- Designers: Jim Dratwa and Cyril Blondel
- Publisher: Blackrock Games
- Artist: Virginie Rapiat
- Players: 3 – 5 (Solo and Two Player Rules Also Included)
- Ages: 10 and Up
- Time: 30 Minutes
- Times Played: > 5
Eternity is a trick-taking game that was released by Blackrock Games at Spiel 2016. The first thing I noticed about Eternity is the artwork: it is stunningly beautiful, especially in a game genre that often values function over aesthetics. But the gameplay is also exceedingly clever, and Eternity has thus far emerged as one of my favorite card games of Spiel 2016.
Gameplay Walkthrough: Trick taking with bidding and changing trumps…
Eternity is played with 42 cards: three suits each containing cards numbered 1-14. The three suits represent the Earth (green), the Sea (blue), and the Sky (red). In the 5-player game, each player gets 8 cards, and in the 4-player game, each player gets 10. The 3-player game is dealt as with 4-players, but the 10 unallocated cards normally given to the fourth player are put in a face up display. There are rules for solo and 2-player variants, but I’ve omitted them from this review.
The remaining two cards are put in the respective spaces in front of the trump boards. The trump suit will always be the suit with the most cards in front of its trump board. In the event of a tie, the leftmost suit wins. (The trump boards are not attached to each other, so you can rotate their position.)
In the most basic ways, Eternity is like many trick taking games: you must follow if you can, and the highest card wins, unless there’s a trump, in which case highest trump wins. If you can’t follow suit, you must play a trump card, but if you don’t have one, you can then play a card of your choice.
But the game is unique in most other regards: The first player must always lead, but later players get an interesting choice: play a card into the trick, possibly winning it, or instead “pledge.” This basically means you’ll be betting you win a trick. You do this by playing another card down sideways which is not part of the trick. Based on the card played, you’ll receive 0, 1, or 2 tree tokens, which represent tricks you should try to take.
Only one player can pledge during each trick in the 3- and 4-player games; only two players can pledge during each trick in 5-player games.
The pledged card gets added to the trump board, and the suit with the most cards in it becomes the trump for the next trick. In other words, trump will shift mid-hand, but not mid-trick.
When the trick is taken, it is flipped upside down, and players may “plant” a tree (or “honour a pledge”) by placing a tree token on a trick taken.
At the conclusion of the hand, if you match your pledges to your tricks, you get “harmony” bonus points plus points for each trick you took. If you get more tricks than pledged, you still get a point for each pledged trick. If, however, you pledged more than you won, you get zero points. The “harmony” bonus is two points for the first round, then four points for the second round, then seven points for the third round.
The player with the highest score at the end of three rounds wins the game.
My thoughts on the game…
Trick taking is one of my favorite game mechanics, but I’ll admit that the genre is littered with mediocre games. Trick taking games often suffer from one of two major problems: (1) a feeling of obviousness, or (2) a feeling of chaos. Some tricksters enter auto-pilot mode once you see your cards, as the strategy for playing any given hand seems obvious. Other tricksters seem disorderly, resulting in gameplay that feels random. Great games in this genre avoid both pitfalls.
Eternity is such a game. Based on my plays, Eternity is is a novel and deeper-than-average card game, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how interesting gameplay can be.
Bidding tends to work well in trick-taking games (a fact that explains, in part, the popularity of games like Bridge), and Eternity adds a twist by making the bidding occur mid-hand. The choice of whether to play or pledge — and, equally important, with what card — presents an interesting choice that keeps the game from veering into auto-pilot mode. Add in the shifting trumps and the gameplay is significantly more challenging than in the average trick taking game.
While the game state is constantly changing, because players control how the trumps shift, it feels like there is considerable strategy here. There are numerous ways to play any given hand, and success depends in part on clever bidding and reading your opponents.
This depth doesn’t come at much of a cost. The game plays fast — the box advertises 30 minutes, but we play in 20-25 — and it is decently easy to learn. If somebody is familiar with Hearts or Spades, I could teach this to them — with examples — in less than five minutes.
So far I’ve preferred the four-player game. Having more cards in hand makes gameplay more interesting, as there is more time to shift trump in your favor. Also, I like the idea of having only one player pledge per trick.
Not only is the gameplay impressive, but so are the components. The artwork is beautiful. Trick taking games — and card games in general — have often foregone a focus on artwork. But the production value of Eternity is top notch.
I didn’t know this game existed going into Essen, but I’m really glad I picked up a copy. This was one of the hits of the convention to me. If you like trick taking games, I enthusiastically recommend Eternity.
Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers
Dale Yu: Unlike Chris, this game was high on my anticipated list prior to Essen. In fact, I planned a meeting with the nice folks from Blackrock (thanks Caroline!) just to make sure that I got a chance to see the game. We’ve only played it twice so far, once with 3 and once with 5. It is an intriguing trick-taker for sure. The mutable trump suit makes it very difficult to formulate a concrete plan from the start – you really have to be able to shift gears mid-hand as the circumstances change.
It is definitely an interesting balance between trying to find time/cards to pledge while still keeping enough cards in reserve to win the needed tricks. And then, once you’ve gotten on your way, the Pinochle style rules (i.e. must trump if you can) makes it quite difficult to be sure about not taking unwanted tricks near the end of the hand.
I have found that there is a lot of interesting play around the pledging. The primary reason is obviously to get tree tokens, You also may end up changing the trump suit, sometimes a good thing, and sometimes not. There is also plenty of opportunity to play defensively – i.e. pledging with a low card that doesn’t give you tree tokens only to prevent a player later in turn order from doing so. At the end of the round, sometimes you can change the trump suit only to try to screw up other player’s plans…
Finally, the last thing worth mentioning is that the player count in the game can definitely change how it plays – it is almost a different game with 3p as opposed to 5p. In a 5p game, there are only 8 tricks each round. There aren’t many opportunities to pledge. Additionally, there are a lot of people who might beat you to pledging in any given trick. In the 3p game, you have more chances (10 tricks and only two opponents). I wouldn’t say that either player count is better, but they clearly play differently, and each gives different problems to solve.
Thus far, I have really enjoyed Eternity, and it looks to be one of those “quirky” trick-takers that will stay in the collection because there’s nothing else quite like it in the collection.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Chris Wray, Dale Y, John P
- I like it. Craig V, Karen M
- Not for me…