1 Play (4 Players)
Knizia card games are rarely a disappointment for me. Reiner reliably checks all of the design boxes that most great card games should have: simple rules, breezy play, meaningful interaction, hidden depth, and a clever twist. Granted, he has enough phenomenal card games that even his good ones can be overshadowed by their siblings, but I was still excited to hear that publisher Iello was bringing back one of his lesser known trick taking designs (formerly titled Too Many Cooks). And, as expected, I’m pleased to find that Foodie Forest lives up to his solid standard of quality.
I can see why publisher Iello pivoted the setting from plain soup cooking to anthropomorphic animal soup cooking. The former isn’t exactly thrilling, and the latter is at least trendy (even if some gamers are tired of animalized themes). The idea of animals throwing trash in a soup (and the concept of how the trash suit functions) certainly helps justify their decision even further. Although, if you’ve been around enough older folks (especially in the USA), then the original idea of having a spicy suit that players usually didn’t want in their soup makes sense as well.
Honestly, with games like this, I would be thrilled with no theme at all if it also included gorgeous abstract card art. In the case of Foodie Forest, we get a theme that fits well enough with fairly generic, cartoonish anthropomorphic animal art, so it’s a wash for me. I was hoping for a presentation with more style (like Iello’s Schotten Totten) or beauty (like Iello’s Royal Visit). But it’s perfectly serviceable, and the thing that really matters here is the gameplay.
Foodie Forest is a trick taking game that reminds me most of Knizia’s own Poison — another game about filling a pot with number cards until a threshold sum is reached, forcing that last player (the threshold breaker) to take the played cards. Poison sees players trying to avoid taking cards at all costs OR at least have the most cards of a color (so that color doesn’t not get added to that player’s score). The difference with Foodie Forest is that you play 5 rounds, and each round you will simultaneously select and reveal a new scoring objective. If you’re lucky (and a bit crafty in later rounds), then you’ll hopefully select an objective that nobody else chose so you aren’t competing with others for the same point-scoring suit.
There are three main suits: Fruits, Veggies, and Bugs, plus a fourth weird suit of Trash. Each trick, one player leads with a suit and all others must follow if they are able, otherwise they can play anything. Cards will continue to be played until a threshold sum of 10 is reached or exceeded. And there are some interesting card values that play with this concept: 1-5 but also zeros, reset to zeros, and 10s (which have a value of zero if a player leads with a 10). The winner of the trick takes all of the played cards — and frequently a trick can last longer or shorter than once around the table.
The five possible objective cards you can choose for each round are: going for one of the three regular suits (each matching card is worth a point) while avoiding trash cards (each a negative point), or going for trash cards and avoiding the zeroes, or gaining five points but then taking a negative point for each card won in a trick. That last one is particularly potent because you can end a round with a ton of negative points if you are not careful to avoid winning tricks.
I quite enjoyed our entire session of Foodie Forest due to how different each round feels (depending on your objective, your opponent’s objectives, and your hand). There is a thrill in being dealt a new hand, evaluating your cards, and then committing to a new objective and hoping it pays off. Since players have to pick a new objective each round, it’s also supremely satisfying or hilariously frustrating to try and not match up with others. Life is certainly easier if nobody else cares about collecting your lucrative suit, but that doesn’t mean your opponents won’t do everything in their power to keep that suit away from you.
My favorite aspect of Foodie Forest is the clever interactions in the card play decisions. That moment of bringing a pot sum to 9 so that your lefthand neighbor is backed into a corner and facing a disastrous pot of negative points, only for them to whip out a zero at the perfect moment and dodge the bullet. Watching your rival salivate over a growing pot with their desired color only for you to swoop in right before their turn and take it all away. Everybody else playing the perfect cards to set a trap for the leader. It’s everything you could want in an enjoyable card game.
True, you can’t always control the luck of dealt hands or stop an opponent from raking in a ton of points on a fortunate trick. But playing 5 rounds certainly seemed to even out the fortune while not overstaying it’s welcome (thanks to the shifting objectives). It may not be the kind of card game like Scout or The Crew that is going to light the world on fire, but Foodie Forest still serves up a hearty meal of fun.
1 Play (3 Players)
What happens when you take the brilliant scoring system of Tigris & Euphrates and apply it to a family game? Well, apparently you either get wonderful little abstract that is Ingenious or you get the ho-hum roll & move game that is Dragon Land.
In the land of dragons, you and two or three other players will be spreading your trio of fantasy characters out across the map in a race to snatch up all the precious gems and eggs from the many volcanoes. Don’t worry, you aren’t robbing the poor dragons (although the mystery as to how they acquired so much treasure in the first place is troubling). Rather, you are helping the dragons rescue their possessions before the volcanoes erupt.
And although I called this a roll & move game (which it is) that isn’t something you should worry too much about either. Dragon Land allows the needed flexibility of letting you roll two dice and deciding which of your three figures to move with them (you must split up the two dice results between two of your three figures). So you can usually assign a bad roll to a figure where it is still useful.
Half the time, you don’t even care about your dice results. If one of your characters is camping in a volcano that still has more goodies to claim, then you’ll simply assign a die to them (not moving the figure at all) just so you can snatch up another goodie. Your figure is allowed to take one of the following: a wild diamond, a precious egg, or all of the gems that match its color.
The game is essentially a roll & move set collection efficiency race. And players are provided with plenty of tactical abilities to break the rules of movement and collection or work around a bad roll of the dice. There’s a nice bit of spice here as you observe the movements of your opponents and concoct maneuvers to snatch up treasures right as they are closing in to claim them. Rivers offer shortcuts, Dragons give teleportation rides, and yet more tokens save you turns and actions.
At the end of the game, you’ll score 10 points for every complete set of gems and eggs you collect — so a well-balanced diet is essential to success. Luckily, the wild diamonds can fill in for your weakest colors. And thus a tilt of the head and squinting of the eyes reveals this game to be a distant relative to Tigris & Euphrates. It’s yet another nice touch that elevates this experience over much of the mass market family titles that plague our local store shelves.
No, Knizia didn’t design a bad game here. He simply didn’t design a very interesting one. Waiting a full round just to receive two dice that you roll, maybe move your figures a couple spaces, and pick up one or two tokens isn’t all that interesting. And it doesn’t feel great to waste a movement roll just so you can pick up yet another red or blue or green gem from the location that you are already on.The pace of the game is too slow for the amount of satisfaction that a single turn brings.
Ok, so maybe it’s not as thrilling or engaging as Tigris & Euphrates or Yellow & Yangtze — and let’s be honest, what other game is?!? But it’s still a worthwhile family game, especially with kids, right? Wellllll…. maybe in a vacuum…. The big problem is that Knizia’s own Treasures of Nakbe takes the roll & move mechanism and combines it with a far more entertaining and streamlined experience.
Dragon Land has so many special tokens with their own little rules that it kind of boxes out much of its target audience. And the tempo is slow enough that it begins to drag for both parents and children. Either give us something more energetic or give us something less time consuming — preferably both. By the time the last egg was collected from the board and the game end was triggered, we were plenty ready for it to be over.
Medici: The Dice Game
4 Plays (1 & 2 Players)
Grail Games, Vincent Dutrait, and Dr Knizia had a good thing going with their Medici line of games. It’s a shame that we still haven’t seen any part of what they were cooking up for Medici: Reformation (the mysterious and unreleased fourth game in this now deceased line). But for those who are willing to look or dig hard enough, there are still three solid titles floating around in the market that are a joy to explore.
Medici being the OG, with its many tough auctions. Medici: The Card Game being next in line, replacing the bidding with even spicier elements of push-you-luck. And Medici: The Dice Game being the youngest of the trio, a surprisingly solid roll & write with a low-key banger of a solo mode. All three designs manage to fully preserve that uniquely Medici feeling: the competing priorities of establishing goods monopolies versus stocking the most valuable ship.
Medici: The Dice Game maintains those anxiety-riddled decisions by forcing you to commit to one, two, or three of the dice you’ve rolled, and then leaving the remaining dice out in the middle for your opponents to feast upon. While you dream of the perfect rolls, your dreams rarely come true. Do you settle for that spice die now, although it’s only a lowly two, just to keep yourself ahead of the spice competition? Do you take a five gold to give your ship a boost and sacrifice an opportunity to advance up a good track? Do you settle for a painful zero-value cloth just so you can launch up cloth track by two whole spaces? As per usual, Reiner knows how to make you writhe with your dice decisions.
The biggest flaw of this experience is mostly a minor annoyance, but it’s worth mentioning here. Some of the goods tracks are so dark (particularly purple and blue) that it becomes extremely difficult to see your own pencil markings on them, let alone your opponent’s markings. I kid you not that at certain lighting angles, your pencil markings will completely vanish. That’s not the kind of readability you want when everybody is competing for track majorities. Luckily, this has only proven to be a nuisance (rather than a dealbreaker) for us.
Despite the graphical gripes, this version of Medici has a couple major advantages over its counterparts:
- It’s lightening quick. We’re talking 15 or 20 minutes compared to 45 or 80 minutes.
- It has a bangin’ solo mode
The solo mode of Medici: The Dice Game ratchets things up by punishing you with all of the dice that you don’t take. Just like in the multiplayer game, you’ll roll five dice and select one, two, or three of the results to add to your sheet. But that leaves one to four neglected dice that retaliate with the petty jealousy of a vengeful ex-lover. Any rolled good that you don’t take becomes a dreaded circle on its matching colored track. These growing lines of circles become thresholds that you must reach in order to score points for each type of good. And worst of all, rejecting a specific good too many times means that you don’t get to score for your goods monopolies at all.
This 10-minute, Medici flavored solo challenge manages to hit the spot like few other solo games do. As somebody who normally completely ignores the solo variant at the back of the rulebook, I’m majorly impressed with what Reiner cooked up here.
After touring the entire line of games, I still find myself leaning toward Medici: The Card Game as my favorite of the bunch (I know, that is utter blasphemy). For me, the auctions are the least interesting part of Medici and the least interesting style of bidding in Knizia’s wide spanning auction catalogue. Medici: The Card Game manages to distill its mercantile agony down to its most flavorful form. But the board game and dice game still still manage to have their own merits (even if they both also have graphic design annoyances).
The Lord of the Rings
1 Play (2 Players)
Despite being a big fan of the trilogy (both books and movies), The Lord of the Rings is one Knizia game that I’ve been putting off for a long time. Much of the discourse that I’ve heard around this cooperative classic has a feeling of respectful dismissiveness. Respect for launching the cooperative game genre, and dismissiveness for being surpassed by its successors. I must confess that I largely agree with this sentiment.
The game follows the key events of the trilogy via a sequence of spaces along a primary board and secondary boards. The goal is to progress all the way to Mordor and cast the ring into fires of Mount Doom before the ringbearer crosses paths with Sauron on the corruption track. You’ll be managing a hand of cards — deciding what to play when, or when to draw more cards — while trying to avoid rolling the dreaded die as much as possible. A roll in the die can result in nothing at all, but more likely it will result in your hobbit moving closer to Sauron or vice versa (which is even worse).
As you progress through these events, you’ll be presented with a variety of challenges and decisions that you must overcome sometimes individually and other times together. But it all comes down to a balance of managing your resources while not letting any one game board element become too neglected.
It’s impressive to find so much familiar DNA in this 23-year-old design that inspired so many great titles after it. The legendary Pandemic and it its juggling of priorities and sandwiching of player actions between problematic events. The cult-classic Beowulf: The Legend and its sequential map of episodes that forces players to look ahead and manage their hand of resource and wild cards. The asymmetric character abilities and randomized special cards found in numerous cooperative games which bring more variety to each play.
Lord of the Rings is a board game that deserves massive respect for the foundation it laid and for the way it successfully integrated the core themes of its source material into a revolutionary gameplay experience. Yet, it is admittedly not quite as clean as Pandemic or as thrilling as Beowulf: The Legend. It doesn’t hold up as well against those designs which either streamline its systems or flesh out its most promising concepts.
I must admit that I’m much hungrier to revisit the movies or the books than I am the board game. But at least it’s better than Rings of Power.
3 Plays (2 Players)
I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting much from Reiner Knizia’s Chartae. How could I when it comes in the world’s smallest box and contains nothing but 9 tiles and a rules sheet? I think the last time I tried a game this minimalist was perhaps Tussie Mussie, and that one was so slight that it practically evaporated off our table as we were playing it.
But if anybody can maximize the potential of minimal rules and components, it’s the good Doctor. Chartae presents itself exactly as it should, with elegance and grace. Much like a hand-carved Chess set or a collection of game pieces dug up by archaeologists, there’s a clean and alluring timelessness to Chartae and its 9 square topographical tiles.
2 players act as cartographers, one in favor of land and the other in favor of sea, quibbling over a map according to their questionable memory of the landscape:
“I’m certain that there was an island right here,” Cartographer 1 declares as they place a tile in the corner.
“No, no, no, you have it all wrong. That wasn’t an island, it was a peninsula!” Cartographer 2 exclaims as they rotate the tile 90 degrees clockwise and connect the island back to the mainland.
The charming theme is perfectly befitting this game, because that is precisely what you are allowed to do on your turn: either place out the next tile from the stack or rotate a placed tile 90 degrees clockwise. Your shared play area is limited to a 3×3 square grid. Once all the tiles are out and the map is complete, the game immediately ends and whichever player had a larger connected mass (land or sea) spreading across more tiles wins. If there is a tie, then the player who placed the last tile loses. And for the finishing touch: there can only ever be two rotate actions in a row, leaving the next player with no choice but to place the next tile after two consecutive rotate actions.
Within this careful construct of rules, one finds many brilliant subtleties. If the land player spends much of their turns rotating the placed out tiles — a petty but effective sabotaging of the water connections — the water player has their own advantage of putting out new tiles and deciding how the map takes shape. The tiles themselves feature various arrangements of land and sea — some are split 50/50 while others are heavily imbalanced in either direction. Both the positioning and the rotation of a tile are vital factors, and if the placing player is smart then they’ll choose a spot and a direction that costs their opponent 2 or 3 rotations to even make a difference on the connections.
As the map grows from 1 to 9 tiles, the tension and urgency quickly ramps up. In the twilight stage of the game, one clever maneuver can make all the difference. Much like the best abstract games, you’ll scour the play area for the finishing blow as you try to back your opponent into a corner — giving them no other option but to concede with the final tile placement. It’s a far cry from the recent flood of humdrum multiplayer solitaires — that of taking tiles and making your own personal areas in a sleepy effort to squeeze maximum points out of the system.
In all honesty, I have never encountered such a small, simple, and quick game (we’re talking 5-10 minutes) that was this rich and deep. Show me something, anything, as small as Chartae that manages to pack this big of a punch. Go ahead. I’ll wait…
Lost Cities: Rivals
1 Play (4 Players)
Let me make this clear right up front — Lost Cities: Rivals is a good game… It’s just not a game I want to play again.
Essentially, Lost Cities: Rivals is what you would get if Ra and Lost Cities had a baby. 2-4 players are competing to embark on expeditions by collecting sets of ascending cards — the more ascending cards of a single color you get, the more points that set will score you. But how you acquire those cards is through a Ra-like structure — players either use their action to add another card to the market, or they initiate an auction where the highest bidder takes all (or at least everything they want).
Because Lost Cities: Rivals draws its DNA from two masterpiece designs, it displays all the genes of a solid game. The only problem is that this title acts more like a spoiled child who is too lazy to live up to its parents’ legacies.
To me, what makes the Lost Cities line special is the high stakes risk of embarking on another expedition which starts you out with massive negative points until you can progress far enough to get out of the red. All of the other games in this line, even the Roll & Write, possess this trademark trait… All except for Lost Cities: Rivals. With this spinoff, there is nothing to discourage you from starting an expedition which may never lead anywhere. More cards always equates to more points.
In the case of Ra, the thing I love about that tabletop treasure is its perfect combination of gripping push-your-luck market filling and spicy sun disk auctioning. Lost Cities: Rivals retains neither of those — rather it waters both features down with simple card flips until somebody decides to start bidding coins, and whoever bids the most coins takes the cards. The spent coins then go to the center pot which will be split between all players each time one of the four decks is depleted.
The saving grace of this design is perhaps two clever features:
- You don’t have to take all the cards in the market when you win an auction, and deciding which ones to take and which to leave are tough choices because once you commit to a value then you can never take a lower card of that suit.
- Of all the cards you leave in the market, you are allowed to remove one from the game. This is especially zesty when you know the card is useless to you and extremely valuable to another player.
Thanks to those two elements, I would willingly play Lost Cities: Rivals again if somebody insisted, and I would enjoy it. But if I’m in the mood for some Lost Cities goodness, this is the last option in the line that I would reach for. And if I’m hungry for a game of auctioning and set collection, nothing beats the far more interesting Ra or the far faster Hot Lead for me.
4 Plays with Adults (3 and 4 Players), Plus many more with kids
Cheeky Monkey is one of those original concepts that designer Reiner Knizia has riffed on in later years with other designs. Those other titles include Family Inc. and No Mercy. The concept is simple: draw and reveal cards or tiles until you decide to stop or bust. If you don’t bust, these items will get added to your score collection (assuming other players don’t steal them from you).
Where Family Inc. and No Mercy were extremely similar to one another in their mechanisms, Cheeky Monkey is the most unique of the bunch. Each animal tile you draw from the stuffed monkey (yes, our edition comes packaged in a stuffed monkey which acts as the draw bag) is worth one point. If you can collect a majority of an animal type by the end of the game, then you’ll score bonus points. You’ll bust if you pull out the same animal type more than once in the same turn. But you’ll cheer if you pull out the same animal type that is on top of an opponent’s stack. You’ll steal their animal and place it next to your own.
If you happen to bust, then you must dump all your newly acquire tiles back into the supply and end your turn. But at the conclusion of a non-busted turn, you’ll take all the new tiles you’ve collected and stack them on top of your towering collection however you please. If the new tiles you earned are all same type (meaning you only drew out one tile and possibly stole more), you can even add these tiles to the bottom of your stack where they’ll be maximally protected from sticky fingers.
The game earns its name in the monkey tiles, which are the most common animal in the supply. Any time you pull out a monkey, you are allowed to force a trade with another player (giving them your monkey and taking the top tile on their stack). This is all the funnier when you pull another monkey in the same turn to then steal the monkey back that you just traded them.
The monkey swapping, tile stealing, and majority competitions offer enough nuance to this game of push-your-luck that I’m always engaged by it. Even the simpler rules prove to be an enjoyable time for myself and my 4 and 2-year-old girls. Cheeky Monkey has the range and flexibility to work either as a dumb, funny filler game with adults or an engaging, exciting game with kids. You can either count tokens, weigh probabilities, and crunch the numbers to determine your decisions, or you can simply follow your gut and hope for the best. In a lot of ways, it’s Knizia family-friendly fare at its finest.
That said, you certainly don’t need to own more than one of these games (Cheeky Monkey, Family Inc, and No Mercy). No Mercy is definitely the most pure, portable, quick, and chaotic of the three. Cheeky Monkey is the most versatile and flexible of the bunch, both the most hobbyist friendly (full rules) and kid-friendly (simple rules). And Family Inc is just so overpoweringly oversized that I struggle to find its merits within that big box of air.
At any rate, Cheeky Monkey and its siblings are a good time to be had. Not my favorite light push-your-luck Knizia experience (not as dramatic or rewarding as Gang of Dice or Hot Lead), but a very solid one.
7 Plays (3-5 players)
It seems like the more games you play, the more your tastes and preferences change. What once was thrilling can eventually become dull, and what once was quickly dismissed can later make a big comeback. One of the great comebacks in my collection has undoubtedly been Reiner Knizia’s High Society. Just look at what I first wrote about it roughly 4 years ago:
“High Society is like a hybrid of Q.E. and For Sale, yet perhaps not as good as either of them. Of course, High Society likely inspired both of those games, so we have Dr. Knizia to thank for inspiring greatness in the auctioning genre.
“If you only want the best auctioning games in your collection, skip this one and go for the above mentioned. That said, High Society will remain in my collection because it’s small, fast, cheap, and contains just enough unique features to make me want to break it out occasionally. Those features being the special reward cards and the bidding restrictions via limited cards of varying monetary values.”
Skip High Society? Was I insane?!? Apparently I was. But at least I was sensible enough to hang onto this gem. Please allow me to share my improved take on High Society, and why my opinion has changed drastically since that very first impression…
As time marches on, and my total number of logged board game plays ventures deep into the 2000s, I find myself appreciating more and more the games that are most efficient and unique. Games that require a minimized investment of time, energy, and shelf space while offering a maximally refreshing and distinct experience are the ones that have the best shelf life.
As much as I enjoy auctioning, enough to play literally dozens of different auction games, there are loads that I have now parted ways with. I loved the endless inflation potential of QE, but I hungered for a faster pace from it. I enjoyed the novel coin upgrading of Nidavellir, but I gave up on the exhausting setup and rules teach. I fancied the unique bidding discs of Furnace, but I longed for them to be grafted onto a more interactive game. The list of old crushes goes on, but do you know which title has truly embedded itself in my heart? Well, there are plenty of games, actually. But one of them is High Society.
High Society stands as one of the most elegant and clever filler games in my entire collection. Often in a blazingly quick 15 or 20 minutes, the game takes you on a roller coaster of decadent squandering. Players flaunt their wealth with frivolous luxuries while trying to avoid public scandals. Only the most vain player will come away victorious… unless they accidentally find themselves to be the poorest of the group at the end of the game — suddenly ostracized for their relative poverty.
This brilliant design conjures so many agonizing decisions out of so few cards… How much are you willing to spend on the latest hot luxury? How much are you willing to pay out to maintain your fragile reputation? Which money cards will you lock in for this bidding round? Which card values are you willing to part with forever? How soon will the end of the game sneak up on you? Are you willing to suffer a scandal now in hopes of it weakening your opponents’ bidding power later on? Is a 3-value luxury suddenly worth way more than the 6-value luxury from several auctions ago, just because the end of the game is right around the corner? Will you spend big and play the short game or bide your time and money for the long game?
Man oh man, this design is something else. I was reminded of that very recently when we played a couple back-to-back 3-player rounds of it that fired on all cylinders.
Long live High Society, the nearly 30-year-old classic.
1 Play (3 Players)
Res Publica is an ancient Knizia game that has long been on my bucket list. I’m glad to have finally tried it, as this is one of his first notable designs ever published (the first edition released way back in 1991). The good doctor was seemingly on a negotiation kick at the time, because Quo Vadis was published the following year.
I am reminded a bit of Uwe Rosenburg’s Bohnanza after playing Res Publica. The former is a light negotiation set collection card game where the order of the cards in your hand is restricted, and the latter is a light negotiation set collection card game where your hand is free but the negotiations are limited.
The key twist to Res Publica is that when you initiate a trade on your turn, you can only make an offer or a request, never both. You can say things like, “I would like a Monk and an Anglo-Saxon” or “I have two Shipbuilding or two Huns up for offer,” and the other players will each respond with a request or offer in return for your request or offer. The active player can then accept one request/offer or simply pass on all of them. Furthermore, a request or offer can only have a combination of two card types, but “types” can have a rather loose interpretation such as “any people cards” or “two pairs of any type,” etc.
Actually, my favorite moment of the game was when another player generously requested “any one people card” from my hand and so I gave him a card that was (at that late stage in the game) completely useless, resulting in a good laugh.
Essentially, the game is Go Fish but in negotiation form. Request or offer specific cards, collect enough cards of a type to cash them in for points, draw more cards into your hand at the end of your turn, rinse and repeat. This restricted trading mechanism is rather unique and engaging. That is certainly a highlight of the design.
But Res Publica does seem to fuel a runaway leader theory in that the players who form early sets can draw more cards each turn and thus form sets more easily to be able to draw even more cards and amass a huge hand. There is a limit of 3 cards max that you can draw per turn (and everybody starts out being able to draw 1), but even that small upgrade makes a rapidly snowballing difference.
In truth, this feels like a classic card game, and it has an interesting twist that I’ve never seen replicated. But in a lot of ways (perceived imbalance, spotty pacing, slightly overlong game length, muted experience), it is showing its age. I’m grateful to have visited this noteworthy design, but I’m not dying to return to it.
Classic Art (Members Only)
2 Plays (3 and 4 Players)
The problem with tracking down a used copy of an out of print, obscure Knizia game is that there is a good chance that right after you buy it, a publisher will unveil a newer and prettier edition of the game. 😜 Such was the case when I acquired a Japanese version of Members Only just for CMON to announce and release the game as Classic Art mere weeks later.
So here I sit now, with two copies of the same game… I couldn’t resist the look of Classic Art, and I’m finding it hard to sell Members Only with the influx of supply. At least it’s a good game. And aside from a common thread of theme, designer, and some elements of hand management and shared incentives, this one doesn’t have all the much in common with its branded sibling, Modern Art. But that’s ok, too. Just don’t come into this expecting a chaotic auction romp.
Despite the box size and included game board, I find it most helpful to think of Classic Art as a humble card game focused primarily on betting but with a sprinkling of bluffing. Players are dealt a hand of cards from a deck of 65. There are 13 of each card in 5 categories or suits. Most of the cards are simple positive cards, but each suit has a couple negative cards as well. You will deal out most, but not all, of cards; and this is important because the betting revolves entirely around how many cards of each suit have been dealt out.
The only information you start with in a round is your own hand of cards and a couple more cards from the deck that start on display. All other information will be slowly unveiled as players take turns playing two cards at a time from their hand and placing more bets along the way. You get the chance to drop a high-risk/high-reward bet at the very beginning of the round, and then you are welcome to spend more betting tokens as the round marches on. You can either bet that a suit will have less than or equal to 1, 2, 3, or 4 total on the board (at the end of the round) or you can bet that a suit will have greater than or equal to 5, 6, 7, or 8 total on the board. Obviously, the payout gets much better if you place your bet on the tail ends of this probability curve. But such greed can also result in nothing but a lost betting token…
Every bad bet results in you losing the betting token that you wagered that round, meaning that you’ll have less opportunities to make bets in future rounds. This restriction continues until you are down to one or zero tokens, at which point you blessedly get all of your tokens back. This interesting wrinkle creates a zesty ebb and flow from one round to the next — when your bet tokens are plentiful you feel compelled to place many bets on nothing more than a whim. Once you’ve lost a couple tokens, you find yourself being much more cautious with your bets. And if you happen to get stuck with only two bets in a round, then you might throw caution to the wind because the worst thing that could happen is that your bets fail and you get all of your betting tokens back.
All of this is balanced against an icy hot interaction between players of shared incentives (betting on the same side of the same suit), racing to claim the best betting spots first, and deciding which card in your hand to trash at the end of the round (causing a potentially devastating swing for an opponent and their bets).
It’s classic Knizia cardplay at its finest — a game that I would happily play any time. That said, this design was originally created and published in the 90s, and it certainly shows. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — Classic Art is just much more subtle and clean than the more bombastic or flashy betting games or card games of today. There are no loud, dramatic moments like the racing of Ready Set Bet, Winner’s Circle, or Camel Up. There are no outright acts of war against opponents or activations of wacky powers like in Equinox or Long Shot: The Dice Game. Rather, Classic Art is the stuff of calm waters, thoughtful bets, and gentle bluffs. For many of today’s gamers, that may not be enough. For me, it still lands like a warm, familiar blanket on cold skin.
Well if you made it this far, then it’s time to just admit it: you are a Reiner Knizia fan. So why not embrace the fun?! Be sure to follow Reiner Knizia’s upcoming Kickstarter games: Cascadero & Cascadito.
And come join the Reiner Knizia Enthusiasts Discord community where fellow gamers chat all things Knizia.
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Article written by Nick Murray. Outside of practicing dentistry part-time, Nick has devoted his remaining work-time to collaborating with the world’s best designers, illustrators, and creators in producing classy board games that bite, including the critically acclaimed Trailblazers by Ryan Courtney and newly released Zoo Vadis by Reiner Knizia. He hopes you’ll join Bitewing Games in their quest to create and share classy board games with a bite.
Disclaimer: When Bitewing Games finds a designer or artist or publisher that we like, we sometimes try to collaborate with these creators on our own publishing projects. We work with these folks because we like their work, and it is natural and predictable that we will continue to praise and enjoy their work. Any opinions shared are subject to biases including business relationships, personal acquaintances, gaming preferences, and more. That said, our intent is to help grow the hobby, share our gaming experiences, and find folks with similar tastes. Please take any and all of our opinions with a hearty grain of salt as you partake in this tabletop hobby feast.