Theme and What is it?
You are in the world of Theah, the setting of the roleplaying game 7th Sea. Fresh off your ship from a successful voyage, you are sitting around a table of other cutthroats and scum at the local pub or tavern at the docks vying over the pot of coins in the middle. Do you dare bluff your way through with a low pair or do you go for 17 with that Ace?
The object of this game is to be the one with the biggest pot of coins when one of the players cannot pay the ante; there are no tie breakers. Each hand played moves you towards this goal by trying acquire a combination of cards that get as close as you can to 17 without going over.
Each player starts with 5 coins and 3 marker tokens of the same sigil. The dealer is chosen and shuffles the deck.
Each hand starts with the players putting one coin in the pot as ante.
The dealer deals one card to each player and then a number of cards equal to the number of players plus one to the center of the table face down.
From here there are three phases of play: The Haul, The Buy, and The Drop.
During The Haul, starting with the dealer and proceeding counter-clockwise, the players can perform one of three actions: look at one of the cards in the middle, swap the card in hand with one in the middle, or discard the card in hand and draw a new card from the deck. Each player gets two turns with the dealer getting three in this phase.
During The Buy, starting with the dealer and proceeding counter-clockwise, the players place one of their marker tokens on a card in the center of the table. This continues until all players have played their marker tokens; you cannot skip your turn.
During The Drop, starting with the dealer and proceeding counter-clockwise, the players perform the same actions as in The Haul phase for two turns but the dealer doesn’t get the extra turn this time.
Once the three phases are complete, each player receives the card from the center that they won if they had the most bid tokens on it. No one gains a card if there is a tie for the number of tokens on it. In the event a player doesn’t win a card, he given one randomly from the remaining cards in the center.
Players review the card they were dealt and the card they won. If the total is 18+, then he automatically loses. The player with the highest total without going over 17 wins. If there is a tie, no one wins and the coins stay in the middle for the next hand to be played.
Roles are an optional rule to use for each hand. There are 7 different roles that can be chosen or randomly dealt to the players. These roles provide the player with a special power that can only be used once per hand to break the rules. Roles are decided before the cards are dealt for each hand.
Also there are a couple of optional rules to help spice up your game that can lead to a quick resolution of the hand before all phases have been completed.
I tried this game out with some convention goers at GenCon with the John Wicks staff doing a demo. As the mechanics came from other well-known gambling games, we all picked up the game fairly quickly. The addition of the roles to tweak the rules in favor of players are nice but made getting to know the rules a little more difficult if we were trying to learn them at the same time.
Game Build Quality
This game’s components are: a deck of cards, marker tokens, coins, and role cards. The deck of cards I think are a little flimsier stock than your typical deck of cards, though maintain their shape and shuffle easily. The marker tokens, coins, and role cards are of all the heavy cardboard stock and are of nice quality. Some of the tokens or coins are a little off-center of the die cut and a few were difficult to punch out from the board without ripping the paper. The game box itself is of high quality cardboard, paper, and construction. The paper form inside the box to hold the game only forms to the deck of cards while the other pieces are left to move freely above under the paper form.
The art and design concepts in the game is of the same quality that you find in the 7th Sea 2nd Edition roleplaying game as most, if not all, are contributors to those products. The flavor text and game elements lend themselves to aspects of the roleplaying game, too.
The game as I understand it was born from a *.pdf created through the Explorer’s Society on DriveThruRPG.com that describes the rules to the game. The tie-in to the roleplaying game is what helps sell the game to players. I like the game on its own but can also be a nice distraction in the midst of a tabletop gaming session and a handy element to immerse the players in the game.
Age Range & Weight
The box suggests 10+ but given that it’s a gambling game, some might suggest a higher age for the game. The phases are designed to be simple and quick. I believe in general that the game meets its understandability for the suggested age.
This game is like poker where you are strategically playing your way through the phases of a hand, like blackjack as you are trying to work up to a hand of 17 without going over, and three-card monte for the card movement/replacement aspect. But besides those simple comparisons, there are other strategies that are key once you get to understand the rules. Those strategies can blind a player to the human bluffing element of the game which can then lead to a repetitive and un-fun game.
The box suggests 15-20 minutes for the game, but that is really more for the duration of a hand itself because with just the 3 I played with, it still took about 45 minutes to an hour for a player to go out and winner to be declared. It also suggests 2-6 players but I wouldn’t recommend it for any fewer than 3 players and should have at least 4 like playing poker.
Though my group liked the game, they didn’t see it as something with a lot of replayability as the game didn’t provide much variation even with the roles and optional rules, but the group isn’t much for games like poker and such anyway. It could work for us as a fun diversion between other games on a board game night or as support in our 7th Sea RPG game nights.