Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Three card games that start with the letter S

Serpent Stones is a card game, but it really has more in common with chess or Stratego: it is primarily a game about making strategic moves with pieces on a board in order to outmaneuver your opponent. The game is played on a staggered grid, and players must place their warrior cards one at a time to form an unbroken line from their side of the board to their opponent's, while at the same time protecting their own side of the board from their opponent's advances.

In addition to warrior cards which are played to the board, there are also strike cards which allow players to either destroy or capture adjacent opposing warriors. Destroyed warriors are removed from the board to clear a path for new cards to be played, and captured warriors are turned around so that they join the capturing player's line of warriors.

There are also tactical cards that can be played for various advantages such as drawing an extra card, forcing an opponent to discard, or setting a card aside to be played along with a second card on the next turn.

The Warrior cards are divided between eagles and jaguars, which has no bearing on the basic game but comes into play in two different advanced variants. In one, each player assumes control of either the House of Eagles or the House of Jaguars. Players can still play warriors from either house, but attack cards can only destroy warriors of the opposing house, and capture cards can only be played on warriors that match the player's house, regardless of who currently controls the card.

The other variant moves this idea to the individual warrior cards, so that while players aren't affiliated with a particular house, they can only play strikes on opposing adjacent warriors that are different from theirs, and only play strikes on opposing warriors that are the same. For example, if your eagle warrior is adjacent to my jaguar warrior, I can play a strike but not a capture, but if your jaguar is adjacent to my jaguar, I can play a capture card but not a strike.

The game's Aztec theme is interesting but largely decorative, and has no real bearing on game play. Normally I don't particularly like games that are this abstract, but Serpent Stones is pretty engaging, especially with the two different advanced variants to keep the game play from getting stale.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) A solid two player game which is easy to pick up and play, but engaging enough to hold your interest.

Set is unapologetically abstract. Billed as "the family game of visual perception," it has always seemed to me to have more in common with a perception or acuity test than a game. It consists of a deck of 81 cards printed with different abstract symbols that relate to one another in different ways. 12 cards are played out face up on the table, and the goal is to be the first player to spot a "set" of three cards.

A set is three cards whose symbols have exactly one element in common, and no more. As soon as a player spots a set they take the three cards, which are then replaced from the deck. If all players agree that no sets can be made from the cards on the table, three more are dealt. The game ends when either the deck runs out, or all the players agree that no more sets can be made from the available cards, at which point the player who claimed the most sets is the winner.

Rating: 2 (out of 5) There are no turns or strategy, it's just a contest to see who has the fastest pattern recognition, which to my mind means it's barely a game at all.

  • Set official website
  • Set on BoardGameGeek.com

We're both fans of Japanese samurai films (especially the ones by Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune), and at some point not too long ago, we realized that we didn't own any samurai-themed games. We weren't really interested in a huge, Risk-style area control game, which is what most games set in feudal Japan seem to be, and while I am intrigued by Samurai Sword (the samurai version of Bang!), we have enough trouble getting enough people together to play Bang!, so we didn't want another game with the same problem.

So we picked up Seven Card Samurai. The box had some nice graphic design to it, and described a game about using Samurai to defend rice supplies from bandits and ninjas. Unfortunately, what it contained was essentially a variation on rummy, with the same few pieces of unappealing artwork repeated in different colors across the cards.

Each player starts with a certain amount of rice bushels, represented by, admittedly, some very nice tokens. The idea is to play down samurai cards to defend your rice, while at the same time playing bandits to steal your opponent's rice. Additionally, you want to play your samurai in matching colors. The game ends when a player has seven samurai on the table, at which time each player is awarded points based on the number of samurai cards in each color set, as well as the amount of rice they've managed to hold on to or steal from the other players.

It's not a bad game per se (especially if you like rummy), but the artwork on the oversized cards is not very good, and the samurai theme is entirely irrelevant to the game play, as proven by the publisher's recent release of what appears to be the same game with a zombie theme.

Rating: 2 (out of 5) Not an awful game by any means, but there are much more interesting rummy variants out there, such as Mystery Rummy, and Shitenno and Tokaido are much better games about feudal Japan.

Date played: July 5, 2014

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