Tichu Card Game Review

Work together with your partners and defeat your opponents in Tichu, the exciting and volatile trick-taking card game! Use your strategy skills and teamwork to rid your hand of cards before your opponents can. Take advantage of the powerful effects of unique cards such as the dragon, phoenix and dog. Use bids of confidence, card trick bombs and deductive reasoning to get ahead of your opponents. Risk it all in your quest for victory!

Tichu, whose name in Chinese means roughly to “propose” or to “put forward”, is a fast-paced trick-playing card game with roots in Asia. It bears large similarities to the Chor Dai Dee and Da Lao Er Chinese card games which are hugely popular in East Asia. There are elements of Bridge and Poker in the game, and this fusion of styles and mechanics has created a very popular card game. The Tichu variation of this Asian card game was designed by Urs Hostetler in 1991, and has steadily acquired a growing fanbase.

Tichu is mostly played with 2 teams of 2 players each (though the game can accommodate between 3 to 6 players in total). You sit across from your partner, and your team’s goal is to win more points than your opponents during each game, and games continue until one team achieves the target number of points. A hundred points are up for grabs each game, and the target score is usually a thousand.

The game is played using a standard 52-card deck containing 4 suits of 13 cards each, plus an additional 4 special cards unique to this game. The game is played using tricks, which are very similar to poker hands. You can play single cards, pairs, a series of pairs, three-of-a-kind, full house, and straights of at least 5 cards.

The basic premise of the game is pretty straightforward: the lead player opens a round by playing a trick, and players take turns playing tricks that are of the same kind and larger in value than the previously played trick. Once everyone passes, the player who played the last trick wins all the cards played that round, and he gets to start a new round by playing any trick in his hand. For example, Player A opens a round with a pair of 4’s. Player B passes because he either does not have any pairs in his hand or chooses not to play them. Player C plays a pair of 7’s. Player D then plays a pair of Queens. After everyone else passes (opting not to play anymore pairs), Player D wins the round and claims all the cards on the table, and then starts a new round by playing a full house.

Winning the cards played in each round is what scores you points. However, only a few cards are worth anything. 5’s are worth 5 points each, and 10’s and Kings are worth 10 points each. The other normal cards are worth nothing, and merely act as tools for you to win the point cards. The game continues until one player “goes out” by emptying his hand. The game still continues with the remaining players, until only one player is left. Each partnership then totals the number of points they earned that game. You are penalized for coming in last though; the last player has to give all the cards he won that game to the first player who went out, and all the remaining cards in his hand to his opponents.

As you can see, this is a game where teamwork and strategy are required to win (though partners are not allowed to talk strategy during the game). You have to make sure your team wins the rounds where point cards are involved. You also need to make sure you aren’t the last player remaining in the game. In addition, if your entire team goes out before any of your opponents can, the point cards don’t matter and your team earns a whopping 200 points!

Unfortunately, that was just the basics. Tichu has a lot of other rules to make the game interesting and challenging. As mentioned before, there are 4 special cards in the game. They are the Mahjong, the Dog, the Dragon and the Phoenix, and each has its own abilities. The player with the Mahjong card gets to play the first trick, and can force a card to be played. Playing the Dog gives the lead to your partner. The Dragon is the highest value single card and is also worth 25 points. However, you have to give all the cards you won that round (including the Dragon) to an opponent. The Phoenix acts as a wild card and can be played with any trick, but it comes with a hefty -25 point penalty.

There are also tricks you can play called “Bombs”. If you have a four-of-a-kind or a straight-flush, this acts as a Bomb and you can use it to interrupt any round and immediately take the lead. However, your Bomb can also be interrupted by another bigger Bomb. Lots of fun! There are also a couple of other rules to the game. At the start of each game, you need to pass a card to each other player, thereby slightly influencing the quality of the other players’ hands. Before each player plays their first card, they also have the opportunity to call a Tichu. This means they are proclaiming that they will “go out” first. If they do, they win a bonus 100 points. But if they don’t, they lose the 100 points. You can also call a Grand Tichu when only 8 cards (out of 14) have been dealt. This works the same as a Tichu call, but the bonus (or loss) is 200 points!

The many rules in the game can seem daunting, and they can take a while to learn, especially for players who are new to this game genre or have not experienced trick-playing card games such as Bridge before. However, once you do get the hang of it, you will find that it becomes a game full of strategy, teamwork, guessing and second-guessing. And if your gaming group is of the high-risk variety, the constant calls of Tichu or Grand Tichu will turn the game into a suspenseful and exciting game where the point lead can swing wildly until the very end.

Tichu is a great game that you can play a very many times without getting bored. The level of thinking, planning and tricking in the game can even rival that of Bridge. Suffice to say, if you are willing to learn the many rules of the game, you will be rewarded with hours of fun! You will like Tichu if you like other trick-taking card games such as Bridge, Hearts or 500.

Rating: 4.5/5.0
Complexity: 3.5/5.0
Playing Time: 1 – 1.5 hours
Number of Players: 3 to 6 players

Bohnanza Card Game Review

Game Overview

Bohnanza is not a new game. It’s been originally published in 1997 and throughout the years many expansions have been keeping up the interest in it. I only recently had the chance to play it so here is my review:

Bohnanza is designed by Uwe Rosenberg, well-known for many other successful games, such as Agricola, Le Havre and the more recent Ora et Labora. It is actually the game with which he became famous in the board gaming world.The name “Bohnanza” is a pun on the words “bonanza” and “Bohne” (German for “bean”). It is essentially a card game, its only components being cards depicting beans. Players take the role of bean farmers, their sole purpose being to successfully plant, harvest and sell beans. Each player starts out with 2 bean fields in which they can grow any variety of bean, with the restriction that they may plant beans of one variety in each field. The more the players wait for the beans to grow, that is the more beans of the same variety they plant in each field the more coins they can get for harvesting and selling them. But sometimes they may be forced to give up a specific crop of beans before even having the chance to sell them for profit.

Each player starts with 5 bean cards in their hand and the rest of the cards becomes the draw deck. And here is the most important and unique rule of the game which may seem a bit awkward at first: You are never allowed to change the order of the cards in your hand! This is a pretty unusual rule and difficult to follow at first as in most card games you can do whatever you want with your cards (and many times will find yourself pretty much playing nervously with the cards in your hand changing their order continuously). After a while though you will get accustomed to this rule, which plays a great role in the game because you must plant beans in the order you received them. Whenever you draw new cards you must draw them one at a time and place them behind the last card in your hand. On your turn you must do the following actions:

Plant beans. You must plant the first bean in your hand in one of your fields. If you want, you can plant the second as well.

Draw, trade and donate cards. You draw the 2 topmost cards from the draw deck and put them face up on the table. You may keep any of these cards, setting them aside to be planted in the next step, and trade the others along with any cards from your hand. Other players may offer any number of cards in their hands in order to buy a specific card from the active player. They will also have to plant immediately the cards they will gain from trading. If no one is interested in buying you offer, you may donate them to any other player. You might want to do that because you might not have an empty field to plant them and will be forced to sell some planted beans for less profit than you would like or maybe for none at all. You may continue to trade/donate cards from your hand after the 2 faceup cards have been set aside, traded/donated. The player who is the recipient of a donation is not obliged to accept it. In such an occasion you will be forced to plant the cards nobody else wants.

Plant traded / donated beans. During this step all cards set aside, traded or donated must be planted. Players may (and may need to) harvest and sell beans from a bean field in order to plant the new beans.

Draw new bean cards. You draw 3 cards from the draw deck, one at a time and put them at the back of your hand.

When the draw deck is exhausted, the discarded cards are shuffled and placed on the table, becoming the new draw deck. The game ends when the draw deck is exhausted for the third time. Players then harvest and sell beans in their bean fields. The player with the most gold coins wins the game.

The most recent edition of the game by Rio Grande includes the first edition of the first German expansion as well as rules for up to seven players but also two player rules. The two player game, described as “bean duel” has some significant modifications that change the feeling of the game drastically. That could really be expected though as there can’t be any trading with only two players in the game. The most important changes in this version are:

A player can only sell beans on their own turn

The game ends when the draw deck is exhausted for the first time

During the initial step of each turn a player must plant or discard cards donated to him last turn.

The player draws three (instead of two) cards from the draw deck and puts them face up on the table. If the topmost card on the discard pile matches the cards revealed this way, the player adds it to them and continues to do so until the topmost card of the discard pile don’t match any of the cards drawn. Then he/she can keep any of these cards and donate the rest to his/her opponent.

Impressions

When I was proposed to try this game, I must admit I was a bit reluctant about it cause I thought that it would be a somewhat silly game(I guess that the title didn’t help a lot towards that). Looking at the bean cards was a pleasant surprise, as I saw beans depicted in a way I would never expect to. And what strange beans that were! Stink beans (yuck!) and beans with blackened eyes from a box fight and wax beans polishing the floor. Hey, this is fun! I admit I had a bit of trouble at first having to remember not to mess with my cards’ order probably because I play a lot of Magic the Gathering, hehe! In the course of the game I found myself trying to think of the best strategy to gain more coins and make profitable trades and there were a lot of laughs and player interaction to never get me bored. The end of the first game found me pretty excited and eager to start a new game (and to get my sweet revenge). Since then I’ve played a lot of games of Bohnanza, so, let’s get down to our little analysis of the core aspects of the game:

Components:

Components of the game are plain and simple cards but with much attention to detail. Cards are made of hard, quality card stock, glossy and very resistant to wear. I have rarely seen a card game with cards of such quality. 9/10

Gameplay:

Bohnanza is a game that I think I will never be bored to play. Turns are fast and interesting for all players. The trading mechanic is the key factor for that. Many would say that this game is pretty much straight forward with not much strategy involved but I think that there is much food for thought here. Players are required to make profitable trades trying to benefit from the trade more than they will help their opponents and also have to decide when is the best time to harvest their crops. Many important questions will require wise decisions. Should I harvest now and sell for less than maximum profit in order to be able to plant a new crop or should I wait a little longer to gain maximum profit? Should I buy a 3rd bean field? A very positive aspect of the game is its flexibility to the number of players. Referring to the latest edition by Rio Grande, there are modified rules adjusted to 6-7, 4-5, 3 or even two players. These rules guarantee that the game will remain playable and fun enough regardless the number of players which something that in general isn’t given attention and must be praised. Overall, simplicity in the mechanics and enough intrigue is the key of success in Bohnanza! 8/10

Learning Curve:

Rules of the game are pretty simple. During the first few games you may find yourself a bit forgetful and mess up with the order of cards in your hand. The best way to deal with that is never remove a card from your hand until a trade or donation has been accepted by the other player. Other than that you don’t have to remember any complicated rules. The value of each bean crop is depicted on the cards, on the “beanometer” as well as it’s rarity so you basically only have to remember the sequence of actions during your turn. 8/10

Theme:

The game’s theme is pretty simple. You are a bean farmer!! You are constantly reminded of that cause all you see on the table is bean cards and on your fields you see beans of the same kind planted one under the other which is close how your real farm would be. All beans don’t have the same rarity and don’t have the same market value, meaning that some are rarer than others, like cocoa beans that can be found only 4 times in the deck and therefore are very valuable (selling only 4 of them yields 4 coins). That also relate to real market conditions. What may spoil a bit the immersion in the theme is the strangeness of the beans you plant! Some are really ridiculous but that’s part of the fun, so definitely no complaints here. 7/10

Replayability:

As I said before Bohnanza is a game I will never be bored to play. It’s simple and fast and each game can never be the same with any other. You will want to play numerous games in order to polish your strategy and test your ideas but it all really comes down to one factor: it’s fun, I want to play again! 9/10

Fun:

Player interaction usually is the key for a game to be interesting and this game is no exception. Trying to make the best trading deal and donating cards will make you and your friends laugh and tease each other and that’s what I call fun. Moreover designs of the beans are pretty hilarious. Many times I found myself just staring at the cards and smiling……Yeah, It’s definitely fun! 9/10

Pros:

Player interaction
Each game is different
Carefully designed cards and of high quality material
Can be played with 2 – 7 players without the fun factor being decreased
Fast play

Cons:

Some may find it too simple
I can’t find more things to complain about (I guess that’s a pro!!)

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, Review

Game Overview

Many games have emerged during the last decade with the words “Lord of the Rings” in their name from traditional board games to Monopoly: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition and Risk: The Lord of the Rings. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a Living Card Game (LGG). In Living Card Games, a system invented by Fantasy Flight Games, all cards of the game become available in packets, that contain all the cards published in the set in contrast to Trading Card Games in which expansions become available in small packages, called “booster packs” that contain some random cards from the set. That means that with TCGs one has to buy countless boosters in order to find specific cards and thus spend much money whereas on LCGs you just have to buy the appropriate expansions that contain the cards and that’s all. This system has proven to be quite successful taking into account the economic difficulties many countries have run to the last few years. This review is about the core set of the game which contains four 30-card starter decks and components for two players. Expansions of the game, called “adventure packs” come out every month and so far two cycles of expansions have been published, “Shadows of Mirkwood” and “Dwarrowdelf”, along with a deluxe expansion called “Khazad-dûm”. Adventure packs contain 60 cards that include a new scenario, a new hero, three copies of nine new player cards from all spheres and new encounter cards. But what are heroes, player decks, encounter decks and spheres?

The Lord of the Rings: The Card game is a cooperative game based on the renowned trilogy novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings. One to four players travel through the lands of Middle-Earth trying to complete dangerous quests and defeat the ancient evil Dark Lord, Sauron. Each player controls 1-3 heroes that become available from the start of the game and each has a deck of cards, that can be played by spending resources that belong to a specific sphere. There are four spheres: “Lore” which emphasizes the potential of the hero’s mind, “Tactics” which emphasizes a hero’s martial prowess, “Spirit” which emphasizes the strength of a hero’s will and “Leadership” which emphasizes the charismatic and inspirational influence of a hero. Each sphere provides a unique style of play and you can include in your deck cards belonging to more than one sphere, providing that you use appropriate heroes as well as they are the source of resources. The player decks comprise of Allies that come to aid your heroes, events influencing the course of the adventure, and attachment cards.

At the beginning of the game you decide which of the three scenarios included in the game you are going to play. Each scenario has different difficulty and is represented by quest cards that provide the storyline of the scenario. Each scenario consists of a sequential deck of quest cards and goes along with specific threats (unexplored locations, enemies, treachery and objectives) represented by specific encounter sets. Each scenario requires two or three encounter sets that are shuffled to form the encounter deck.

The game starts by setting the threat level of each player (depends on the heroes used) and by shuffling the player and encounter decks. In the course of the game the threat level will eventually rise and when it reaches level 50, the player is eliminated. The rest of the players continue the adventure and if at least one survives till the end of the quest, the whole group of players is considered to have accomplished the quest. The first quest card is revealed and each player draws 6 cards. Then the game continues in rounds, consisting of the following phases:

Resources are gathered from heroes and one card is drawn from the player deck.
Planning. Each player can use resources and play cards such as Allies and Attachments.
Quest. Each player decides which characters (heroes or Allies) they will send to the quest. Then cards equal to the number of players are revealed from the encounter deck and positioned on the staging area. Total willpower of the heroes is compared to the total threat strength of cards in the staging area and if willpower is greater, players have successfully quested and some progress tokens are placed on the quest card. A specific number of tokens are required in each quest for it to be completed.
Travel. Players may travel as a group to a location on the staging area, making it an active location and no longer contributing with its threat level upon questing. Progress tokens are placed there first after successfully questing until the location is fully explored.
Encounter. Players may engage enemy creatures on the staging area and then engagement checks are made to see if any enemies engage the players. Engaged enemies are moved from the staging area and placed in front of the engaging player.
Combat. Enemies then attack the players first and then players attack enemies. Characters may either commit to a quest, defend or attack enemies. Each of these actions require the character to exhaust (turn sideways). Characters may also exhaust when using an ability that requires them to do so.
Refresh. All exhausted characters become ready (moved to their normal upright position). Each player increases his threat by 1, and the first player passes the first player token to the next player clockwise on his left. That player becomes the new first player. Play then proceeds to the resource phase of the next round.

But enough with gameplay aspects. Now is the moment of truth. Does the game hold up to our expectations?

First Impressions

Upon opening the game box, I realized that it was simply too big for what it contained. Actual contents require only the middle one-third of the box, while the two other thirds are covered with cardboard pieces. Overcoming the initial frustration I began opening the small packages containing cards and the cardboard sheets with tokens and the threat counters. Upon observing the components I realized how much attention to detail was given during design. Fantasy Flight has proven in the course of years that where looks matter, it can make the difference and this game is no exception. All cards are exquisitely beautiful and detailed.

And then comes the rulebook. I have to admit that it seemed pretty intimidating to read through the 32 page manual but taking into account that many pages are example illustrations, things have been a bit easier than anticipated. But let’s go through our usual rating categories:

Components:

As mentioned earlier, cards couldn’t be better designed. Images of all cards are awesome, tokens are sturdy and the threat trackers are just superb. The only complain I had is about the number of players that can play the game. While four 30-card decks are included in the box, allowing four players to play, only 2 threat counters are included. I think that it would be appropriate to give full components for four players as only two threat counters would be required. Of course one can easily track threat in a piece of paper but it still seems a bit awkward. Fantasy Flight preferred profit over efficiency stating in the rulebook that “a one to two player game can be played using only the contents of this core set. (Up to four players can play the game cooperatively with a second copy of the core set.)” 9/10

Gameplay:

Gameplay is well thought of. The game has a lot of depth and allows many different strategies giving players the privilege of adjusting their decks as they please even combining different spheres in them and play according to their style. The game provides absolute immersion, through the beautiful artwork and interesting text on cards, not only quest cards that describe the mission of the party of adventurers but character and enemy cards too. Players are constantly faced with important decisions such as: Which characters should I use to commit to quests, which to defend or attack? Maybe I could use the character’s special ability instead. I was really impressed by the duration of the first few games until all players felt comfortably regarding the rules. The game box states a playing time of 60 minutes but be prepared to play a lot longer in the first games. Everyone who is not intimidated by complex rules and long gameplay and is a fan of the book will simply love this game and never be bored to play it. 8/10

Learning Curve:

All that is required to learn the game is go once through the rules and play the game once. That could take a while though. It is recommended that one of the players who likes to read rules should just do that and then explain the game to the others while playing the first (easier scenario). Merely stating the game rules will be intimidating and won’t serve much as the rules are pretty extensive and will be soon forgotten without the in-game experience. The sequence of phases is shown in the last pages of the rulebook along with the timing when players can take actions which will prove quite useful. 6/10

Theme:

The game quests take place during a timespan of 17 years: from when Bilbo celebrates his 111th birthday (and Frodo’s 33rd) to days just prior to Frodo’s leaving the Shire. However the scenarios are not retelling the story of the books but instead they describe new adventures throughout Middle-Earth history. That may be seen as a positive or negative point to players and is clearly a matter of character. I personally find this idea refreshing and more intriguing. Game artwork along with detailed texting and the appearance of well-known heroes such as Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli makes the theme of the game always present in every action players make. 9/10

Replayability:

Replayability is another strong point of this game. While new adventure packs are released each month, keeping up the interest in the game, even the core set with it’s 3 scenarios is pretty interesting as you will always want to replay scenarios to achieve better scores (lower scores are better!) and accomplish quests in fewer rounds. So replayability is at its best here. 9/10

Fun:

The game is much fun, though not in a way that will amuse you or make you laugh. Most times you will be struggling to make the right decisions about what actions to take or talk to your fellow mates about the right strategy to advance in the game. I think most fun comes out of the fact that this is a cooperative game. This is accomplished with an intuitive way though, allowing enough space for player cooperation and allowing players to make their own decisions too. I had a lot of fun playing this game 8/10

Pros:

Beautiful artwork and high quality material
Each game is different as encounter and player decks are shuffled
Theme is implemented most efficiently
Full deck customization
All cards become available in adventure packs (LCG system)

Cons:

Learning curve is a bit slow (complex rules)
Playing time can be several hours especially for the first game
Components could be included for all 4 players with minimum additions