Desperados review – Reiner Knizia

Designer:  Reiner Knizia
Publisher:  Gryphon Games
Players: 2 – 4 Players
Time: 30 minutes

Some games are better-off left dead.  Well, maybe the game is not better-off, but certainly the people who play it would be.  There seems to be a trend to re-publish games that were previously released.  That can be a good thing, as it offers the game new life by making it available to the public once again, giving them the opportunity to play a game to which they may have not been previously exposed.  This is fine if the game is enjoyable, but if it is not, then why bother?

Such is the case with Desperados from designer Reiner Knizia.  I have great respect for the good doctor, as he has designed some excellent and often highly creative games.  Sadly, Desperados is not one of them.  Originally released two decades ago, the game was republished several years later under the name Digging.  It has now once again been republished by Gryphon Games in a nifty compact tin.  The niftiness stops there.

Desperados is a card game wherein players attempt to open mines, dig for precious metals and claim jump mines of their opponents.  The object is to extract as much wealth from open mines as possible and close them before they can be stolen by an opponent.  The wealthiest player wins.  While the game can be played individually, it is best played in partnership.  Well, it is probably best not being played at all.

The deck is comprised of sixty cards depicting three types of mines – gold, silver or copper – as well as an assortment of chests containing these precious metals.  There is also an abundance of closed mine cards, and ten desperados ranging in value from one-to-ten.  Players are dealt a starting hand of six cards and the prospecting begins.

On his turn, a player may draw a card, pass a card to his partner, or play a card.  The first two actions are self-explanatory.  In the partnership version, cards should be assembled in front of one of the players.  A mine card opens that mine and it is eligible for corresponding chest cards (gold, silver or copper) to be played upon it.  There are a few “double-value” chest cards that, if played first on a mine, double the value of all subsequent chest cards played upon it.  This also makes that mine considerably more tempting to claim-jumpers.  The idea is to play a decent number of chest cards to a mine before closing it so that you will acquire more wealth.  The drawback of waiting too long to close it is that the mine may come under attack from your opponents.

Players may attack an opponent’s mine by playing a desperado card upon it.  Each player may do the same on their turn, or take a different action.  When play returns to the player who initiated the attack, the results of the fight are determined.  The individual or partnership with the greatest value of desperados contributed captures the mine.  It is, however, still open, so it continues to be a target on future turns.  The rule: higher valued desperados are better.  You only get them by getting lucky when drawing cards.

The only way to protect a mine is to close it by playing a “closed mine” card.  The mine and all chest cards upon it are set aside, to be tallied at game’s end.  If a mine is closed during an attack, one chest card is discarded before setting the cards aside.  This is a minimal penalty to pay in order to conserve some wealth.

Once the last card is drawn from the deck, each player conducts one more turn and the game ends.  Players / partnerships tally the value of the chest cards they have secured and record the results.  The rules recommend playing multiple rounds until one player or team achieves sixty points.  This can usually be accomplished in three-or-four hands.  That is the game’s main strength:  it is brief.

The game may have been decent upon its initial release back in 1990, but it sure shows its age.  When I played the Avalanche Press Digging version over a decade ago, I felt the game was painfully mediocre.  It is worse now due to the passage of time and release of so many superior games.  It is so heavily dependent upon the luck of the draw, and the one action per turn is extremely limiting.  Many turns are spent simply drawing cards, hoping to get one you can use.  It is also practically impossible to successfully steal someone’s mine as the normal tactic in response to the play of a bandit card is to simply close the mine down, even though this results in the loss of a chest card.  There are enough ‘close’ cards available that this is easy to do.   Since a conflict only lasts one round, the results are determined simply by having drawn the most valuable desperado cards.  There really isn’t any strategy or excitement.

In spite of its appealing theme, Desperados is lacking in strategy, excitement and fun.  This was not one of Reiner’s best efforts and is one that would have been better left on Boot Hill.  The same comment I made over a decade ago concerning Avalanche Press’ decision to republish the game applies today:  one must wonder what Gryphon Games was thinking when it decided on this Knizia title. Sure, Knizia’s name sells, but do you want to hang your hat on one of his poorer efforts?

Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers:

Dale Yu’s Opinion – I would also agree that this game is probably not one of Herr Doctor Knizia’s best efforts, but it was one of the first “Euro” card games that I learned, so I’ve got more of a soft spot for it than Greg.  I’d at least still be willing to play it if someone else suggested it — though it’s doubtful that I’d suggest it myself.  Neutral.

Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers:

I love it!
I like it.
Neutral. (1) Dale Yu
Not for me… (2) Greg Schloesser, Ted Cheatham

About gschloesser

Greg Schloesser is the founder of the Westbank Gamers and co-founder of the East Tennessee Gamers. He is also a prolific reviewer of games and a regular contributor to numerous gaming publications and websites, including Counter, Knucklebones, Boardgame News, Boardgame Geek, Gamers Alliance and many others. Greg has been a gaming enthusiast his entire life, growing up in our hobby mainly on the war game side. His foray onto the internet exposed him to the wonderful world of German and European games and now nearly all of his gaming time is devoted to this area of our hobby. He travels to several gaming conventions each year and is the co-founder of Gulf Games, a regional gaming get-together held in the Southern USA. Greg was born in 1961 and lived his entire life in New Orleans before moving to East Tennessee in 2005. He is married and has one daughter (now married.)
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5 Responses to Desperados review – Reiner Knizia

  1. Rob Cannon says:

    Does Reiner laugh every time he sells this game to another publisher? It’s comical that there is always a company willing to pick up his cast-offs.

  2. Mark Jackson says:

    Wow… didn’t realize Dr. K. had managed to sell that stinker one more time. It wasn’t good 10 years ago & can’t have got any better w/age.

    OTOH, just read that the other Knizia game that Avalanche Press republished (in a too expensive & graphically inadequate format) is coming out again from Queen Games – Res Publica. This, btw, is actually a GOOD Knizia game worthy of your playing time.

  3. I’m curious as to the process by which such poorly-received games get re-published. Is it driven by the designer shopping his titles around? Or a publisher looking for anything by Knizia?

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  5. Doug Adams says:

    Good luck, Mark. I’ve been trying to tell Greg Res Publica’s a good game for 10 years. Digging was okay, but Korsar was a similar, better game. It should be noted that Digging was Knizia’s first published title, so let’s cut it a little slack.

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