Since I started this blog, I’ve been sent a lot of card games to review. The bad ones — the ones that I don’t always write about because I just don’t have the energy to do more than play them a few times and shrug — usually have something in common.
An enterprising designer thinks up an idea for card play, probably based on a familiar game from their youth like Pit or Spit or Poker, and then starts stacking mechanics on top like a wedding cake designer prepping for a celebration at the Governor’s Mansion.
But sometimes less is more. Sometimes, simplicity gives a deeper experience than complexity for complexity’s sake.
Sometimes, we just want to play cards.
25th Century Games sent us a new card game designed by Jeremy Acievedo called Sunny Day Sardines. On its face, it has a pretty simple premise, well worn and familiar like my favorite slippers.
Players draft cards with colorful sardines on them, in a rainbow of colors, trying to match the objective cards from a separate deck, all while not going over the hand limit. The objective cards are easy to understand. One card might want two blue sardines and two red sardines. If you have that combo in your hand, instead of drafting, take a turn to lay them down and claim the scoring card.
That’s essentially all there is to it. There’s no hidden traitor, there are no special power cards with a paragraph of ten point type with confusing descriptions of actions that are so temporally dependent as to confuse every holder of the card, and tips off all the other players when the holder glances too long at the text. There are no multi-use cards that keep out the les experienced or less mentally agile gamers. And there certainly no multiple economies to teach.
Confession time. I was pretty underwhelmed when I read the rules. Sure, the little tin box is cool, and the art work is surprisingly charming. Sure, I grasped the concept right away, but isn’t that a downside?
Like SCOUT or Dealt, two top notch card games that we have played recently, Sunny Day Sardines sacrifices major innovation for streamlined play that just makes sense.
I’m not here to tell you that Sunny Day Sardines is going to win any awards. It’s not a game like Cascadia, which took familiar mechanisms and shined them up like a belt buckle. Cascadia didn’t do anything really new, but what it did, it did really well and deserved its kudos at the Spiel this year.
Sunny Day Sardines is probably too polished to win anything. I cannot see a jury of gamers playing Sardines and seeing innovation anywhere, and in a field of crowded games (500 alone are being published or demoed at GEN CON 2022 alone, and probably double that at ESSEN SPIEL) for a game to truly standout, there has to be some hook that distinguishes it from every other game.
Sunny Day Sardines’ hook is that it’s a great little time waster — yep, the old LTW — but in a card game package. It’s tiny. You can fit it into your back pocket, or your backpack, or your fanny pack. Waiting for the next Voices of Liberty show to start at The American Adventure? Break out your copy of Sardines right there on the marble and play! On a long elevator ride at One Shell Square? Hmm…that’s probably a stretch, but sure, go ahead and play a hand or two.
The point is that Sunny Day Sardines does something very simple — just collect cards and score points — and it does it well. I can and will play this with family at holiday gatherings. I can and have played this with the grandbugs when they come to visit. (Love watching both of them practice their math skills counting up sardines. Way to geaux, girls!)
If I’m playing with my usual gaming buddies, I’ll grab SCOUT or Red 7 instead. But, the next time I’m playing with family over the holidays, I’ll probably try to steer them to Sardines instead of Go Fish or Bataille.
It’s a good game that is easy to teach and knows exactly what it is trying to do.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
— BJ from Board Game Gumbo
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher.