Ravens is one of my hits from Essen 2014. I was intrigued by the thought of 2 player deduction game but was sure I’d be disappointed. I am happy to report that I was not disappointed at all and pleasantly surprised by how well Ravens works.
For those that live for games with theme, Ravens might be the most unusually and well themed game in my collection. The back story is the sad tale of Ren, who has lived through some traumatic events that have threatened her heart and memory, and Feth, who loves Ren, and tries to save her by unraveling the memories of her heart.
The game consists of 2 character cards, 35 memory cards in 5 colors numbered 1-5, and 5 ravens one of each color memory card. A rough idea on basic play follows:
The memory cards are shuffled and Ren randomly is dealt 4 heart cards placed face down in a column, she is allowed to view these cards but Feth is not. Feth starts with one face up card which is the start of the “atman” which I think is taken from Buddhism’s term for “inner self.” The ravens are then added to the deck and shuffled. The game consists of 3 batches in which Feth, by using the atman, and Ren, by providing clues, try to solve the mysteries of Ren’s heart. This means that Ren must complete her heart’s poem and Feth must match the colors of the cards in Rens heart with the color of the cards in the atman.
A basic turn is played like this: Feth may turn over any number of cards from the deck, placing them in a line. If he draws a raven it is set aside initially in a separate Raven row. From this point on, all cards of the color of the raven that are discarded will be “devoured” by the raven and removed from the game. Then Feth may place any number of cards he chooses in the atman. Unused cards are discarded or devoured if appropriate. There are a few little tricks to the atman. Cards are divided into quadrants by the illustration and must be placed legally so that cards match while overlapping.
In addition if Feth can manage to group a connected block of 3 cards of the same color so the sum equals 7 Ren can immediately show one her cards of the matching color and a Raven of matching color is chased away for the batch. Feth must build the atman in a way to give Ren plenty of choices for her turn and allow Ren to be able to discard unwanted colors from the atman.
An example of an atman with a connected block
Ren then takes her turn. She is trying to make a poem with her heart to help Feth solve the puzzle. In making a poem, the four cards of heart stand for a line in her poem. She must make the lines match the meter of 7/7/7/5 which in the game means making the sum of the cards in the first line equal 7 before moving to the next line. To do this, she takes one card from the atman and places it next to the first heart card, it is now a poem card. If the sum of the card taken and the heart card is 7 she announces it, it is Feth’s turn again and at the start of her next turn she will move to the next line.
If the card she took makes the line greater than 7 it is discarded. If the card taken matches the heart card it is revealed but will not be added to the score pile and turned sideways to help remember this. Ren is try to help Feth figure out which colors should be in the atman and which should be discarded with her move. In addition poem card have special abilities that Feth can use on his turn. When the abilities are played the cards are turned sideways to show they have been used.
The batch is over when Ren completes her poem and if the all cards in the atman match the color of the cards in her heart. If the batch is not over they continue play but the game is lost if there are no cards to be drawn in the deck at the start of a turn. Heart cards (not poem cards) which are not turned sideways are added to the score pile.
The third batch contains special conditions, Ren must complete each line in one turn. This may be done by adding cards from the score pile to the poem line (they will not be scored then). Also the atman must match Ren’s heart at the time the fourth line of her poem is completed.
The players win if this completed and none of the loss conditions have occurred. Players lose if the deck is depleted, if all 5 ravens are in play in the raven row, if Feth cannot place at least one card in the atman on his turn, if Ren cannot complete her poem or the atman does not match her heart.
This is a really fascinating game. It took us a practice play to get the flow of the game. Both players really have to be very attentive to their play. No table talk is allowed. I think it has just the right level of difficulty. There are a few situations where it can become impossible to win without some lucky guess work.
This is truly a cooperative game, both players are actively involved in their part on their turn. One player cannot run the whole game. It is also a very good deduction game. Most of the time logic will solve the puzzle but you may find that occasionally you have to use some intuition but it’s not enough to ruin the deduction aspect of the game. We lost our first game, but our last one we scored 7 which was enough for a good ending . Depending on scores you score a normal, good or happy ending.
If you have the chance to try this game I would give it the highest recommendations. I have heard the English edition is sold out but hopefully they will reprint next year or perhaps it will be picked up by a larger publisher. The Japanese version could be playable with a crib sheet.