Cards, Cards, and More Cards.
I spent so much time in TCG's that I thought I'd never want to look at cards again. And here I am, playing games with cards in them. Whodda thunk it? But there are some excellent ones out there, and we'll look at two of them today.
First, we'll storm the walls of Citadels, by Fantasy Flight Games. Then we'll slop the pigs and milk the cows with the Bucket King, imported by Rio Grande.
Both look like light games, but Citadel is actually be a fairly complex strategy game, depending on who's playing. With allowances for 2-8 players (and even nine if you use one of the "expansion" cards they have included in the box), it's a great game for almost any size group. The box comes with all you need to play, including a full deck of "districts" that each player can build their city of, gold coins, a King piece and it's stand and 18 character cards, 8 of which are used in the basic game. The first set is recommended to play with until you're comfortable with them, whereupon the second set (think of it as an included mod in the box) is recommended to be used either as a "trade" for a base card or as a whole set, traded out for the whole base set. Either seems to work, though the expansion set of character cards is rather more complex and clearly prefers an environment with *more* rather than *less* players. There are other bits and counters, and while they're lovely, they're not required for the game.
The object of the game is to be the first to gain 8 unique districts in her city. You can have the same as someone else, but not more than one of a kind in your own city. The District cards are associated with a color, important in terms of receiving the funds one needs to build the rest of one's city, as well as extra points and other such goodies. For instance, all 5 colors represented in your city will bring you an additional 3 points at the end of the game. As the game often turns on 2 or 3 points, this is more useful than one might think. Once the first player has reached 8 districts, the round is finished and the points are tallied up. The winner has the most points. It is quite possible (and quite irritating) to finish first, have miscounted the board, and realize you aren't the winner after all (Yep, it's happened to me too. It wasn't pretty).
One begins the game with 4 random district cards and 2 gold. The game is played in rounds, each of which you get to pick a different character with different skills for. Each player, in turn (starting with Oldest), draws a character card. The number of players will change the number of character cards turned over, face up or face down, to make it that much more interesting. After drawing characters, the player who is Oldest (and therefore starts out as King) calls off the characters in order (Assassin, Thief, Magician, King, Bishop, Merchant, Architect and Warlord). Each player take her turn as her character comes up (not all will, as some are hidden each round) and two things: First she will take an action, which consists of either taking 2 gold from the bank or taking 2 district cards from the District Deck (keep one, put one back). Second, she may build One District Card, assuming she has enough money to do so.
There are different rules depending on the number of players, as well as an Expansion Game (in the box) with 10 additional characters. You can either trade them out one at a time, or all at once.
The game is subtitled: A game of medieval cities, nobles, and intrigue, and it very often is. As is true with most of the better games, this one changes depending on who's playing. My daughter (as well as many of our friends' kids) have been playing this game since about 8 (thought it's recommended for 10+, my general take on it is that those recommendations seem to assume not a lot of game playing and generally most kids exposed to the good ones can play 2 to 3 years "ahead" without much trouble at all), so it's been a game we can all play together. We play strategically enough when it's just the 3 of us, but it's more fun when more folks are playing, not to mention a very different strategy set. We find that the more you've played Diplomacy (much like I said last week), the more strategic and cut-throat the game gets. Remember, each character has a special power and many of them affect *other* players.
This game is a great deal of fun and takes about 30-40 minutes to play a full game, most nights.
The other game, Bucket King, is an even shorter, tighter game. I played this for the first time this week (at our infamous roaming Game Night) and couldn't resist talking about it here. It's trick based, so it's played a little differently. The Object of this one is to be the Last One with a Bucket. The box provides enough little buckets (made of amazingly sturdy cardboard) that 6 people can play; they suggest no less than 3 players however. There are 5 suits of cards and 5 colors of buckets (not by accident). Each player is dealt 12 cards and 15 buckets. Based on the number of cards one has of each suit, the buckets are then laid out in rows to comprise a pyramid.
The first person (we determined by lots) plays some number of one suit (that is 2 bulls, 3 pigs, 1 chicken, etc). The next player must beat that (3 bulls, 4 pigs, 2 chickens) and so on. The first player that can't calls out "Too many buckets!" and discards the top bucket that matches the color she couldn't play. Here's the rub, since it's a pyramid of buckets, if you have to lose a supporting bucket, then you lose all those above it. Yes, laying out of your buckets is perhaps the most strategic, least understood part of the game. At least by yours truly ;>. Some say lay out your buckets randomly, some are strict about placement, arguing that you *must* put suits less represented at the top of the pyramid. Some, like the guy who taught us, suggest that you combine those two approaches and add a little sprinkling to your strict bucket assignment.
Though I understand your mileage may vary, it has served me well to make sure that not only are the colors I have less cards of represented in buckets near or at the top of the pyramid, it is also true in my experience that one should make sure *all* colors are represented at least once in the top 3 rows to keep from losing a LOT of buckets.
What do these games have in common? Both are well made, both are relatively short and both are *all* in the one box. No expansions to buy, ever. For those of toting around some 20,000 Magic Cards, this is music to our ears.
See you soon!
Citadels: $16.95; 2-8 players, aged 10 +; length: 20-60 minutes; author: Bruno Faidutti.
Bucket King: $22.95, 3-6 Players, Age 8+ ; length: 20-40 minutes Author Stefan Dorra