- Designer: Michael Schacht
- Publisher: Z-Man Games
- Players: 3 – 5
- Ages: 8 and Up
- Time: 30 Minutes
- Times Played: > 5
Smile is a newly-released card game from Z-Man Games. The first thing I noticed about Smile was the cool artwork, but I was especially excited to play it after I noticed that it was designed by Michael Schacht, one of my favorite card game designers. When I first played it, it reminded me of No Thanks! with a clever twist.
I bought a copy and recently got in a few plays with my card-game loving family. It’s been a bit hit with them, so I wanted to do a quick review.
In Smile, your tamed creatures have escaped, and you have to lure them back in with the promise of fireflies. The game is played over ten rounds, and the player with the highest score at the end of those ten rounds is the winner.
During set up, the deck is adjusted to the number of players. Cards with the “IV” and “V” markers may need to adjusted to accommodate for lower player counts, as there is always 30, 40, or 50 cards in the deck for 3, 4, or 5 player games, respectively.
Each player takes six glass beads, and the game begins.
Each round, a number of cards equal to the number of players are flipped face up. Most cards have two elements: a number of points, and a color splash at the top left. The points will be earned if you still have that creature at the end of the game.
However, you cannot have more than one creature with the same color at the top left of the card, because they will flee, causing you to lose both of them. (Not all cards have a color at the top left. These will be with you until the end of the game.) This can be bad — the situation if both creatures have positive values — but it can also be good — as is the case if you have two negative creatures.
On a player’s turn, he must either bid or take a card. To bid, he places his glass bead (a firefly) on the lowest-numbered card in play. (If there’s a tie for lowest card, he can choose which one to place it on.)
Alternatively, a player can take the lowest card and the glass beads on it, but this can only be done if there is at least one glass bead on the card.
If a player takes a card, he is out of the round, and the other players still in compete for the higher-valued creatures. The last player in the round takes the highest valued one. Of course if you have two creatures of the same color, they both flee!
Players have to carefully manage their bead supply. If they’re required to bid but don’t have a bead, they take a bead from the main supply, plus a blue bead, which is worth a negative point at the end of the game.
This continues for ten rounds. A that point, players add up their points from creatures, their points from fireflies (five of them equals one point), and subtract off any blue beads. The player with the highest score at the end is the winner.
My Thoughts on the Game
I’ve enjoyed my plays of Smile, and so has my family. This is an interesting, family-friendly card game, and I could see us pulling this one off the shelf with regularity.
The comparison to No Thanks! is inevitable. Like in No Thanks!, on your turn you have to simply decide whether to pay to pass, or take the card. Also like in No Thanks!, the cards you take may or may not have an impact at the end, depending on what cards you take later.
No Thanks! is probably the simpler game, and I think I have a slight preference for that classic, but Smile is charming in its own way, and I think it is different enough to stand on its own.
First, there’s less luck of the draw in Smile. All of the cards for the round are on the table, and you can evaluate what you want without the risk of a bad draw. Also reducing the luck factor is that you know exactly what is in the deck in a given game.
Second, there are a few more tactics you can employ here. You can try to trap opponents with cards that make their creatures flee, so even if an opponent got a great card earlier, they may not have it at game end. You can also try to force your opponent to take blue beads. Of course, you have to monitor your own supply carefully.
Those are fun decisions to make, and they’re surprisingly straightforward. No Thanks! has the easier rule set, but I think Smile has the more approachable gameplay, because it is easier to evaluate the state of play at any given moment, and there’s far less math.
The artwork here is astounding. This is some of the most beautiful card artwork I’ve seen in any game save Dixit, and Z-Man deserves credit for the production value of Smile. It draws people into the game, but I think they stay for the clever gameplay.
Smile can be learned in a couple of minutes, and I think it could easily be played with kids. Our games haven’t taken anywhere near 30 minutes — we’re closer to the 10-15 minute range, even with five players — and I think most groups will be equally as fast.
I like the game with three or four players more than five. I like being able to tactically seek a card, and in a five player game, it could be gone before you even got the chance. Five players seems just a bit too chaotic for my taste, and that feeling of chaos is why I like No Thanks! better. This is reduced with three or four players, and I think that’s where Smile really shines.
Overall, I’d recommend Smile for gaming families that enjoy card games. The gameplay is clever, and though I’d still rather play No Thanks!, I think my family prefers Smile, so it will probably be our go-to game in the future.
Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers
Doug G: Shelley and I have enjoyed our plays of this quick filler. We brought it to my game group and it was the perfect “start the evening” game as we waited for the rest of the group to arrive. Because it’s 3-5 players, it’s not going to be a mainstay for our primarily 2-player game household, but we’re suckers for Schacht designs and this one’s a keeper. Great artwork too! We reviewed it on Episode 601 of the podcast, where you can also hear our epic fail on reviewing Nusfjord – we got a rule terribly wrong which killed that game for us.
Jonathan F: Rarely will I comment on a game I have not played, but since Doug mentions the ‘great artwork’, I’ll just say that the art kept this one from hitting our table.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Chris Wray, Eric M., Doug G
- Not for me…