Have Cards, Will Travel

At Gumbo Game Night, we have had some great crowds this summer, but vacations have caused us to miss a regular player or two each week. When you live near the Gulf Coast, the beautiful beaches over in Gulf Shores and Perdido are a siren song that not many can resist.

My wife and I made a trip of our own to Orange Beach back in June. We brought a few bigger box games, but most of what we had with us were small box games and card games. The reasons were simple: they are easy to bring, and do not need much table space.

So, this summer, I have had the chance to try out three new to me card games. I thought it would be fun to compare and contrast our experiences. If you’ve played any of three, I’d love for you to hit me up on Twitter @boardgamegumbo and tell me your experiences.

STRIKE UP THE BAND:

If you listen to the Tasty Minstrel Podcast with Lance “The Undead Viking” Myxter, you may have heard him talking back in the spring about a very small card game called Okey Dokey. It is a 2016 release designed by Hisahi Hiyashi, who has designed a lot of recognizable games. Trains is probably his best known to me, but he has also designed Get The Cheese, Rolling America, and many others. Knowing it was one of his games, and hearing the publisher gush about the intriguing nature of its puzzle yet simple play, I was glad to try.

The game ostensibly is themed around animals putting on a music show, but let’s not kid ourselves, it is essentially themeless. Players take turns laying cards out in rows of five colors / suits. Each row has to have a progressively higher numbered card to be played. The object is to complete five rows of ten cards. Sounds simple?

But, players cannot communicate specifically about the cards in their hand, so in Hanabi / The Mind / The Game fashion, they try to deduce whether they have an appropriate card to play. The tension does not equal those other games, which is not necessarily a bad thing for most gamers. But there is a lot of strategy, mainly because Hisashi Hiyashi added a few wrinkles. Players can play an equal card, which sort of stalls the numerical progression while players hope to draw a better card, or use one of the two available “zero” cards to restart the progression. The decision when to play those equals and zero cards is the game itself.

Here’s what I love about Okey Dokey: I can teach this game in just a few minutes, and it scales well from one on up. The game play is quick, and the game does not overstay its welcome (you’ll probably find yourself playing it multiple times in a row), and you can adjust the difficulty for the ages / experience of the players, or just to give yourself an added challenge once you beat each level.

Plus, I have to admit, I’m a fan of the art — the whimsical and colorful animal drawings, although limited, add just the right silliness to what is otherwise a dry math puzzle. Based on the art style, I wish that there were even more representative art elements on different cards, but at this price point, I can understand.

SUMMARY:

I can wholeheartedly recommend Okey Dokey for any group that likes start-of-the-night fillers or puzzly card games.

WERE YOU RAISED IN A CIRCUS TENT?

I’m a long time fan of The Spiel podcast, and love listening to the chemistry between the two hosts. Recently, Dave Coleson, one of the hosts, announced he was retiring from the show. Hopefully that will give him more time to design and develop board games, because I enjoyed the first game I have played by him, Junk In My Trunk from CSE Games.

Opening up the box, I saw a box full of colorful numbered cards spill out. Seeing all of these cards instantly brought me back to the days when my dad would load up me and my six brothers and sisters into the back of a camper for summer vacation. We broke out all of the standard mass market card games like UNO and PIT and RACKO and SKIPBO and all of the rest. I still love Pit to this day, but not sure I would play any of the others!

That’s where Junk in My Trunk comes in. Dave Coleson has released a game that would appeal to fans of those quick to learn family game night style card games, yet has enough depth to please hobby board gamers, too.

Junk In My Trunk has a circus theme, and its theme is a little stronger than Okie Dokie, admittedly. Players are supposedly elephants who use their trunks to “suck up” all of the mess that the circus leaves after the show. The artwork does fit the theme, and the game play does feel like you are cleaning up cards, especially when you have to take the whole stack!

From two to seven players can play, and it only takes about twenty minutes. The game play is pretty simple, too. Players will have a hand of cards, and three stacks of cards in front of them. Get rid of all of the cards in the stacks and all the cards in your hand, and you win. Just like in Okie Dokie, you are playing progressive cards, although here you can play sets of them to the discard pile instead of only one. Plus some of the lower ranked cards have special powers that let you move cards around or trade cards with other people. Be careful how you use your hand, or else you could end up taking the entire discard pile.

The player interaction has just enough take that to be interesting without being too mean, and the colorful cards and artwork should keep non-gamers interested.

SUMMARY:

This is by no means a serious game, but if your game group is tired of playing For Sale or No Thanks!, you might enjoy Junk In My Trunk. For sure, if you play games with family members who are not necessarily regular gamers — and you don’t want to play another round of Monopoly Deal — break this one out because you will have fun playing, too.

I WAS BORN A RAMBLIN’ MAN

Last up is a small box game for 2-5 players designed by Eli Lester called Travelin’. He says it was inspired by his European travels with friends, as they sometimes had downtime on trains or in hostels and devised a clever little card game to fill up the time. It is published by SC TRVLN GAMES SRL, and you can find them on facebook @travelingame or at their website, http://www.trvln.com

In Travelin’, players take a hand of cards and attempt to make connections via bus / train or other connections. There is a set of three common cards to draw from, or if you don’t like what is face up, you can draw two random cards off of the top of the remaining deck.

Players will then will take an action using those cards. They can either play a card down, like playing a bus to travel to a different country by playing that country card, or play one of the cleverly named action cards like Sketchy Taxi, which allows you to take cards from other players. Or, players can play an action from country cards that they have already played down in their part of the table.

Country cards on your side of the table have a point value to them, so when the game reaches its conclusion (which happens when someone plays five country cards), the players will total up the points in their tableaux, and the one with the most points is the winner.

I liked seeing the various countries and their flags represented, and I did enjoy the decisions on which way to go after you pull your starting card. (The box has thin, glossy sheets showing all of the countries and connections, but the abbreviations may not be familiar to American audiences.) Some of the card names are fun or funky or funny, although I’ll bet that some gamers may not be comfortable with the stereotypical nature of some of the card descriptions.

Take that mechanisms are not my favorite in card games. You can probably guess from previous blog posts that I’m just not a fan of games with a munch or cat in them (you know the ones). It’s not that I detest player interaction — if you’ve played with me, you know that I love games like Broom Service or Cosmic Encounter, but there has to be a purpose and there has to be a developed reason why it will happen.

For me, that’s where Travelin’ falls a little short. There is a lot of swingy randomness to the draw play, and a whole heck of a lot of take that based on the cards you draw rather than the strategy you employ. Yes, there are some delicious decisions when players try to decide between playing country cards for points and powers, or playing regular action cards, but it really will devolve into King of the Hill scenario as one player stakes a lead.

King of the Hill games are my least favorite, unfortunately, but hey, I am not a fool, I know that these are very popular games. King of Tokyo is one of the best selling board games of all time and a huge hit for Richard Garfield. Dice Throne has gone bananas on Kickstarter, not once, but twice! But, that style of game is just not my cup of tea,

I did like the puzzle of trying to get country cards to be played, since it takes a little bit of geography to get the right combos together to “move” from country to country. The cards are good quality, and the art elements are serviceable and easy to understand.

SUMMARY:

If your group likes games with high player interaction, where the turns go very quickly, and where the leader will be attacked as soon as he or she gets a point ahead, then this game is definitely for your group. I was glad I got to try it this summer, and look forward to seeing games from Eli in the future, as there are some good ideas in this game, but maybe this one needed just a little more time in the oven for my tastes.

WRAPPING IT UP:

So that’s three card games I’ve been playing this summer. Have you gotten a chance to try any of the above? Does the fact that I prefer passive aggressive games more than direct conflict games shade my opinions here? I’d love to hear from you as to your experience.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.

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