I have recently received copies of two new releases from Huch! & Friends, and I had a chance to play them with the boys. Both of these games are small in format – Nox comes in an 11cm box, Wolf im Schafspelx in a 13cm box. They are easy to put in a jacket pocket or a small bag, and we’ve been able to get in games in the car or while waiting for other things to happen.
Designer: Steffen Brückner
Publisher: Huch! & Friends / Passport Game Studios
Time: about 20 minutes
Times played: 6 with review copy provided by Huch! & Friends
Nox is a quick playing card game for 2-6 players. The goal is to be the first to score 150 points. The deck of cards is composed 90 cards. There are 3 suits, and the cards can be numbered 1 to 15. However, each of the three suits has 5 ranks that are unique to the color and has 6 copies of each of those cards. For instance, Green has six copies each of 2, 5, 7, 12, and 14.
At the start of each hand, each player is dealt a hand of 3 cards. On your turn, you have 2 options: play a card from your hand in front of you OR play a card from your hand in front of another player. Regardless of where you play the card, you can choose to make a new stack or you can change the value of an existing stack by playing your card on top of a card of the same color.
Once the card has been played – then check to see if that player now has 2 stacks with the same number on top. If this happens, those two stacks are immediately combined into a single stack! You then draw a card from the top of the deck to replenish your hand to three, and then play rotates to the next player in clockwise order.
The round continues until one of two things happens: 1) the entire deck has been drawn and every card has been played OR 2) any player has six stacks of cards in front of him. When either happens, the round ends immediately and scoring occurs.
Scoring is fairly simple – you add up the numbers of the topmost cards on each of your stacks to get your score for the round, BUT you must have all three colors showing on those cards to score. If you only have one or two colors showing, you score no points for the round. The game ends if someone has exceeded 150 points. If not, the cards are shuffled and a new round begins.
My thoughts on the game
The game plays quickly – most rounds take around 5 minutes to play, and there usually isn’t much downtime as you have a limited number of options to consider on your turn – so turns quickly move around the table.
The simplicity of the game is what makes it fun. It’s a light game that has just the right amount of meanness to keep everyone on their toes. Almost all of our rounds ended with someone getting 6 stacks in front of them, though I’ve only played the game with 3 or 4 players. I suspect that a 6 player game might be more likely to end with the deck running out.
My usual goal is to try to get each of the three colors in front of me as early as possible. The reason for this is that I want to guarantee being able to score for the round. Given that the colors do not share card ranks with each other, there’s no way to have a color removed from your stacks once down – though, the number of stacks could be decreased when stacks can be combined when the top numbers are the same.
After that, then it’s a decision each turn to see whether you can help yourself or hurt your opponent by combining stacks or changing the value of one of his stacks. The decision is not always as simple as playing high cards on yourself and low cards on your opponent. There are definitely times when it may be better to give a high card to an opponent to cause two stacks to merge as it might keep that player from ending the round with six stacks.
In the end, Nox is a nice filler game with rules that are simple to teach and strategy that is easy to grasp. The degree that luck influences the game is certainly high, but for a game of this length (15-20 min), it’s certainly acceptable.
A variant for a more challenging game has only the player who scored the most points in each round to record points – though this game only goes to 100! In our one try with this rule, we found this version to be a little more interesting because it added a bit more depth to the decision making process. In the regular version of the game, having a few points less than the player with the most isn’t a big deal (40 vs 36) – as you’re usually looking long term at getting to 150. But when the difference is 36 points or nothing, it makes you think a little bit more about where you play your cards! The game did seem to go a little long with the harsher scoring rules, but the scoring target could always be moved for a shorter game.
This game should be available domestically as it has been picked up for distribution by Passport Game Studios, a new firm located on the West Coast.
Opinions from the Other Opinionated Gamers
W. Eric Martin: Nox is superlight, and the amount of luck involved with the card draws is sure to aggravate gamers as sometimes the rounds end almost as soon as they begin. Didn’t draw a green in the seven cards you saw? No points for you!
As Dale notes, the basic game is mostly a race to score as many points as you can while knocking others down along the way if you can’t make a good play for yourself. You razz others for drawing junk, zap them with low numbers, and cross your fingers that you’ll draw a sixth card you can play or the missing color. Light fun for a holiday crowd, as even my mother would attest.
The variant rules in which only the player with the most points scores makes the game far more interesting, albeit one in which luck still plays a large role, akin to the gameplay in Kill Doctor Lucky, for example, with everyone dumping low cards on the leader to drag her back down to your level so that you can (ideally) step on her head in order to rise above everyone else. Eventually everyone runs out of low cards or their cards match the ones on the top of the leader’s stacks, making them useless for attacks, and that player crosses the finish line.
The rounds last two to three times longer because you’re no longer racing to six piles, but trying to build points before the round ends – and the round doesn’t have to end with you getting to six piles! Since you can play cards on others, if someone makes the mistake of creating five piles without having the lead in points, you can sometimes play a sixth card in her collection and end the game – doing this only if you’ll score, of course. If you wouldn’t, then you’re attacking others and smashing piles together and seesawing back and forth until someone slams the door in everyone else’s face and pauses for a moment in triumph before shuffling for the next round and starting another slog through the boneyard toward victory. (Seven plays with 2-4 players with a purchased copy)
Ratings Review from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it. Dale Yu, W. Eric Martin
Not for me…
Wolf im Schafspelz
Designer: Wilfried Lepuschitz and Arno Steinwender
Publisher: Huch! & Friends
Time: about 15 minutes
Times played: 4 with review copy provided by Huch! & Friends
Wolf im Schafspelz translates to “the wolf in sheep’s clothing”. While the origin of the saying/story is unclear: it either goes back to the Bible (Matthew 7:15) or Aesop’s Fables – the story warns people to watch out for those playing a character other than their real selves. The game here involves wolves and sheep on the components – though these icons never masquerade as the other. Instead, the players have try not to confuse what they see in this speed based dice game.
There are a number of different levels in the game, progressively increasing in complexity. With my kids, we never got past the second level of the four included in the rules.
In the easiest version of the game game, each player gets a card in their color. The box is opened and the two halves of the box are laid face-up on the table. One side has a sheep in the bottom and the other has a wolf. Depending on the number of players, five or seven dice are rolled (depending on the number of players). Players then try to read the dice as quickly as possible to see whether there are more wolves or more sheep. Once they have decided which animal group has more, the players then try to place their card in the box half that matches that animal group.
Once all the cards have been thrown into the box halves, scoring occurs. In the 3-5 player game that we always played, the fastest player in the correct box receives 2 chips, the next fastest gets 1 chip. All other players get bubkus. (In a 6-8 player game, correct players can get 3, 2, or 1 chip based on speed.) Additionally, if you threw your card into the wrong box, you have to give a chip back to the supply. The game ends is someone has at least 10 chips. If not, the dice are redistributed and another round is played.
That’s all there is to the basic game. The next level of the game adds a second player card to the mix as well as a special blue die. Now – each player has 2 cards, a wool card and a salt shaker card. These symbols are found in equal proportion on the new blue die that is added to the mix.
Now, the animal dice (which are white) and the new blue die are rolled together. Again, players have to figure out which animal is in the majority – but also have to throw the card that matches the symbol on the blue die to score points. Scoring points is the same, more points to the player who played the correct card in the least amount of time. Players that threw any card in the wrong box OR players that threw the wrong card into the correct box have to give a chip back to the supply. (This was the most complex version that the boys could handle).
The elite version of the game adds one last twist. One of the white animal dice is replaced with a blue animal die. Each round, all the dice are rolled. But, evaluation is way more complex. First, you have to figure out which animal (wolves or sheep) is in the majority. But… the card that you play depends on the 2 blue dice. IF the blue animal die is part of the majority, you have to play the matching wool/salt shaker symbol as the shown on the other blue die. IF the blue animal die is NOT in the majority, then you have to play the opposite icon as what is shown on the other blue die. Scoring is the same as above, and anyone who plays an incorrect card has to give a chip back.
My thoughts on the Game
Well, usually I’m not a fan of speed games, though I tend to do well at them. The reason why I don’t like this sort of game is that the results often end up being lopsided due to the scoring system. The reason for this is that if I am 10% faster on average at reading the dice, my score at the end of the game will likely be much in excess of 10% more than you as I will get the higher scoring play much more often than you will. And, I tend not to like games like that because they quickly become discouraging to those players whose ability may only be marginally less than the best player. Admittedly, Wolf im Schafspelz mitigates this somewhat by having a scoring system that is not winner-take-all, but it can still be a frustrating game if you can’t read the dice quickly…
In the two levels of the game that I played with my boys, we did OK with game. The basic game was easy enough to grasp as the decision simply comes down to throwing your card in the wolf box or the sheep box. Of course, one of my boys is simply unable to read the dice as fast, and he nearly won with a degenerate strategy of simply tossing his card as soon as the dice were rolled into one of the boxes (sometimes doing so before the dice had finished moving!) – he either scored +2 or -1 points each round, and with equal probabilities of either outcome, this meant that he slowly but steadily crept towards the finish line of +10 points.
This gambit doesn’t work at the second level of the game as you then have to also choose the right card to go in the right box – meaning only a 25% chance of random success – but the game wasn’t any fun because there was simply no way for him to have a chance otherwise against two or three players who were always faster than him.
I think the game would work just fine with players of similar ability, but I’m not sure how often I’ll get a group together where all of us will be in the same range to make this game work for all involved. It’s a decent filler, but it won’t ever be more than that for my current group
Ratings Review from the Opinionated Gamers:
I love it!
I like it.
Neutral. Dale Yu
Not for me…