I grew up with card games. When I look back on my childhood, I have great memories of playing Rummy and ‘Bloody Knuckles’ with one of my cousins in my grandmother’s Sea Point flat, or of another cousin teaching us some variation of Snap which we’d play together for hours on end. My high school lunch breaks were spent holed up in a classroom with friends playing nail-biting sagas of Presidents which should really be documented in history books or something. My poker habits were less impressive, though one story does involve my beating a contestant in the annual Poker World Championship (pure luck, I tell you!), but what this boils down to is that cards were the gateway drug into the addiction that is board gaming for me. So, when I was asked to review a card game, I was more than happy to oblige. Thanks to the wonderful South African Postal Service, the game arrived later than I would have liked, which meant that it moved down the long list of reviews that I had in mind (sincerest apologies for keeping you waiting, Chub!) But it did mean that I had a little bit of time to get acquainted with the game, which was appreciated.
The turns of the play out a little like Poker, but the game overall is filled with differences, nuances and a theme that make it more interesting than your standard game of Texas Hold ‘Em. Instead of suits, the cards are divided between elements of fire, water, air and earth, represented by the Elemental Kings Ashw, Esbner, Ukelele and Ohif. Each player begins the game with 20 life, and the goal of the game is to hit your opponents for as much damage as you can by playing combinations of cards drawn from your deck. The combinations are essentially those of poker, ranging from a High Card or “Single” to a Straight Flush or “Super”. (Since there are no face cards as in a normal deck of cards, there is no Royal Flush in this instance.) Each of these are then given an attack value which is deducted from your opponent’s life total. But, this is where the game gets interesting.
First of all, the hands that you draw from your deck, five cards at a time, cannot be altered without penalty. While you are welcome to pass up the opportunity to attack in a particular turn in favour of adjusting your hand by discarding and drawing, by doing so you give your opponent the upper hand and an opportunity to hit you with what they’ve got. Still, attacks aren’t always successful either, and if your opponent is attacking you, you’re far from helpless – you can defend yourself by playing a stronger combination of the same type (ie. if you were attacked with a High Card or “Single” of 7, you can defend with a Single of a higher value like an 8 or 9). And so the game continues with each player attacking, defending and adjusting their hands as they go until one player is whittled down to zero al la Magic: The Gathering.
All in all, the mechanics that the game uses may not be original, but they have been put together in a way that is, and that works beautifully. The cards themselves may look like a standard deck from the back, but the beautiful artwork on the face of them brings the game to life. It’s definitely a game that will come out when I have a bit of spare time on my hands and to play with other card game lovers! For more information on the game and how to get it, see its Board Game Geek page.