Category Archives: Top 10 Card Games

Bohnanza

What the heck kind of name is Bohnanza (Rio Grande Games, 1997)?? “Bohne” is german for “bean,” Bohnanza is a pun for “bean bonanza.” Glad we got that out of the way – on to the important stuff.

bohnanza box

This is perhaps one of the most interesting, and well-disguised, rummy games I have ever come across. At its most basic, players are simply trying to create the largest sets of cards they can, in order to then cash them in for coins. Whoever ends the game with the most coins wins the game…BUT… it isn’t that straightforward. The creators of Bohnanza deserve a lot of credit for keeping with the “bean” theme while allowing for a very unique and interactive game.

There are 11 types of bean cards – as opposed to the four suits in an ordinary deck of playing cards – and each bean type has a different number of cards (each card is labeled with the total number of its type): for example, there are 6 “Garden Beans” and 24 “Coffee Beans,” and each Garden Bean card is labeled with a 6, and each Coffee Bean card is labeled with a 24. Each card also has an amusing depiction of that type of bean, and at the bottom there is a range of coin values.

As players earn cards, they “plant” them (i.e., they play the cards in front of them), but they are initially limited to planting two fields only – so they may play only two types of bean in front of them. At some point a player must “harvest” a crop of beans they have planted. The number of cards in the harvest then earns them the number of coins listed on that card; 4 coffee beans earns a player one coin, while 10 of them earn three coins, and so on.

Interestingly from a design perspective, the game does not come with separate coins for scorekeeping; rather, coins are depicted on the card backs of each bean. This is important to the game play because as bean cards are harvested, most of them go to a discard pile that is recycled for continued play. However, the first few cards of that stack are turned over and become coins, owned by the harvesting player, and are thereby eliminated from the game.

bohnanza layout

Once players have started earning coins, they have the option of purchasing a third bean field for three coins – allowing them to plant, then harvest, a third type of bean. A third field comes in handy because the rules force players to make some tough decisions when it is their turn…

Players start with five cards. The cards MUST remain in the order in which they were received. Wow, that’s different; it also affects everything else about the game. Players can see their hands, and hold them so that others cannot, but they may not rearrange the hand. On a player’s turn, he or she MUST plant the top card, and may also plant the second. Then they draw two more cards and turn them face up; they have the option of donating, or trading these cards, or they can keep them for planting. Finally, the player must draw three cards, adding them one at a time to the back of their hands.

The trick here is to plant bean fields that might earn the most coins, and that determination is made by seeing what else is in one’s hand, and also what other players have planted and have negotiated for. Often a player is forced to harvest one field in order to plant another, even though the harvest yields little or nothing. Thus, during the draw phase, it is important for a player to initiate shrewd trades and gain the beans they have already planted. One must also be active in trading during other player turns, for the same reason.

There are a lot of nuances in a game like Bohnanza that I won’t go into here, but there are a great many fans of the game all over the world. In fact, there are at least 17 editions of Bohnanza, some incorporating new rules, and some with new cards or new themes. The Fan-Edition uses art work from players everywhere (see pic above).

It’s not hard to recommend Bohnanza to any gaming family, or any group of people who like games in general and card games in particular. It comes in a reasonably small box, and is as easy to travel with as any large deck of cards. It encourages interaction, risk-taking, probability, and planning, and would be great for any players aged 10 and up. It’s officially recommended for 12 and up, but I think a bright youngster can figure it out.

Now, go play!

Buy Bohnanza at Amazon!

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Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow

I finished my last game of The Werewolves of Millers Hollow (999 Games, 2001) less than 10 hours ago, and I can’t really wait to tell you about it! This is such a unique game, and the interaction is so interesting, that I’m a little embarrassed and ashamed that I waited so long to play it! (And I call myself a game lover – bah!)

In this game, players (except for the “Moderator”) play the part of simple townsfolk – but some of them are werewolves and wake up at night to kill an innocent victim, and then arise in the morning among the rest of the townsfolk. The townsfolk then all try to decide who among them might be a werewolf, and the player chosen is lynched! Of course, that player may end up being a werewolf, or an innocent victim. Eventually, there are only werewolves or townsfolk left, and they have won the game.

The key to The Werewolves of Millers Hollow is that players do not know the actual identity of any of the other players (per cards, above), and when nighttime falls, all players close their eyes as if asleep, only “waking” when they have a role to play. There are only a few werewolves – up to four – per game, but they are the only ones who know who they are, and when they mingle with the rest of the townsfolk during they day they must avoid being found out.

So the game starts when the moderator, whose job it is to run the game and communicate decisions among the players without giving away identities, deals a card to each player. That card becomes that player’s identity (see below). Ordinary Townsfolk simply close their eyes during the night phase, and open them when night is over, and then help try to determine who might be a werewolf during the day. The Werewolves act like townsfolk, but during the night phase they, at the moderator’s cue, open their eyes and communicate silently to decide on a victim. The moderator then silently taps the victim to let them know they were killed by the werewolves, and the werewolves close their eyes again. When the moderator announces morning time, everyone except the victim opens their eyes, and the victim’s identity is revealed.

When the day begins, all players (including the werewolves, who are acting like regular townsfolk) debate and choose by vote which other player is a werewolf. That unlucky player is “lynched” and then their identity is revealed (By the way, when players are “killed” they are out of the game, and may not participate…but it is still a lot of fun to watch!). The (optional) sheriff card can go to any player, by vote of all players at the beginning of the game, and that role confers on them two votes when deciding who is a werewolf. That can be particularly bad if a werewolf ends up becoming elected sheriff, because as the number of players dwindle, those two votes are increasingly powerful!

If a player is not a werewolf, they are a townsfolk (but the sheriff can be either). The townsfolk may be ordinary, or they may have a special role. The Fortune Teller (above) wakes up first after all the town has gone to sleep, and they get to “peek” at another player’s identity. It is up to them, after that, how to use the information.

More special townsfolk cards are below. The Little Girl has the option of opening her eyes while the werewolves are awake, to peek at them – however, if she is caught peeking at them then she will automatically become the next victim! The witch has two potions, one for healing (bringing back one dead person) and one poison (for eliminating one person); the witch wakes up after the werewolves have killed and gone back to sleep, and she determines whether to use her healing or poison potion that night, or not. She may use each only once, and they may be used on herself.

At the beginning of the game, the Thief may opt to remain a regular townsfolk, or they may choose one of two remaining cards from the deal. The Hunter, when killed, gets one shot at one player, taking that player with him. Cupido gets to play matchmaker – any two players of Cupido’s choice become instantly in love and MUST protect the interests of their loved one. If one of the lovers dies, the other must follow (by taking their own life!).

And so goes The Werewolves of Millers Hollow. The game is so exquisitely interesting because each person has information to share and an identity to hide at the same time, and they do not know who is who. It’s a game of guesses (usually wrong on my part – lol!), suspicion, hunches, and luck. It takes about 20 minutes or so (depending on how many are playing) to play a single game, but as I said earlier it is very easy to play many games in a row. In fact it’s hard not to.

I absolutely recommend this game to any group of people gathering just about anywhere. It would even be great for more formal gatherings where there is a need for an ice breaker or a team-building type exercise. I can envision modifications to make it even better for something along those lines. That said, it is also perfect for later nights, when the more raucous games, or the more serious games, are over and there are enough people left behind to make it work.

There is an expansion of The Werewolves of Millers Hollow called “New Moon,” and a re-implementation called The Village (that is, it’s a newer version of the original with added features); see pictures below. I have yet to try these, but you know they are high on my list!

Buy The Werewolves Of Millers Hollow at Amazon!

Fluxx

Many have played Fluxx (Looney Labs, 1997), and many more have heard of it, but if you haven’t played it yet then you won’t understand. I shall do my best to make you understand, though, but I encourage you to invest the $20 (0r less) and give it a try. Chances are you will be glad you did. You might even wish to go for one of the Fluxx variants that are now on the market, such as Zombie, Martian, Monty Python, Family, Stoner, Eco, Reduxx, Espanol, Christian, or Jewish Fluxx. One doesn’t need to know the basic game in order to appreciate the spin-offs; in fact, the opposite is true.

So what’s so interesting about Fluxx? Why do fans of the game get this other-worldly glaze over their eyes when it comes up in conversation? Because it is the first game in which the goal of the game, the mechanisms of the game, and the rules of the game are subject to change at any moment. Because of the constantly changing landscape of a game of Fluxx, it makes for a wonderfully chaotic experience.

The game starts off innocently enough – each player gets three cards, and the remainder become the draw deck, which is placed in the middle of the playing area. Alongside the draw deck, the “Basic Rules” card is placed face up (see below). The basic rules are simple enough: Draw one card, and play one card. But once cards are played, the rules change. Since there is no basic “goal” of the game, there is no way to win, until someone plays a “goal” card.

A goal card specifies winning conditions. The two visible cards below, for example, indicate that whichever player has two specific cards in front of them (the Sun and the Moon, or Dreams and Money) wins the game.

A player gets such cards in front of them by placing them there during the “play” part of their turn. Such cards are called “keepers,” and are so labeled:

The keepers are specific to the theme of the game, and in the original Fluxx game are simply iconic items (the Sun, the Moon, Chocolate, a Toaster, etc). In themed Fluxx games, they are significant aspects of that theme – in Monty Python Fluxx, one might, for example, have King Arthur, the Nude Organist, or the Knights who say “Ni!” A feature of more current editions that the original lacked are “Creeper” cards. These cards, once drawn, must be placed in front of the drawing player and prevent that player from winning the game until they are removed or destroyed, unless another rule supercedes the Creeper card’s function. Confused yet?

“Action” cards, once drawn, must be played immediately, and describe an action that must be taken:

Action cards have a significant impact on game play, and go hand in hand with “New Rule” cards. New Rule cards are self-explanatory, and simply dictate how many cards should be drawn, how many can be played, and various other actions that may be taken by the players (see below).

New rules will often contradict older rules, in which case the older rule is discarded. Action cards are discarded after they are followed, as well.

So that is Fluxx, not only in a nutshell, but pretty much completely. Players take turns drawing and playing cards until one of the players has met the conditions of whatever goal is currently featured. The specific rules of drawing and playing change constantly. This makes for a lot of frustration for players who love the planning and execution that goes along with strategy games, but for the most part Fluxx is so wildly unpredictable from draw to draw that just about everyone has a good time.

I definitely recommend this game to just about anybody 8 or older, or anybody who is a fan of one of the themed decks. Fluxx is easy to pick up and play, relatively inexpensive, small and easy to pack for travel, and it is definitely a great family game since the winner is just as likely to benefit from luck as any one else. Game lovers are not the only ones who like Fluxx – I know a lot of people who do not consider themselves game players who have played and enjoyed Fluxx, a few of them enough to own the game.

Buy Fluxx at Amazon!

Dominion

dominion box

If you know someone who is a die-hard board game fan, ask them about Dominion (2008, Rio Grande Games). There is a good chance they’ll have it, and a great chance that if they don’t have it, they will want it. But don’t think that it is only for the hardcore gamer; once you’ve played you are likely to understand how much fun it is, and thirst for more.

Dominion is probably the hottest property on the American game market as I write this – it (along with its expansions, “Intrigue” and “Seaside”) has garnered one of the highest ratings on boardgamegeek.com, and there isn’t a board game fan that I know who doesn’t love it. It has made a huge splash since its release in 2008, and quickly earned some of the most coveted games awards out there (Spiel des Jahres, Origins, Mensa Select).

Despite its apparent novelty and the huge success Dominion is enjoying, it is not too far removed from another game that was revolutionary at the time: Magic, The Gathering. It’s similar in the sense that players build decks of cards that have different sorts of abilities, which then work together to achieve the final goal. It’s different in that players are largely not affecting one another, at least not directly, and the game itself is self-contained in its own box. Another very important difference is that in dominion, all players choose from the same pool of cards to build their decks, not a personal stockpile as in Magic. One very nice feature is the card storage system in the box – each card type has a clearly labeled slot, making it easy to browse and choose card types.

dominion inside box

Players start with a small deck of cards, some representing income, and some representing victory points (see pic below) – the ultimate goal of the game is to obtain the most victory points via these cards. Players use the income cards (which vary in amount) to purchase “dominion” cards, and this is where the fun starts. There are nearly 30 types of dominion cards, each with multiple copies, but only 10 of these types are used in each game. Thus, consecutive games can be slightly different from one another, if just one or two card types are changed, or they can be very different from one another if many more card types are changed.

dominion gold vp cards

Players begin each turn with a hand of 5 cards drawn from their original 10. Each turn consists of three phases: Action, buying, and cleanup. On any turn a player can use one action, and then make one purchase – UNLESS they are able to play cards that modify the number of actions and/or purchases. Playing cards in way that maximizes one’s advantage is the key mechanic in the game. Dominion cards come in many variations, and may allow a player to pick up more cards, play more action cards, convert cards into other cards, or increase buying power.

dominion village card

dominion spy card

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the buying phase, Income cards may be used to purchase other cards (card costs are on the lower left of each card); purchases may include more income, victory points, and other dominion cards from the common supply. The final phase of a turn is cleanup, in which a player discards all of the played cards as well as the cards remaining in his or her hand, and then draws the next five in their personal deck. All of the “discarded” cards are actually recycled, so cards are usually never lost (there is a “trash” card for those that are).

Game play is straightforward in the sense that all a player has to do is what is written on the cards, but it’s complicated by the range of options. A player’s strategy is truly dependent on his or her opponents and the choice of ten card types to choose from.

The game is over when either the highest value victory point cards (The Provinces) have all been claimed, or else when the limited supply of 3 separate dominion card types have been exhausted. The player at that point with the most victory points is the winner.

So many game players are so excited about this game and its expansions, and many include the excitement of their non-boardgaming friends and family members, that it is worth at least some investigation. If you aren’t sure, then find out who is playing it (someone you know, of course), and try it on for size. After playing with a set of 10 card types, you’ll find yourself curious about 10 other card types…and so on, and so on, and so on…

I recommend Dominion to any game lover; it is easy to learn, but not easy to pick up and play out of the box without a lot of patience. But game lovers can and will introduce it to others. The rules are easy, but the possibilities are endless.

Buy Dominion at Amazon!

Magic: The Gathering

Magic the gathering card back

In 1993, Wizards of the Coast published the very first Collectible Card Game (CCG), Magic: The Gathering. The CCG genre became a huge success, and has since then spawned a few of the most economically successful games on the market with Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!

In terms of game play, the CCG was entirely unique – even revolutionary. Instead of a game being self-contained in a box, the CCG allows players to acquire individual elements in smaller quantities, via “booster packs,” until they have a stockpile. Players then choose cards from their stockpile to create a “deck” (or “library”); it’s the deck that is used in a match, which itself is the equivalent of a single game. Other cards owned by the player are not in the game, and cannot be brought into it. Thus, participating in Magic: The Gathering (MTG) is  a little like owning a sports franchise in the sense that a player is able to draw from their “roster” (stockpile) to put together a desirable “lineup” (their deck) for any particular match.

CCG’s use a basic rule structure and a large assortment of cards which each have characteristics that contradict or supplement the basic rules. Each player predetermines their own strategy by creating a particular deck. The rules define parameters, such as how many cards may be used, how many copies of a given card are allowed, order of play, etc. Matches are typically two-player face-offs, in which each player begins with a number of “life units” and the goal is to take those units away from the opponent before they do the same to you.

In MTG, players essentially play the role of powerful sorcerers, each trying to destroy the other. As sorcerers, they call upon different land types for magical energy (“mana”) which allows them to cast different spells. The five land types are associated with five colors: swamp – black; water – blue; plains – white; mountains – red; forest – green (see pics below). Each non-land  card (with some important exceptions) is also one of these colors or a mix of them, and exhibits effects aligned with the land-type from which it came. Mountains, for example, are associated with strength and fire, so there are many giants and fire spells that are red.

Magic the gathering mountainMagic the gathering earthquake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The spells are many and varied, but there are a few major categories, and any given spell has a “casting cost,” which is how much mana it takes to use that spell. Creatures may be summoned, which are then used to do battle with the opposing player or opposing creatures; every creature has an attack/defense rating, and the comparisons of attack/defense ratings, plus modifiers, determines the outcome of creature vs creature battles. An enchantment might be cast on a player, on a creature, or on a special item, such as an artifact, which itself must be summoned. The enchantment might add or detract from the attack/defense rating, or it might totally incapacitate a certain kind of opposing card. An Instant spell is one that has an immediate effect, such as sorcery, which modifies other cards or processes already in play.

Magic the gathering black knightMagic the gathering carnivorous plant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Players begin with a hand of seven cards, draw one from their library (the deck they had prepared and then shuffled), and are free to play whatever they can. A player must lay down land cards in order to use any spells, and once land cards are down players can execute whatever strategy they prepared for when choosing the construction of their deck. As creatures are summoned and the various spells are cast, players lose life points (each begins the game with 20); When a player has reached zero life points, they lose  the match.

Magic the gathering plains

Magic the gathering island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MTG is a fascinating game, especially if you have a true appreciation for layered strategies and contingency planning in games. There are so many different cards in existence that rarely do two different people ever have even similar self-created decks. What makes it more interesting, and what has arguably made Wizards of the Coast a relative overnight success, is that booster packs of new MTG cards contain a fixed number of cards, and usually include one “rare” card, some “uncommon” cards, and many “common” cards. Rare cards are generally more powerful or efficient than uncommons or commons. This fact has resulted in a massive secondary market for collectors and certain other MTG enthusiasts, not dissimilar to the lucrative collectible baseball card market.

This game, while its basic mechanic is remarkable and interesting, is not for everyone. The fantasy theme can be overwhelming, to the extent that die-hard, committed gamers who do not like fantasy will not play it despite their knowledge that game play is so interesting. It is also a game that is not fun when investment has been small;  one problem of the CCG concept is that the person who has spent the most money on cards wins, due simply to their larger stockpile. One can’t “dabble” in MTG and expect to win any games without an equally unadvanced partner.

I do recommend the game to teens and older who show an interest in strategy games, an interest in fantasy or (because of the often incredible card art) graphic novels, or those who have played similar games in the past. Pokemon and Yu-gi-Oh! players would take a very natural next step up to MTG because the game play is similar, but there are so very many ways to build a deck and execute it during play that it would not be good for the younger players.

Buy MTG Portal Starter Deck (for 2 players) on Amazon!

Apples to Apples

apples to apples boxOnce a decade a game strikes just the right chord with the public and flies off the shelves. Apples to Apples (Out of the Box, 1999) is such a game. This game has been played and enjoyed by so many people, and their friends, and friends of those friends, and so on, that people all over the world who “don’t play games” have loved it. It defied all odds and sold a million copies in the US without ever having been on the shelf of WalMart (as of that point in time).

Apples to Apples is a social game; it stimulates conversation, elicits laughter, moves fast, and keeps every player constantly involved. It is comprised of two decks of cards. One deck is green; green cards each have an adjective listed, along with a few synonyms. The other deck is red; red cards each have a noun (person, place, or thing), along with a brief – and humorous – description. One player acts as judge each round, and turns over the green (adjective) card and reads it. Each other player must choose the red (noun) card from their hand of seven that he or she thinks is best described by the green card. The judge takes the submitted red cards without looking at them or knowing which player submitted which card, and then judges them; he or she will decide which of the red cards really is the best match to the green card (see pic). The player whose card is chosen wins the green card; The first player to seven green cards wins.

apples layout

In the example above, the foreground player needs to determine which of the seven red apple cards is most likely to be chosen as ‘expensive.’ One could argue for car crash, or even for hockey, because they are both expensive in their own way, but Paris, France is expensive in many, bigger ways, so it is an excellent choice – but will the judge think so?

apples judges choice

After all players have submitted their red cards, the judge has to choose one. The key is to submit a card, if you can, that will resonate with the judge. In the example above, even though they might agree that Paris, France is a very expensive city to visit, or build, or whatever, they might have had a recent emotional experience with a hospitalization so the cost of an operation is what they think of when they see the word ‘expensive.’ The judge could also be more impressed with the cost of lobster, or skiing, or even paying taxes. And so it goes. The judge chooses which red card they like the best, and the players who didn’t win usually let the judge know exactly why their cards were better choices…and the conversation continues. Arguments are defused by the cards being anonymously submitted, and by the explicit rule that the judge can use any way of determining what is the best card.

Apples to Apples is easy to learn, and everybody plays at once (which is typical of games by Out of the Box). Game play typically lasts about a half hour, but any number of rounds can be played. Rounds are so quick that you can get a few done in very little time. It is very common to simply play the game without regard to a winner; people just like to play for the fun of it.

There are a number of expansions and variations available. Expansions ($19.99) are basically the same game with all new cards, which is nice to have because they can be mixed together with the original cards. There are at least 12 stand-alone variations on the basic Apples to Apples game, including Apples to Apples Jr (Out of the Box, 2002), which will be reviewed elsewhere.

I absolutely recommend this game to just about anyone in the market for a game, especially if looking for a game to appeal to a mixed-age group. It’s great for families, groups of friends and coworkers, and is safe as a gift to just about anybody.

Buy Apples to Apples Party Box Expansion 1 on Amazon!

Titan: The Arena

Titan arena box

Titan: The Arena (Avalon Hill, 1997; aka Colossal Arena, Fantasy Flight Games, 2008) is another of my all time favorites because of the uncertainty of outcome until very late in the game, the interactivity of the players, and the theme.

Titan: The Arena (not to be confused with its larger namesake, Titan) is a card game in which 8 fantasy creatures, each with specific powers, are battling in an imaginary arena. They battle for 8 rounds, and each round one creature is eliminated. Players place bets on one creature during each round, and then place numbered cards on each creature to represent relative power for that round. Once each creature has a number card, the round is over and the lowest numbered creature exits, so all the bets that had been placed on it throughout the game are nullified. By the end of the last round, there is one creature left standing. Whichever player has the most value of bets invested in that creature, wins.

titan arena play diagram

The beauty of this game is that each player has to simultaneously prop up some creatures while trying to undermine others, while betting accordingly. The chaos introduced by each creature’s special ability is especially fun; whichever player has the most bets cumulatively invested in any given creature gets “control” over that creature, and may invoke that creatures special ability. These abilities may prove critical late in the game! For example the owner of the Hydra can place two cards at once. If the he or she finds their  creature with a low card, they could, on one turn, put a higher number under the Hydra and a lower number on another creature. The owner of the Dragon has the ability to destroy any card in play, so what the Hydra just did the Dragon might undo. The variations are as endless as the cleverness of the players.

I would recommend this game to just about anyone who is old enough to understand the rules. It’s recommended for 8 and up, but I wouldn’t expect anyone under 10 to really understand how to deal with the contingencies.

The game play makes it essentially a very interesting card game; the theme is secondary. People with no interest in the theme should be able to ignore it and enjoy the game for what it is! Those who do like the theme will find it very easy to imagine the arena setting, manipulations of the creatures, and invocation of powers.

Note: Titan: The Arena is out of print, but has been replaced by Colossal Arena, which has new art and 4 extra creatures. This review is for the version I know, but can be safely transferred to the new one.

Buy Colossal Arena on amazon!