“Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will.” – Jawaharlal Nehru
UPDATE: Their Kickstarter is live, and has hit its goal.
A sentence that spells doom for a game is, “It’s a new take on _____.” Like music having only so many chords, there are only so many game mechanics, but outright taking an existing game and trying to make your house rules a game generally lacks the ingenuity to make something sufficiently different as to be worth a purchase in a game budget.
Spades is a great example. There are so many variations that you have to have a conference and a lawyer before you can even begin playing with new people. None of these variations brings enough to the table to require the purchase of a specialized game.
So, if you want to make a game that makes a trick taking game into something new, how do you do it?
Yokai Septet follows the standard trick taking approach, so if you are familiar with Hearts or Spades, you have the general idea. One player leads a card, and the following players must follow suit, with the highest card taking the trick. Winning those tricks, or a set bid number of them, usually wins you the hand. In Yokai Septet, the only tricks you really want are the ones that include a seven. These are the Boss Yokai. Collecting four or more Boss Yokai in your tricks wins the hand, and score points (There is a basic two point game, and an advanced seven point game).
There are seven suits with seven cards each. The deck is shuffled, and each player receives twelve cards, with the final card revealed as the trump suit for that hand. Players then choose three cards from their hand, and pass them to their partner. On the first hand of the game, the player with the A card (there is only one) is the lead player. In future hands, the lead player is the player who took the last trick.
The lead player throws the first card, each following player plays a card in the suit, and the highest value wins. If a player does not have the suit, they may “throw off”, play a card of a differing suit, or throw trump, whatever the current trump suit is. Playing a trump suit allows you to win the trick, unless another player plays a higher trump card. The A card is the highest card in the game, and beats all other cards, regardless of trump. Taken tricks are placed in front of you, Boss Yokai tricks face-up, others face-down.
Should you take seven total tricks, between you and your partner, the hand is over, and the other team wins. They also get all un-played Boss Yokai in your hands, which is part of scoring in the advanced game.
These aspects, seven suits, specific target cards to take, losing for taking t0o many books, are what make this game shine. Veteran Spades players, who can normally divine who has what cards by bids and what’s played, had a much more difficult time trying to track who had what. The subtle strategy of when to throw your Boss Yokai. Trying to take that last Boss before you get stuck with seven. I exclaimed with glee when I snatched a Boss trick that my opponents thought they had. It happened.
The card art, the set I had was pre-production, is Pokemon-esque, and is serviceable. It’s good looking, and helps in determining suit.
The game is solid, but the entirety suffers a bit from overproduction. There are tokens for point tracking, a lead player card, and an extensive rule book. You can track points with pennies, or pen and paper, and you should be able to follow who is lead player (we used a Spades convention, and the player to the right of the lead shuffled and dealt). The rules, though very clear, could be boiled down into a pamphlet that fits inside a card box, and the profile would be that of a standard card deck. Lunch Money, a game that also has extensive rules, did this very well.
(Note: These are pre-production components.)
This game is coming to Kickstarter, and, if they can keep the price point correct, is definitely a Buy. It’s easy to teach, has three player rules, and with the basic and advanced scoring, you can easily control game length. You can play a quick game on a work lunch, use it as filler or lead-in game, or have a tournament or round robin night.
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