- Designer: Jerry D’Arcy, Rob Daviau, Justin Jacobson
- Publisher: Restoration Games
- Players: 3-4
- Ages: 14 and Up
- Time: 45-60 Minutes
- Times Played: > 5
As regular readers know, I’m a big fan of trick-taking card games. I play them, collect them, and have even written a few pieces on their history. So when I heard that Dragonmaster was being “restored” by Restoration Games under the title Indulgence, I was excited. I had heard quite a bit about Dragonmaster, but had never actually had the chance to play Milton Bradley’s classic from the early 1980s.
Indulgence is excellent, and I enthusiastically recommend it. It might be one of the best-produced trick taking games out there, and there’s a great deal of replayability. If Restoration Games keeps this level of quality, they’ll be a company to watch.
The deck is played with 36 “family” cards consisting of 1-9 in four suits. Each family is represented by a different suit. The cards are dealt out evenly, and each player is given 30 florins (with gems representing 5 florins and coins representing 1 florin).
Many of the rules are standard trick taking fare: players must follow suit if possible, highest card of suit led wins, and the winner of the trick leads the next trick. There isn’t normally a trump, but some edicts (or sins) do call for one.
The game will be played three times around the table, so that each player is the “ruler” (dealer) three times. Each time you’re the ruler, you get to pick from three face-up “edicts.” The edicts say things like “Don’t take any 2s or 3s” or “Don’t take the last Borgia” (green card) or “Don’t take any even Medicis or Sforzas” (red or purple cards). If you violate the edict (by taking a 2 or 3, for example), you have to pay the ruler a set amount per card at the end of the hand.
There are a couple dozen edicts in the game, and a few of them are more interesting than those. I’ve just listed the simplest ones for purpose of this review.
The edict only applies, however, if there is not a “sinner.” After the edict is declared, starting with the player to the ruler’s left, each player gets the chance to declare that they’ll sin. There can only be one player sinning in a round. The sin is listed on the back of the edict card, and it usually is the opposite of the edict. For example, “Don’t take any 2s or 3s” becomes “I will take all of the 2s and 3s.” If the player succeeds, he typically gets payment from all other players. If he fails, he pays the ruler at the end of the hand.
The sinner also gets the indulgence ring. The sinning player may play it on top of one card in that hand, and it becomes the highest card (i.e. of a 10) in the same suit they played. This ring can’t be played on the first trick. The card reverts to its normal value for scoring.
The ruler typically leads the first card, unless there is a sinner, in which case he or she does.
The game ends after everybody has been the ruler three times, or as soon as one player runs out of money and still owes some.
There’s also an advanced variant in the box, which works in a few different edicts. This version also gives each player a “papal bull,” which means once per game, when they’re the ruler, they can order all three edicts at once. Scoring is as normal. If somebody sins when a papal bull is in place, they lose 18 florins to the ruler if they fail, but if they succeed, they instantly win the game.
My thoughts on the game…
I’ve really enjoyed my plays of Indulgence. The game is exceptionally well produced — it might be the best produced trick taking game I’ve seen — and the gameplay is highly engaging. For fans of trick-taking games, this is sure to be a hit, and I enthusiastically recommend it.
Having a new “edict” means each hand will play differently from the last, which keeps gameplay fresh. Depending on the situation, the game alternates between being a “trick avoidance” game (generally when the edict is in play) and a “shoot the moon” situation (when somebody is trying to sin and typically capture all of a type of card). Depending on the edict, this game can run the gamut of Pagat’s different classifications of trick taking games, so it is a great introduction to the different parts of the genre.
The game is most fun when you’re the ruler, since that is your best chance to maximize your score. The strategy is to pick an edict that (a) can earn you points if everybody follows it, and (b) avoids somebody attempting to sin (since they might then take all of the points you’d earn). You can get a feel for the former from your hand of cards, but it is harder to predict whether somebody will attempt to sin just looking at your cards.
The choice of whether to follow the edict or “sin” is also a fascinating one. The indulgence ring helps with sinning, though the ring, of course, doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll win a trick. And since the ring can’t be played on the first trick, it can still be difficult to get and keep control of the hand.
Sometimes, towards the end of the game, players without a solid hand of cards try to sin anyway, knowing that is their only real chance to catch up. I like that: it is a natural catch up mechanism, though it comes with a great risk.
The cards are large and made from a high-quality material. I like their size, though one member of my group said he would have preferred poker or bridge sized cards. All of the other materials — the gems, the coins, the indulgence ring — are of exceptional quality. The ring is metallic and actually looks like it could be somebody’s class ring!
The game is simple to learn — for the most part, it follows standard trick taking rules — and could be played by about anybody. I think this would appeal to gamers and non-gamers alike, as well as both trick-taking enthusiasts and those with less experience in the genre.
My only real complaint is the length of the game. I like my trick taking games in the 30-45 minute range, and Indulgence is going a bit longer with four players, closer to an hour. We’ve started to “house rule” that we’ll only go around the table twice, and everybody seems okay with that. It adds a bit more randomness to the outcome — everybody really ought to have the chance to be the ruler three times — but nobody in my group minds.
Overall, I’m highly impressed. I play a lot of trick taking games — I know about 100 of them — and this is now one of my favorites. Every hand is different, and the many edicts show off the trick taking genre’s highlights. If Restoration Games keeps up this level of production, they’ll be a publisher to watch in coming years.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Chris Wray
- I like it.
- Not for me…
I was already interested in this one, and a recommendation from Chris carries a lot of weight when it comes to tricktakers!
I have never bought a trick taking game (unless a standard deck or cards count), so If I were considering getting one. Would you recommend this to a “newbie” over others like Diamonds?
I would! This is a great introduction to trick taking. Diamonds can be hit-or-miss with trick-taking enthusiasts, plus it’ll just give you a small part of the genre. This will show you a bit more of what’s out there.
Thank you for the detailed review of Indulgence. The original designer’s name is spelled Jerry D’Arcey, not D’Arcy. (There is another, different game inventor named Jerry D’Arcy who is not the same person.)
The game by Jerry (Gerald) D’Arcey was known as Coup D’Etat then later as Dragon-master.
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