worthy opponent, Qwirkle tends to be a very cutthroat game. The scores will often be so close that winning or losing comes down to some elegant play in the end game. The player who successfully plays through their entire hand of tiles once the tile bag is empty is awarded an additional six points to their final turn’s score and the game ends. Therefore there is great scoring power in being the last person to play.

I have had a surprising amount of fun playing Qwirkle. It is easy to teach newcomers how to play and it affords a challenge that keeps it fresh. I’ve been taking it to family gatherings. The younger children can still play with the adults, while the adults keep getting better and more difficult to beat. This is a fantastic game that I would recommend be in any board game or strategy game fanatic’s collection.

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.

Cocoto Magic Circus – Nintendo Wii Game Review

Cocoto Magic Circus Title Screen

Cocoto Magic Circus Title Screen

This is the worst game ever. I hate this game! It’s so stupid! – my wife.

Cocoto Magic Circus is a light-gun mini-game shooter released for the Nintendo Wii in 2008. It was developed by Neko Entertainment and published by Conspiracy Entertainment. It follows the same classic formula of many of the light-gun mini-game shooters of the era. The game case boasts, “40 mini-games, each more original than the last!” All of the games are point and shoot with lots of similar patterns strewn throughout all of them making the advertising deceptive at best.

Cocoto Magic Circus was not a new game when it came out on the Nintendo Wii. It debuted on the Playstation 2 where it was played with the GunCon light gun. Since the Nintendo Wii was the ideal console for this type of shooter, it makes sense that Cocoto Magic Circus might be re-released for the system.

Save Fairy from the spiders before she's eaten!

Save Fairy from the spiders before she’s eaten!

The beginning cutscene handily tells the backstory without any words. Four monster-looking friends: Cocoto, Baggy, Neuro, and Shiny, according to the game manual, and their friend Fairy who is a pixie, meet a clown in the woods. He looks creepy as all get-out, but instead of running away they stick around to be friendly with him. The clown kidnaps Fairy, and the others race to help rescue her. Theoretically the objective of the game is to rescue Fairy by shooting her captors in the various mini-games. While some mini-games had us shooting bad guys to keep them away from Fairy, there was no point at the end of any mode of gameplay where Fairy ever regained her freedom that I noticed. The competing monsters would just hop up on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place stands at the end of the game to show how they placed in the Tournament or Duel modes.

This is air hockey... with guns. This shouldn't be a mini-game, but a full featured title.

This is air hockey… with guns. This shouldn’t be a mini-game, but a full featured title.

There are three multiplayer modes: Arcade, Tournament, and Duel. In arcade mode, one or two players play simultaneously and cooperatively until they run out of lives. Lives may be replenished in periodic bonus rounds. Tournament mode is a little bit of a misnomer that actually means hot seat in the case of Cocoto Magic Circus. In tournament mode players pass around one controller and play the mini-games one player at a time competitively. Some mini-games actually lend themselves to this mode of play better, especially for players who are less experienced with aiming a wiimote. This mode allows 2, 3, or 4 players to play. Duel mode allows 2 or 4 players to play competitively and simultaneously for a set number of games.

Try not to shoot Fairy in the face. Oops, instant mini-game over.

Try not to shoot Fairy in the face. Oops, instant mini-game over.

As I alluded earlier, some of the mini-games can be rather frustrating when playing simultaneously with another player. There are a handful of mini-games where all players are aiming at the same target and they only are given one shot to hit it. If all miss, the mini-game is failed. If an opponent hits the target first, the mini-game ends and you won’t get a chance to hit it as well. Then at the end of this short “mini-game,” the player who hit the target is awarded a large number of points for the round and the other players receive nothing. I felt like this happened more frequently than it should have, keeping the game from being well balanced. For this reason I am not sure this game would be very high on my list for Wii games to pull out in a party setting. It seems like the kind of game that is just begging for an argument to break out. My wife argued and screamed about how unfair the game was. I couldn’t understand why the ESRB rated this game for players 10+. There are no unsavory themes that I could find that a 7-year old couldn’t handle. Perhaps the frustration/unfairness issues were a factor?

Cocoto Magic Circus Game Disc

Cocoto Magic Circus Game Disc

Cocoto Magic Circus is a fine game for practicing accuracy with the wiimotes on the Nintendo Wii, but out of all of the similar light-gun games I have played on the Wii, this one is actually my least favorite. It’s just more blah than fun. That combined with the fact that my opponent was yelling at the television the entire time we played made me want to put Cocoto Magic Circus back on the shelf for awhile.

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.

Turnspell – Board Game Review

Turnspell Game Box

Turnspell Game Box

Another game we played at our most recent game night was Turnspell released by Mattel in 2016. This is a word game where 2 to 4 players are scored based on their ability to construct four letter words. Contained with the game are four, four-by-four letter boards for each player with scoring pegs and a center spinning board which contains letters chosen randomly from a pouch.

The pouch contains tiled letters with the exact same frequency and score values as Scrabble. I was actually disappointed to discover I am missing an “I” from my favorite travel Scrabble set when I tested the theory that these games use the same lettering system. Mattel, I think you may owe Hasbro an explanation, or at least a concession that they know what they are doing more when it comes to word games.

Scrabble and Turnspell tiles match up perfectly.

Scrabble and Turnspell tiles match up perfectly.

Letters are chosen at random and placed on the center spinning board, filling each of its four four-letter tile spaces. When we started the game we thought you were supposed to spin the spinning board to determine who started with which letters. Don’t do this unless you want pick the letters up off the floor on opposite sides of the room.

Try to make the letter setup truly random so no one feels cheated in the first turn. When we started one game, one of the sides of the center spinning board was completely filled with “E” letter pieces. Given that there are rare letters that are worth more points and common letters that are quite prevalent, my friend was forced to take an “E” on his first turn while his opponents were taking “J” and “X” letters. Perhaps a mulligan system could be employed to provide a more balanced start for all players. I would suggest if a side on the spinning board is completely filled with one-point vowels, or perhaps only one-point letters (vowels or consonants) at the beginning of the game, one letter should be traded out until a higher point valued letter is drawn to take its place.

Center spinning board. Be careful when spinning.

Center spinning board. Be careful when spinning.

All players play simultaneously. Each player draws a letter and places it somewhere on their player board. The player’s objective is to create four-letter words on their board. Once a four-letter word is created, it is scored by counting the point value each of the letters is worth. The word’s total score is added to the player’s score total using the pegs on the player’s board and the letters from the word are then placed back into the letter pouch.

There is a possibility for a player to use a letter to create two four-letter words at the same time. When this happens, the letter values from both words are added together and then that final sum is doubled to compute their total score for that turn. When a player reaches a score of 44, they win the game. If two players surpass a score of 44 in the same turn then the highest scoring player wins. If both players tie past 44 in the same turn, I assume they must fight to the death or the universe explodes. The rules do not specify in this final case.

Once a tile is placed on a player’s board, it cannot be replaced without taking a penalty. If a player wishes to remove one tile, they may surrender five points or twice the point value of the letter to do so, whichever total is higher. If they do not have enough points in the game to take the penalty, they may not remove the tile. When a tile is removed, it is placed back into the letter pouch. It cannot be replaced on the player’s board.

A player board. All she needed was a "Z" and I took it before she could get it.

A player board. All she needed was a “Z” and I took it before she could get it.

The player may also remove an entire row of tiles from their player board for no penalty. If there is only one tile in the row, it may be removed with no penalty. Similar to removing the one tile, if a row is removed from a player’s board it is removed to the pouch, not rearranged on the player’s board. Once all players have placed a tile on their player board, the center spinning board is turned one-click clockwise so that the next set of letters is facing a new player. Then the missing letters from the previous round of play are replaced at random from the letter pouch.

Turnspell is a good word game for board gamers who are not good at word games. I never win at Scrabble. I only ever really play it because other people enjoy it. I won at Turnspell against people who enjoy Scrabble and win often at Scrabble. It felt good, but also felt like sort of a cheap thrill for me while playing with such Scrabble aficionados. This is a nice light party game that takes a lower vocabulary and less brain activity than other word games in its class.

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.

Goldfinger James Bond 007 – Board Game Review

Goldfinger James Bond 007 Game Box

Goldfinger James Bond 007 Game Box

As alluded in the title, Goldfinger James Bond 007 Game is a board game released by Milton Bradley in 1966 after the release of the hit movie starring Sean Connery playing as James Bond. The Goldfinger board game centers around the scene in the movie in the vault room of Fort Knox as depicted on the game’s board. This is a two player game. One player controls the red pieces while another the blue pieces and one yellow piece which depicts Goldfinger. There are 8 blue pieces. The blue player’s objective is to get the Goldfinger piece to the outer edge of the board. If the blue player is able to accomplish this, they win. There are 16 red pieces. The red player wins when they are able to successfully capture the Goldfinger piece.

Game board with initial starting locations colored in.

Game board with initial starting locations colored in.

Capturing is accomplished by directly surrounding a piece on both sides. The blue player would capture a red piece by having two blue pieces on either side of it, and vice versa. If the red player were to move a piece between two blue pieces, their piece remains safe and is not passively captured. A player may capture two pieces in one turn, if they happen to move a piece into place such that it completes the corner of a right angle. When capturing, the Goldfinger piece may act as a blue piece. Neither red nor blue pieces are allowed to occupy or move through the Goldfinger piece’s starting location.

Standard capture.

Standard capture.

The Goldfinger piece can be captured in one of three ways. It can be captured if it is on the yellow dot in the center of the board if there are four red pieces surrounding it on the blue dots with white circles which are adjacent in cardinal directions north, south, east, and west to the yellow dot. If the Goldfinger piece is on one of the white circles, it may be captured by one red piece that places itself on a normal dot such that the Goldfinger piece is sandwiched between the yellow dot and the red piece. And if the Goldfinger piece is on a normal dot, it can be captured in the same way as any other blue piece.

Capturing two pieces at once.

Capturing two pieces at once.

Red always goes first. Each turn a player must move one piece in any horizontal or vertical direction any number of spaces. They may not turn a corner or move in two directions in their move. Play alternates until the Goldfinger piece escapes to the edge of the board or the red player captures the Goldfinger piece.

Capturing the Goldfinger piece.

Capturing the Goldfinger piece.

Goldfinger James Bond 007 is a very mentally stimulating, challenging strategy board game title. Much like chess, it really takes a great deal of skill and thought to master. The first few times I played through this game, I made some of the clumsiest mistakes that my opponent was quick to take advantage of. It’s nice to play with someone who has never played before on your first time, because she made just as many mistakes that I was then able to take advantage of as well.

Capturing the Goldfinger piece.

Capturing the Goldfinger piece.

It’s strange and interesting to switch colors and play the other side from game to game. The set of strategies is completely separate between blue and red players, and I found myself really having to think through every move. The rules make a point of stating that this game is meant to be played like chess. That means, while the blue team could win by taking direct advantage of a mistake made by the red player and move the Goldfinger piece to the outer edge of the board, the blue player is supposed to alert the red player as such a move is made. The idea is that a sort of check and checkmate should be called as the game is approaching completion in order to ensure the game is played strategically, not accidentally.

Example of "checkmate."

Example of “checkmate.”

It surprised my opponent and I both how quickly the tide of the game can turn. It is easy to get cocky when you have clearly captured more of your opponents pieces than they have captured of yours, yet still get routed. This game is not quite like any other two-dimensional strategy board game I have played. It is sort of like Chess, Checkers, and Nine Men’s Morris, but none of these games really do justice to explaining the gameplay going on here.

I found my copy of Goldfinger James Bond 007 at a local antique store a few blocks from my house in the city I live in. They sold it to me for $15. The cheapest copy I saw online was on Ebay for $40, which is a little steep. From my limited research it appears this game may be rare, but it would really be trivial to duplicate on a checker board without the movie theming. In order to do this you would need two sets of checkers pieces for one of the colors. So if the red player were still red when using checkers pieces, they would need two sets of red checkers or 16 red checkers. Meanwhile, the black player which is taking the place of blue would place 8 black checkers in their places on the board and two black checkers stacked on top of each other in the center to designate the Goldfinger piece. Instead of playing on the squares, play would be done on the intersections of lines and the board would have to be laid out as shown in the pictures in this article.

Initial piece positions. Note how this could be imitated on a standard checker board.

Initial piece positions. Note how this could be imitated on a standard checker board.

Goldfinger James Bond 007 is a great game for the collector. It’s a nice piece of American cultural history, it’s a Milton Bradley game from the 1960s, and it’s somewhat rare – all things that make the game a nice conversation piece. But beneath all this theming and history is a well balanced, impressive strategy game that can be played using very basic gaming components. I would hate for any fellow gamer to have to miss out on the richness of this impressively amazing strategy gameplay simply because they haven’t been able to get their hands on this particular movie to board game title.