Two more little card games this Thursday – both from Essen 2013. I normally don’t bring home a lot of card games because they just never seem to get played that much (because I already have tons of card games that we already don’t play). Therefore, the ones that I do bring back have usually already been pre-screened to make sure that they are worth: 1) the space/weight in the luggage to make it home and 2) the cabinet space in the basement.
- Designer: Steffen Benndorf
- Publisher: Nurnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag (NSV)
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 8+
- Time: 20-30 minutes
- Times Played: 5 with review copy provided by NSV
As I left for Essen 2013, Habe Fertig was one of the few card games that I was certain that I was going to want to bring home. Why? It’s designed by Steffen Benndorf, the designer of Qwixx and Wuerfel Express – two dice games that I happen to adore. I was interested to see if Herr Benndorf would be able to use something other than dice to make a good game.
The game itself is pretty simple – it is played over the course of a number of identical hands. There is a 66 card deck, 6 colors numbered 1 to 11. The cards have zero stars (on the 1 and 11) to four stars (on the 6) at the edges of the cards. Each player is dealt a hand of 12 cards. After looking at their hand, each player sets aside two cards as their “bet” for the hand. At the end of the hand, if you go out first, you score positive points equal to the number of stars on your two card bet. If you do not go out first, you score negative points equal to the number of stars on the cards left in your hand.
OK, but how do you see who wins. Once all the bets are made, two cards are flipped up next to each other to start two discard piles. On your turn, you try to play cards from your hand – and you will win the hand if you are the first person to play all your cards. There are two ways to play a card to the discard piles:
1) you can play a card on top of a discard pile if you can match either the number or color – if you do this your turn ends
2) you can play a card on EITHER discard pile if the number is between the values of the cards currently on top of the discard piles AND the color does NOT match – if you do this, you are able to play another card
If you are ever unable to play a card, you draw a card from the draw pile and your turn ends.
At the start of your turn, if there is no gap between the two discard piles (so they are either the same number or are two consecutive numbers), you flip over the top card from the draw pile and place this new card on top of one of the discard piles.
Again, the game continues until someone goes out – the player who goes out first scores positive points based on their bet, the others score negative points based on what is left in their hand. The number of hands played varies with the number of players
My thoughts on the game
It’s an interesting take on a card game – the concept seems like it would be a lot of fun and lead to a fair amount of strategic play. However, in practice, this doesn’t really happen. First off, it only takes a few turns for people to realize that the best play is to leave the next person with a gap of 2 between the discards (say a 2 and a 4). This automatically limits the next player to playing two cards at most (which would be a non-color matching 3 and then one more card). Early in the hand, this happens almost every turn because people have plenty of cards to choose from in their own hand.
Late in the round, there isn’t as much choice from your hand, and you may end up either causing a large gap or causing no gap at all. If you create a large gap, the next player is then set up for a big play. If you create no gap, then the game comes down to a random flip of a card to see whether there is a big gap or not.
The other place where randomness has a role is in the initial flip of cards. If you are the very first player to play in a round, you are guaranteed a random flip to start your two discard piles. If you get a 9 and 11, you’re kinda screwed as your best play is still only 2 cards as opposed to the next round where the guy gets a 1 and 10, and then is able to play 7 of his 10 cards right off the bat. But, that sort of randomness doesn’t bother me that much in a quick game where hands take only a few minutes.
Where the game tends not to work for me is in the scoring. It is hard to come back in this game from a bad hand. The only way to score positive points is to win a hand. The betting system was sold to me as being quite clever – if you discard the extreme cards (1 or 11), you will not score many points – BUT you theoretically are able to go out easier as it is much easier to play cards in the middle of the number range than the extreme ends. So, if you need to come back and score close to the maximum of 8 positive points, you end up with more extreme cards in your hand, and thus it is harder to actually win.
If there were a similar maximum on the negative points that could be scored, it might be OK, but the potential for a huge negative score is pretty good, and if this happens to you, there doesn’t seem to be much you can do at that point to recover.
My initial rating: Neutral
Handler der Karabik
- Designer: Alexander Pfister
- Publisher: Osterreichisches Spiele Museum
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 8+
- Time: 20 minutes
- Times Played: 3, with purchased copy
Each year, the Austrian Game Museum commissions a few games or game expansions to help them generate donations for their cause. This year, they produced two small card games, and Handler der Karabik caught my eye. I usually donate to the museum and get at least one of their offerings each year. The game comes from the designer of Mines of Zavandor and it also won an Austrian game design competition, so I thought it would be pretty good
The game is made up of 110 cards. There are four varieties of cards –
- People – that give you special abilities or resources if you can recruit them
- Expeditions – which can be completed with people
- Ships – which can be attacked with enough offensive minded people
- Taxes – which makes people with 12+ coins discards half of their money
On the back of each card is a coin, and facedown cards serve as your money – a mechanic reminiscent of Bohnanza, and one that I think should be used more often.
On your turn, you flip cards up from the deck. It’s a press-your-luck sort of situation. You can flip up as many cards as you like. If they are people or expeditions, they stay on the table. Taxes happen as soon as they are flipped up. Ship cards are also dealt with as they come up – they can have a fighting value between one and five swords. If you have enough fighting people in your town, you can fight off the ship and it gets discarded. If you do not have enough (or you choose not to fight), you leave the ship faceup on the table. Your turn will immediately end, however, if you flip up two ships of the same color (there are five different types)
The push-your-luck part comes in because if you decide to voluntarily stop drawing cards, you then have the option to collect cards from the lineup – the number of cards you can draw is dependent on how many ship cards you have flipped up on the table. Exposed ship cards provide you income while it costs you coins to “hire” person cards into your town. After the active player buys cards, then everyone else (in clockwise order) is able to buy a single card.
After you buy cards, you have the option to fulfill an expedition card – you turn in previously collected person cards that have icons matching those on the expedition.
Victory points can be found on some of the people card as well as on the expedition cards. The winner is the first player to 10 points who has also completed an expedition card.
My thoughts on the game
There is a pretty decent game here in this small box. The drafting mechanic is nice, and the different powers of the different person cards gives everyone a different strategy. Early in the game, there is definitely more of a random push-your-luck feel to the card drawing because when you don’t have many (or any) fighting people in town, you can’t fend off any ships and the length of your turn is really just luck of the draw.
Later in the game, when you are able to fight off ships, there is a bit more strategery in the card flipping as you sometimes get to actually decide whether you’re going to fight off a ship or not. While you don’t want to be overwhelmed with two ships of the same color (as this ends your turn), you do want to have as many different colors as possible visible to increase your ability to collect cards.
The other thing you have to consider when flipping cards is what you are leaving for your opponents. Since they all get a chance to buy cards after you have your chance, sometimes you might even want to end your turn early in order to limit the choices left on the table after you have chosen your cards.
There is a slight rich-get-richer issue that I’ve seen in my games thus far. You need to have coins to buy more cards, and if you are the first person to get a lot of coins, you are the first person to be able to buy fighting townies and thus you will always be better set up to fight off ships which leads to better card choices on your turn. The good thing is that the random card flips do not make this advantage insurmountable, but the chance that someone runs away with the game is definitely there.
My initial rating: I like it.
Händler der Karibik is – by far – the most played card game of last year’s crop – at least in our house. We’ve worn off the first copy in a 3-digit number of matches – both our boys (7 and nearly 5) play each day and have learned the concept of strategy through this game. For them, HdK was *the* gateway game.
I was surprised by how well Händler der Karibik worked.
Eric – surprised that is worked because of the designer? because this was meant to be a little throwaway game for charity?