Design by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling
Published by Ravensburger
2 – 5 Players, 20 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
One cannot help but admire the incredible diversity of designers Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling. They are equally adept at creating deep strategy games, entertaining family games, children’s games and even card games. Their body of work is amazing, and they continue to release top quality games that any designer would be proud to have created.
The latest in this line of outstanding games is Linko (Abluxxen in German). It is a quasi-climbing game with similarities to games such as The Great Dalmuti and their own Who’s the Ass?, yet it has some clever new twists, including a highly original mechanism that I’ve not seen in any other game. It is a delight to play, and seems one of those rare games that keeps both gamers and families engaged…and it is accomplished with what is essentially two decks of playing cards.
The game consists of 104 cards–eight each of values 1 – 13–plus five jokers. Each card depicts a sly lynx, which I suppose is somehow related to the game’s title. No explanation or theme is provided, but Herr Kramer provided the following information:
“The word “Abluxxen” doesn’t exist in German. It is an artificial word. The correct writing of “Abluxxen” is “Abluchsen”, and that means to take away or to rob or to steal in a cunning manner.
The name of a lynx in German is “Luchs”, like abluchsen. Therefore we have the cunningly looking lynx (on the cards).
The international title is “Linko”. The word “Lynx” is not free, we couldn’t use it as the title.
“Linko” is the translation of the word “Luchs” in Esperanto.”
Each player is dealt a hand of 13 cards, and another six are placed face-up in a drafting row. The object of the game is to deplete your hand of cards, making sure you have an appreciable number of cards in your scoring pile when this is accomplished. Cards left in players’ hands when an opponent depletes his hand will count as negative points, so a careful eye must be kept on the cards remaining in opponents’ hands, as well as the values of cards they have been collecting.
The start player plays as many cards of the same value as he desires, placing them face-up in front of him. The next player is under no obligation to follow the lead in any manner whatsoever. He can play as many cards as he desires, as long as they are of the same value. Thus, Bill can lead with two 3s, while the player to his left can play something completely different in number and/or value. This not having to follow lead can take awhile for players accustomed to normal trick-taking or “follow-the-lead” games to grasp.
Whenever cards are played, the active player must examine the cards atop the stacks of each opponent. If the active player played the same number of cards that an opponent played, it is possible that the player may be “snatched.” If the value of the cards played by the active player is greater than the other player’s, there are choices to be made.
1)The active player can decide to take those cards from his opponent, placing them into his hand. If he does this, the opponent must replace those cards by taking cards from the drafting row and/or the face-down deck. These cards go into the opponent’s hand.
2) If the active player decides not to take the cards, the opponent must either take those cards back into his hand or discard them. If he opts to discard them, he must replace those cards as described above.
An example may make this clearer. Janna plays three 8s. She looks around the table, beginning with the player to her right. Michael played two 4s, so he is safe. Cynthia played one 11, so she, too, is safe. Craig, however, had played three 6s. The value of his cards is lower than those played by Janna, so he will be the victim of a “snatch.” Janna has the options described above. If she opts not to take the cards, Craig also has the options described above: take the cards back into his hand or discard them and replace them with cards from the drafting row.
This procedure is repeated with each opponent, ascertaining if they will be the victim of a snatch. So, multiple snatches are possible with each play of cards. It is important to note that when playing cards, any of a player’s cards played previously are covered by the new cards. Only the cards atop each player’s stack are at risk. Of course, if those cards are snatched, then the next card or set of cards underneath are now on top and at risk.
If the object is to deplete one’s hand of cards, why would the active player take an opponent’s cards into his hand? To make larger sets, which are more difficult to snatch. It might seem that playing a large set is invulnerable, but as a round progresses, more and more players will have accumulated large sets. Proper timing is essential in order to prevent being the victim of a snatch.
Sometimes, however, a player wants to have a card or cards snatched. This may allow him to grab desired cards from the drafting row, allowing him to construct larger sets in his hand. Keeping a careful eye on the drafting row as well as the cards opponents are collecting is an important aspect to effective play.
The game ends when one player depletes his hand of cards, which can sometimes happen quickly, particularly when one has amassed a large set. Players score one point for each card on the table in front of them, minus one point for each card remaining in their hands. High score wins. While only one hand can be played, we have found three rounds to be preferable, giving each player a chance to overcome a poor hand or score. One hand can take as little as ten minutes, with three hands usually topping out at about 30 minutes.
Linko is refreshingly different. It isn’t a trick-taking game, and while it has similarities to climbing games, it breaks many of the standard rules and customs found in that genre. Indeed, the “snatch” mechanism is highly original and creative. However, it takes more than an original mechanism to make a game great or even good. That mechanism must “fit” and be woven into the rest of the game, making the entire experience enjoyable, exciting and challenging. Fortunately, Kramer and Kiesling are experts at doing just that, and have accomplished this feat once again in Linko.
One of the aspects I truly admire about Linko is that it feels and plays as if it is a light, family game on the order of The Great Dalmuti, but it has important decisions to be made throughout the game. Players must keep a careful eye on what their opponents are collecting and plan their actions accordingly. Timing is an important element, as is proper hand management. One can easily get lured into thinking there is plenty of time remaining in the game, especially if one’s opponents each have multiple cards remaining in their hands. However, if an opponent has been collecting numerous cards of the same values, he may be building large sets in his hand, allowing him to deplete his hand quickly. The lesson? Watch what your opponents are collecting.
With so many games being published each year, it is extremely difficult for one game to have longevity in the fickle and overcrowded game industry. They simply get lost in the avalanche and are victims of the next wave of publications. That is truly a shame, as many games that deserve to be classics and staples are overlooked or quickly relegated to the far corner of one’s game closet. I sure hope the same fate does not befall Linko, which in my opinion, is one of the better family-style card games to come along in years. It plays easily, but offers quite a bit to attract, challenge and entertain even experienced gamers. It is one of those games that should have universal appeal, one that could be a huge mainstream success. I just hope it gets the chance.
Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:
Joe Huber (6 plays): Abluxxen is an enjoyable game, that’s for certain. It is somewhat more strategic than The Great Dalmuti, as Greg notes, though The Great Dalmuti does also have important decisions to make throughout each hand. The bigger difference, in my opinion, is the The Great Dalmuti is a very enjoyable pastime – but not necessarily a great game, as there’s no scoring system per se, and the ones I’ve seen bolted on have been consistently flawed. Abluxxen is a good game, with a clean scoring system that works very well. But – somehow it’s not an enjoyable enough pastime for me, quite. It’s close – I enjoy the game, and would play it again happily – but I’ve not been tempted to go out and acquire a copy. And the reason is the fear Greg relates – I believe it would be relegated to a shelf in my collection from which it’s not pulled often enough.
Ben McJunkin (8 plays): Abluxxen is a very clever game, and I enjoy it enough to own a copy. (Here, I should probably thank W. Eric Martin for shouting its praises from the rooftops at the Gathering of Friends.) Light filler games, though they have their place in my collection, tend not to be among my very favorites. It is no surprise, then, that Abluxxen tops out merely at “I like it.” The game is short enough, and the randomly dealt initially hand important enough, that very little appears to be at stake in any given session. In fact, in too many of my sessions, a player has been able to run out his or her hand in relatively short order, winning nearly by default as those attempting to collect larger sets for the endgame that never comes are heavily penalized in final scoring. On the occasions when the game shines, however, it does so brilliantly, generating delicious tension in the last few rounds that far exceeds the fun factor of comparable 15-minute number-driver timewasters (here I am thinking of games like Rosenberg’s Bargain Hunter or Dorra’s For Sale).
Jonathan Franklin (5 plays): Abluxxen is an enjoyable card game that has two hurdles for me. First, it is not that easy to teach. People seem to take longer to learn it than many card games. Part of this is that you cannot say “just like ____, but with ___” There is no shorthand, but that is also one of it’s major upsides, as it feels fresh. For me, the larger question is whether, with 50 or 100 plays, you would be significantly better at it than someone who has played five hands. If some online implementation shows that there is more skill in Abluxxen than it first appears, I will come back to it. In the meantime, I like it.
Craig Massey (5 plays): Put me squarely in Eric Martin’s camp on this game. I’m amazed that Abluxxen was not a finalist for the SdJ. For a game that is so simple there is amazing amount to think about while playing. While the game does not compare easily to anything else, it is an easy game to teach because of its simplicity. This makes it very accessible for casual game nights and family. I’m convinced that there is more skill than at first appears as well. It deserves a spot in the collection and I’m also convinced it will have significant staying power.
Dan Blum (11 plays): This is a classic example of a light game which really needs to be played more than once; despite the simplicity of the rules, people (even experienced games) may well not grasp how the game works on the first play. Despite appearances, it’s not really a game about trying to avoid being abluxxed, and playing as if it were will tend to make the game seem frustratingly random. It’s more of a set-collection game in which you get to decide how large the sets need to be; the game is really about shaping your hand to go out efficiently.
W. Eric Martin (64 plays on a review copy): As others have noted, I’ve talked up Abluxxen a lot since first playing it in February 2014, and it’s the only game that I’ve toted with me to multiple conventions figuring that if I get the chance to play anything of my choosing (beyond stuff I’m playing to preview on BGG News), I’m going to play Abluxxen.
To somewhat address Jonathan’s question, I played Abluxxen four times at Origins 2014, each time with four new players and me, and I won three of those games. By the fourth game, some people were catching on to the flow of play, to the need to bait others with cards you don’t want (or cards that make it difficult for them to play the low junk they want to play without you bettering your hand), to how you can lose even if you go out (since going out is worth no points on its own). Sometimes the cards are against you or squarely in your camp, but I’ve found those games to be outliers versus the times when you make your own luck by keeping track of what everyone else is doing and playing the right cards at the right times.
4 (Love it!): Greg J. Schloesser, Craig Massey, W. Eric Martin
3 (Like it): John P, Joe H, Larry, Ben McJunkin, Jonathan Franklin, Dan Blum
1 (Not for me):
The more I play Abluxxen, the more convinced I am of its genius. Its omission from the SdJ recommendations is a travesty!