Pikoko – Brain Games – Review

Theme?  Who needs theme when they have peacocks?

Theme and What is it?

Theme?  Who needs theme when they have peacocks?  I suppose the theme is peacocks.  It has absolutely nothing to do with the gameplay, just the visuals being given to the player.  I am fine with that.  I prefer a game to be upfront about having a solid gameplay experience but with no thematic storyline to justify what players will do during the game.  Looking awesome and having a real game in the process is better than making up a story that doesn’t fit.  This is a game where you have the cards as feathers in a peacock!  And you will pluck the feathers from a player to your left!

Gameplay Mechanics

In Pikoko, players will setup the cards for their neighbor so that everyone sees all the colors and numbers except for their own set of cards.  In a very Hanabi style setup, each player is blind to what their own hand is.  Then, players will bid on how many tricks they think each person will be able to take with the information they have.  After seeing what everyone else did, they will also blindly bid on what they think their own hand can do.

Finally, each player will select a confidence card wagering points on being correct on a certain bid they made being correct.  If correct, a confidence card will score 3 bonus points but will lose a point if wrong.  There is also a no confidence option to take one for sure bonus point instead of doubling down on one of the bids.

During the round, players choose cards from the hand of the player to their left.  They must follow normal trick taking game rules.  They have to follow suit if possible.  There is a trump color that can jump in to win over the original color if they couldn’t follow suit.  In the end scoring is based on how closely each player bid to the true number of tricks taken by each hand.  After 3 rounds of play, a winner is calculated.

Initial Impressions

This is a very colorful game!  I loved the little two piece assembled peacocks.  The game is very simple to teach if players are familiar with the genre of trick taking games.  And that one twist of not being able to see your own hand adds all sorts of wrinkles into decision making.  In a normal trick taking game, you only know your own hand and all sorts of things could play out during the round.  But when you see all but one player’s hand, you can better predict how the round will go and attempt to control it with cleverly timed throws.

Game Build Quality

The game has very few components.  There are round bid tokens in each player color.  It comes with peacock stands that are assembled easily from two pieces.  And Pikoko has a main deck of peacock feather cards as well as the confidence card decks for each player.  The punch board components and cards are of an unremarkable quality.  The peacocks are where the game really shines.  The plastic slides together firmly but without showing any wear after several plays.  The stands hold the cards easily. The only slight problem is if players stuff the cards in too forcefully when they go to pull one out it might flip out one to the side of it as well.  Care when extracting feathers is cautioned.

Artistic Direction

The cards are all feather themed and even the confidence decks are just different colored plumages.  There is very little to comment on given you can clearly see all the artwork in the images!  There are some multicolor cards in the game that spice up the play itself but resulted in some confusion where the yellow seemed distinctly dark orange in some of the arrays.  Since there are no other similar colors to confuse it with, it wasn’t much of a problem just new players all commented without fail “is that actually yellow?”

Fun Factor

It is quite enjoyable to watch everyone bid on a hand you will be playing and then decide to drastically underbid.  Then you play the hand in the WORST possible way imaginable to throw off all the bidding for everyone.  Knowing when you can and cannot accomplish that goal is the core of the strategy to winning Pikoko.

Age Range & Weight

10+ is fair.  The complexity rating for Pikoko is relatively low for a trick taking game.  That said, if anyone in your group is unfamiliar with that genre of gaming, this will be harder to teach than you expect.  You really want to teach a different trick taking game first.  It will be funny and interesting but possibly frustrating to drop them into Pikoko with no ground work.  Asking them to predict how a game they don’t understand at all will play out and tell them to do it while blindfolded to their own hand will be okay only if they want the amusement value and don’t want to try to have a good score.  

Conclusions

This is a very aesthetically pleasing game with a great deal of clever player interactions.  Predicting what is going happen WILL effect how the round plays.  Players will often find themselves incentivized to play intentionally poorly or make odd decisions to keep control.  The game strategy will morph each time you play it with different players or as the same players start to explore different strategic approaches.  I don’t see it as a new favorite in the trick taking gaming realm.  Pikoko is going to be more of a showpiece than a core game in my collection.