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Svarog's Den - Board Games

Take Tricks at The Academy, Race Witches in Zauberzwerg, and Scream “Cabanga!” at Opponents

by W. Eric Martin

With Gen Con 2023 opening today, I thought I’d run some counter-programming by talking about the half-dozen card games due out from German publisher AMIGO on September 1, 2023.

The Academy is a trick-taking game for 3-4 players from Manny Dominguez that puts you in a different role each round:

Distribute role cards at random. The roles “Mastermind” and “Team Player” then determine a trump suit and a round rule for the current round. With eight cards in hand, players then start to play. Each role has a special task, the fulfillment of which earns an award at the end of the round. For example, “Captain” and “Team Player” must win more tricks together than “Mastermind”, whereas “Mastermind” wants to win at least as many tricks as “Captain” and “Team Player” combined. (“Rebel” has nothing to do with any of that and pursues their own goals.)

The Captain leads to the first trick, and other players must follow suit, if possible; otherwise they can play any card, including trump. The winner leads to the next trick, and once all tricks have been played, players receive an award if they have met their role’s goal. If someone now has three awards and “The Ace in the Sleeve”, they win; if not, pass the roles clockwise and start a new round.

• In Michael Modler‘s Cabanga!, 3-6 players try to ditch the cards without collecting penalties from other players:

After the row cards and starting cards in all four colors have been placed in the middle of the table and players each have a hand of eight cards, the round begins. Players then take turns placing one card next to the matching row card in the middle, ideally with as small a difference as possible because the larger the number gap, the greater the chance that the other players will call out “Cabanga!” and throw cards with the values between the two number cards to the active player. These thrown-in cards are placed on the discard pile, then the action player must draw the same number of cards from the penalty pile.

Perhaps this image clarifies things…

When a player has no more cards in hand, the round ends and all players count the points on their cards. As soon as a player has collected 18 points, the game ends and the player with the fewest points wins!

Z3BRA is another number-on-cards game, with this 2-5 player design from Dirk Hanneforth and Uwe Mölter putting a spin on the Golf card game genre that asks you to ditch cards to lower your score:

To set up the game, deal each player fifteen cards. Without looking at the cards, they lay out nine cards in a 3×3 grid, then place the remaining six in a personal stack. On a turn, draw a card from the deck or the discard pile, then exchange it with a card in your grid, discarding that card face up; alternatively, you can discard the drawn card to reveal a face-down card in your grid. With the right card in hand, you can even steal a card from another player’s grid.

As soon as you have three cards of the same color or number in a row, whether vertically, horizontally or diagonally, you discard those cards, then replace them with face-down cards from your personal stack. If a player has discarded all 15 of their cards or all cards in all grids are face up, the game ends, and players tally their remaining cards. Whoever has the lowest score wins.

• Along similar lines, Schrödingers Katzen is a take on Liars Dice and a German edition of the 2015 title Schrödinger’s Cats from designers Heather O’Neill, Christopher O’Neill, and Heather Wilson and publisher 9th Level Games:

In Schrödinger’s Cats, players run experiments, form hypotheses, and try to one-up each other’s research. Players take on the role of a cat physicist such as Albert Felinestein, Sally Prride, or Neil deGrasse Tabby. Using their special ability to help prove their hypothesis — or at least debunk someone else’s — each cat physicist tries to determine the minimum number of alive cats, dead cats, or empty boxes across all the boxes in Schrödinger’s lab.

In more detail, each player starts with six cards in hand, along with a physicist card. The first player asserts how many identical cards — whether live cat, dead cat, or empty box — are present among all the cards in play. The next player can increase the number of this claim or call. Each player can use their ability once during the round.

When a player does call, whoever was right — whether about the claim or about doubting that claim — stays in the game, while the other player is eliminated. Each remaining player gets a new hand with one fewer card, and you keep playing rounds until only one player remains.

Unsolved: Tod auf der Jacht (“Death on the Yacht”) is another title along the lines of Fréderic Moyersoen‘s 2022 release Unsolved: Der Jagd-Unfall:

Players look at picture cards to try to solve a case, with the game including three cases. To set up, shuffle the 30 base cards with the six case-specific cards. In each round, the investigators are given a picture card, which everyone examines carefully. Then the cards are passed on to their neighbors in turn. When everyone has looked at the cards, they discuss together which cards should be placed face up in the middle to help solve the case. A total of twelve cards may be revealed to answer these questions: Who is the victim? Is there a murder weapon? And who may have killed the victim and for what reason? …Or was it an accident?

When the draw pile is empty, the group tries to reconstruct what happened and answer the open questions. Each correct answer is worth 2 points; each wrong answer is worth -1 point.

Jens-Peter Schliemann and Bernhard Weber‘s Zauberzwerg features gameplay similar to their 2022 Kinderspiel des Jahres-winning Zauberberg, a.k.a. Magic Mountain:

You want to race the sorcerer’s apprentices as quickly as possible to the end of the path to collect crystals for their magic wands from the dwarf Rupert, but you must avoid the witches to do so.

To set up, place the game boards to create a colorful path, place all of the apprentices on the end of the path opposite the mine, and scatter the cards face down around the table. The first player reveals two cards, then uses one of them to move the depicted character — apprentice or witch — to the next field on the path of the same color. The remaining card stay face up, then the next player reveals a new card, chooses one of the two, etc. If all of the sorcerers’ apprentices make it to the mine before the witches, the players all win together.

Zauberzwerg can be played at different levels of difficulty, and it can also be played competitively in addition to co-operatively.

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