GAME REVIEW: The Game (early review)

Pretty much the main reason this little card game from Germany is getting any attention at all is because it was one of the 3 nominees for the 2015 Spiel Des Jahres, arguably the most prestige award for tabletop gaming.  It lost out to Colt Express, but now because of its nomination, publisher IDW picked up the North American distribution rights and is scheduled to be released November 3rd.  I imported a copy from Germany back in June, and I’ve played it at least 20 times now, and since it’s due out for release this week, I figured now is a good time to share my thoughts. Here is an early review:

The Game is a themeless, co-operative card game for 2-5 players, and takes about 15-30 minutes, depending on how long players discuss things with each other.  I would say you could play this with anyone from 8 and up.

It’s simply a deck of cards numbered 2 through 99.  Every player gets 6-8 cards (depending on the player count).  On your turn, you MUST play 2 cards (you can always play more if you’re able or want to) to one of 4 piles set in front of the players.  2 of the piles are ascending, and the other 2 are descending.  All 4 piles are empty at the start of the game, but each has a card next to it to remind you which pile it is (ascending or descending).

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Ideally, for the ascending pile, you’ll want to start the stack with the lowest card possible.  And likewise for the descending pile, except of course you’ll want to start with the highest card possible.  Before the game begins, each player looks at their starting hand, then decides who should go first.  The catch is, NO ONE can say exactly what they have in their hand.  You can say “I have something high”, or “I have something low”, but never a specific number.  After the player plays 2 cards to whichever pile they select, they can either decide to play more cards, or pass.  Once they pass, they draw back up to their hand limit.

The cards MUST be played in either ascending or descending order depending on which stack it is.  However, there is one exception to this rule.  If you have a card that is exactly 10 more (in a descending pile) or 10 less (in an ascending pile) than the card on top of the appropriate stack, then you may play it, which will either bring the stack up or down (again, depending on which pile you play it on).

This technique is very unique, and makes it really interesting, especially if you can get a good run in. For example: On a descending pile, the top card is 81.  In my hand, I have these numbers: 75, 77, 80, 85, 5, 22.  I choose to play the 80, then 77, then 75, then 85, which brings the stack back up.

Once the draw pile is gone, the players must play all of the cards in their hand to win.  Once the draw deck is gone, you only have to play 1 card on your turn, instead of 2.  If all players empty their hands, they win the game.  But if at least one player cannot legally play any cards on their turn, everyone loses.

When I first heard about The Game, I looked it up, since I obsess over awards (I usually have to buy every nominee for any game awards). To be honest, the description didn’t impress me.  “That’s it?”,  I thought.  But still, I had to own it, so I tracked it down and found a copy from a German seller on Boardgamegeek.

When I got my copy, I played it a few times with my daughter.  We immediately loved it.  I also played several solitaire games, which I almost never do, but there was something very addicting about it.

But the real way to play it is with 2 or more players.  In fact, the more people the better because essentially, this game is about communication.  About finding ways to let people know what cards you may be holding, without saying exactly what you have.  My friends and I came up some code words, like when we get a card that is 10 less or greater, we say, “I can time travel”.  Now, I’m not sure if that’s the correct way to play, but it does make it fun.  And it doesn’t necessarily say you can’t come up with code words in the rules, so I think it’s okay, but each group can play The Game their own way, and that’s the beauty of it.

Regardless of how you play, it’s not easy.  The first few times I played, I thought it was virtually impossible, but it’s not.  I think my friend Rose and I beat it during the 4th or 5th time I played it.  I think I’ve beaten it about 4 times now.  I was also worried that if I beat it that I wouldn’t want to play it again.  That was definitely not the case.  The following day I had a strong desire to play it again.  Even when you lose, it’s still fun, and since it doesn’t take long to play you will most likely play it again immediately.

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Every group I have introduced The Game to a group, it’s an instant hit.  It’s been very successful with all types of gamers.  Hardcore gamers, or people who don’t really play a lot of games.  They all love it.  It’s a simple concept, but it’s completely engaging.

My one negative comment about it would be that the artwork on the cover and cards doesn’t really connect with the game in my opinion, but the gameplay is so addicting that you’ll forget about all that real quick.

This is a game that I could easily break out with my parents.  Everyone understands cards, and when you tell new players that they have to work together to play every card, they get it.

Ever since The Game received its nomination, it’s been getting some harsh criticism, and I’m not sure where that’s coming from.  After playing it several times, I have no problem seeing why this was nominated.  It’s easy to teach, simple to play, but difficult to win.  And it’s short enough that you could play it a few times during one night.  It’s also very portable.  I brought it to GenCon and played it on the floor while waiting for the exhibition hall to open.  Even got some other Con goers to play with us too.

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In case you can’t tell, I love this game.  There’s just something about it that keeps me coming back for more.  I really enjoy the gameplay, but the main reason I like this is for the player interaction and how each group I play it with has a different approach on how to communicate with each other.

It comes in a small package, but it contains endless hours of fun.  I highly recommend The Game, which is easily the best filler game of the year for me and will most likely be in my Top 10 of 2015 come January.

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