Friday 1 January 2016

Cardboard - The Game card game review

Happy new year, everyone! I hope it's full of happiness and fun things for you all.  I've had a bit of a Christmas blog-break, but I'm back with new year's resolutions and all sorts of good intentions - starting with a new review!

Another exciting box arrived before Christmas from Esdevium, this time containing The Game, a co-operative card game designed by Steffen Benndorf and published by IDW Games.

The Game - Random Nerdery review

Before you start googling for a more competent review, I'll point out that this is the most difficult-to-search-for choice of game title ever! I'm not sure what the rationale behind the title was, but trying to find something called 'The Game' is tough. On board game knowledge repository you can find The Game only under its original German title, The Game: Spiel... so lange du kannst!, which I managed to find by searching for the designer instead. Not the greatest marketing move ever!

Still, naming aside, I should talk about the important part: gameplay! The Game is a co-operative card game, so opening the box I had immediate visions of Hanabi (the co-operative fireworks display building game) in my head, being the only other co-op card game I've played. Hanabi won the Spiel de Jahres award the year it was released, and The Game was nominated for the same award in 2015, so expectations were high.

The game consists of a deck of cards numbered 2 to 99 and four base cards, two marked with a 1 and an arrow pointing up, and two marked with 100 and an arrow pointing down. The aim of The Game is for everyone to work together to discard all 98 cards from the deck onto one of these four base piles. Two piles run in ascending order from 1 and two run in descending order from 100.

The Game - Random Nerdery review

Each player is dealt a hand of six to eight cards (depending on the number of players). On their turn they lay a minimum of two cards onto any of the four piles, according to some basic rules. For an ascending pile, the number shown on the card laid must be greater than the top card on the pile. It doesn't have to be consecutive (so 1, then 4, 8, 15, 22 etc is fine), but leaving a smaller gap is preferable so that you can lay as many cards as possible on that pile. Big jumps in the sequence mean you reach the end of a pile much faster. For a descending pile, as you'd expect, the card laid must show a smaller number than the top card of the pile. Once the active player has laid their cards, they fill their hand back up to starting level from the draw pile and play moves on to the next player.

The Game - card game - Random Nerdery review

Throughout the game you can communicate with the other players about suggested moves, as long as you don't tell anyone about the actual numbers involved. We had a lot of 'would anyone be really cross if I made a big jump on this pile' or 'if you lay something on that pile I'm stuck' - those sorts of things! Depending on how much you play I think you'd develop a bit of a shorthand for what a 'small' or 'big' jump meant which would make things a bit easier.

If a pile is getting full up, you can reverse the order of play for that pile if you're able to play a card exactly 10 numbers opposite to the current direction. For example, if an ascending pile reaches number 98 and someone has a number 88 card, this can be played on top of the 98 to reverse the direction and make it a descending pile. Finding clever ways to use this rule seems to be the way to do well at The Game, but it relies a lot on luck in having the right cards at the right time!

Once the draw pile is empty you only need to play one card per turn instead of two, which eases the pressure a bit. The game ends when a player is unable to play the minimum number of cards required or when all cards have been laid into the piles. If you've laid all the cards, win! Otherwise you can count up the remaining cards in hands and the draw pile to see how well/badly the group have done. The closest we've gotten in a four player game was three cards left, although I did manage to complete it on a solo run through.

The Game is a very different experience depending on how many players you have. It's a pretty fun solitaire game (not really my thing, but I wanted to try it out) and works quite well as a two player game. Where it's really fun is with a bigger group; we played with four (in the pub, where else!) and it worked really well. It's an interesting challenge and makes you want to play again if you don't beat it first go. My initial Hanabi comparison turned out to be wrong though; The Game is very different - a lot simpler with fewer decisions to balance and very straightforward rules. It's a lot more of an exercise in communication, which is great.

I'd say this would make a great family game, but for some reason it's been published with a mystifying red and black 'death'-type theme that doesn't do it any favours (skulls on everything, it's like Games Workshop got hold of the box). Essentially an abstract game, this could have worked with any theme - not sure why they've gone with this one but no-one I've played with so far has liked the artwork.

The Game - card artwork - Random Nerdery review

Overall we had a lot of fun with this little game. It's another quick, portable card game which is handy for travel and trips to the pub. It has good replayablility and if you find you're getting too good at it there are suggestions in the rules to make it tougher. With a nice mix of luck and strategy, this is a great addition to our collection.

The Game
Publisher: IDW Games/Pandasaurus Games
Designer: Steffen Benndorf
Players: 1 - 5
Time: Around 20 minutes
Age: 8+
Cost: Around £15