Over the weekend Sophie and I played a few quick card games that we have been accumulating. I think all gamers get a few of these over time – they’re inexpensive, which makes them good gifts, and they play quickly, which makes them great for filling in space while waiting for people to show up for a game or if a given game runs short.
A wealthy patron commissions a lovely landscape mural, hiring the greatest (and most competitive) painters in the world… you! Interfere with each other’s paintings and compete to win the world’s greatest treasure: Points!
On your turn, draw a card from the central display. If it is a Commission card, keep it at your side for scoring at the end of the game.
If it is a tree card, you may add it to any player’s tree. If you make a contiguous limb of cards sharing one or more features, you score 1 point for each instance of those features in that contiguous group.
If you score more than 10 points in a turn, remove the scoring cards and the owner of the tree collects them as “pruned” branches.
Then reveal a new card in the central display. If there are ever three Commissions in the display, discard them all and replenish the display with three new cards from the deck.
I think that of all the games we played, this one took the longest. There are a fair number of tactical decisions to be made regarding scoring. Since your opponent can score off your tree, you want to be wary of setting up 8- or 9- point scores that your opponent can play off to prune your tree. You need to keep an eye on your opponent’s tree for opportunities as well. Until you get used to looking at both your tree and your opponent’s each turn the game will play a little slower than listed (no surprise) but once you get the hang of it things can go very quickly.
Commissions in the game (methods of scoring extra points) can be an important factor in play – an extra 10 points at the end of the game is quite a boost. The commissions that come up early in the game will drive player strategy (if you get a commission for “most branches”, for example, you will want to build up your tree and score without allowing for pruning, so you get a lot of branches, and you will want to pick up other commissions that play on that, such as “longest branch” and “least pruning” and avoid commissions like “Most pruning” and “smallest tree”) while commissions picked up later in the game will revolve around targets of opportunity, and trying to get commissions that will nullify your opponent’s (so if your opponent has “largest tree” you should start looking to get “smallest tree”). Particularly in a two-player game, this can even out a lot of the commissions – it gets harder to do in games with three or more players.
We made an error in scoring the game our first time out, but I think it worked equally for and against both of us, so it probably didn’t make a big difference. I wound up losing by a couple of points.
Incidentally, the wealthy patron who commissions your landscape mural must be HP Lovecraft, because my tree looked more like the tree that Clancy Brown had tattooed on his chest in Carnivale than a lovely landscape.
Outcome: I lost by a couple of points.
Ages 8 and up
Cats are running loose through the city! There are nine different breeds, five cats each, each with their own personalities. Rescue as many cats as you can, but try not to get scratched!
NINE LIVES is a fast game of trading, bidding, and clever tactics. Each round, all players bid a numbered card from their hand. High bids use special powers first, which can force trades between players. Then, low bids get first choice of cats to rescue, which is key scoring victory points and winning the game. Score points by rescuing the majority of a breed, rescuing any cats of a rare breed, and finally one point per scratch… but only if you have the *fewest* scratches!
This was a fun little game that I, at least, probably didn’t really grasp on my first play-through. You are trying to score points by collecting sets of different breeds of cat into your kennel. Some breeds are rare and worth more points – exactly which breeds are rare is determined by drawing a few cards from the deck at beginning of play and setting them aside. Each cat has a value, which is used for bidding each turn – and cats of higher bidding value also have special abilities which can allow you to swap cards out of your hand or kennel. Art on the cards is very cute, with lots of nice drawings of cats, and each cat (even within the same breed) is individually named.
Each game is exactly five rounds long, so even learning the rules the game goes very quickly. You start with five cards, and play one out of your hand each turn, so your choices become more constrained as the game progresses (something I didn’t realize on my first play-through). It is a good idea to look at your hand before turn one and get an idea of what order you want to play your cards in.
Cats are also rated for the number of scratches they give you if they are in your kennel at the end of the game. Once again, this means that you want to keep track of your opponent’s kennel, since having more scratches than your opponent at the end of the game costs you points. Some cats are relatively benign, and some are really vicious, which is a factor to consider when deciding what breeds to collect.
If you like cats (and what sane person doesn’t?) this is a great game to pass a lighthearted 15 minutes. Just looking at the illustrations during play will make you feel better.
Outcome – I won by a couple of points on scratches.
Ages 13 and up
You are head of a family in an Italian city-state, a city run by a weak and corrupt court. You need to manipulate, bluff and bribe your way to power. Your object is to destroy the influence of all the other families, forcing them into exile. Only one family will survive…
In Coup, you want to be the last player with influence in the game, with influence being represented by face-down character cards in your playing area.
Each player starts the game with two coins and two influence – i.e., two face-down character cards; the fifteen card deck consists of three copies of five different characters, each with a unique set of powers:
Duke: Take three coins from the treasury. Block someone from taking foreign aid.
Assassin: Pay three coins and try to assassinate another player’s character.
Contessa: Block an assassination attempt against yourself.
Captain: Take two coins from another player, or block someone from stealing coins from you.
Ambassador: Draw two character cards from the Court (the deck), choose which (if any) to exchange with your face-down characters, then return two. Block someone from stealing coins from you.
On your turn, you can take any of the actions listed above, regardless of which characters you actually have in front of you, or you can take one of three other actions:
Income: Take one coin from the treasury.
Foreign aid: Take two coins from the treasury.
Coup: Pay seven coins and launch a coup against an opponent, forcing that player to lose an influence. (If you have ten coins or more, you must take this action.)
When you take one of the character actions – whether actively on your turn, or defensively in response to someone else’s action – that character’s action automatically succeeds unless an opponent challenges you. In this case, if you can’t (or don’t) reveal the appropriate character, you lose an influence, turning one of your characters face-up. Face-up characters cannot be used, and if both of your characters are face-up, you’re out of the game.
If you do have the character in question and choose to reveal it, the opponent loses an influence, then you shuffle that character into the deck and draw a new one, perhaps getting the same character again and perhaps not.
The last player to still have influence – that is, a face-down character – wins the game!
Another fast and easy game, with lots of potential for bluff and deception. The rules are a bit longer than the previous two games, but once they are understood the game runs very quickly.
Yeah, there is a “however” here that prevents me from saying much more about this game. And that is that despite what the box says this isn’t really much of a two-player game. The nuances of bluffing just don’t work as well with only two players, and it is unlikely that you will see the full range of characters and their powers in any given game. Also, given that players start supposedly evenly matched, and there are only a small number of turns in the game (our game ran 6 turns), the player who goes first has a sizable advantage. Certainly the second player still has a shot depending on the luck of the draw, but the game is really the first player’s to lose.
On the other hand this game looks like it would be an insane free-for-all with more than two players, and the 6-player game must be a bloodbath.
I wouldn’t recommend this one for two players, but really look forward to playing it with three players or more.
Outcome: I won by virtue of being able to stab Sophie’s characters to death before they could coup me to death.