Dale Yu: Review of Ton Ton

Ton Ton

  • Designer: Tori Hasegawa
  • Publisher: Happy Baobab
  • Players: 3-5
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Times played: 4, with review copy provided by Happy Baobab

Ton Ton is an interesting trick taking game from the Korean company Happy Baobab that I found at SPIEL 2018.  The game is played over three rounds, and in each round, one of the five mission cards is revealed to give you a focus for that particular round.  There are five suits (colors) in the game, and you play with one suit per player. Cards in each suit are numbered from 1 to 8.

The appointed cards are shuffled and dealt out – each player gets a hand of 8 cards.  The rules specify which colors you must play with, but really, you can choose any colors so long as you agree with card denotes the starting player.  As the rules go, the player who is dealt the Red 8 is the starting player.

The first player leads a card for the first trick. Other players in clockwise order then play a card. They must follow suit if possible.  If not, they may play any color. Of note, anytime a player plays a 4 card, they take the First Player card. The First Player card is taken immediately, so if multiple 4 cards are played on a trick, the First Player card ends up with the player who played the last 4 in the trick.   If no one plays a 4, the player who wins the trick takes the First Player card.

The winner of the trick is the player who played the highest NUMBER to the trick, regardless of color. If there is a tie for the highest number, the latest played tied card wins the trick. The cards from this trick are now arranged by color in front of the winning player. Place the cards so that the lowest numbered card of each color is on top of the pile for that color.  Do not look at previously collected cards of a color, just place the lowest numbered card from the current trick on the top of the pile.

This continues for 7 tricks.  Players will not play the final card in their hands.  At the end of the round, now evaluate the Mission card.  Your “points” for the hand is the sum of all the cards on the top of your color stacks .  If you had won no tricks, your points would equal Zero. For the basic cards, you score based on your rank (either having the most or least points).  However, the mission cards also put a bust limit – bust if you have 12+ points, bust if you have 9+ points or bust if you have 5 or fewer points. Tied ranks score the same value.  If you bust, you score no points for the mission card. Regardless of whether you bust or not, you then look through all your cards to see if you won any “6” cards in your tricks. Each “6” that you won is worth 1 Victory point.

Each player marks their score on a special scoring card with a paper clip. The game is played over three rounds and the player with the most victory points wins the game.

My thoughts on the game

Ton Ton is an interesting trick taking game.  The order of the mission cards as well as the two advanced mission cards gives a slightly different feel to each game. Unlike many other trick taking games, success is not guaranteed by taking the most tricks.  There is an art to figuring out which tricks you want to take – there are plenty of times when you might have a card that can win a trick but you choose not to play it as winning the trick could make you bust. Ideally, you’d like your left hand neighbor to win plenty of tricks as you’ll be in the driver seat, going last, in the following trick.  At least you have the most control over whether you win a trick or not – though, of course, as soon as you feel comfortable with this, you’ll end up winning a trick that you had no choice about because you were forced to follow suit!

Ton Ton is the sort of game where I’m never quite sure whether I have as much control over the game as I like.  It may just be that I’m not as good at these subtle trick takers; and I simply am not sophisticated enough to plan my hand to win the tricks when I want to win them.    This doesn’t necessarily reduce my enjoyment of the game, but it definitely is one of those games where I just see what happens at the end of each hand. I think I might know what’s going on… but you just never know.

I have played once with the advanced rules, and the different scoring criteria make the game feel a little different.  The rest of the group really liked the scoring round where three colors were worth positive points and two were worth negative points; but this really made the scoring even more unpredictable for me.

The cards themselves are weird skinny things, as is the entire box.  It is actually super convenient to fit the game into my front jeans pocket, so I actually approve of that – though the weird elongated shape does make it hard to traditionally shuffle these cards.  I think I would have preferred regular sized cards. I definitely would have liked the box to not include the hang tag as a part of the case – this makes it hard to stack nicely (not that I have any other game of a similar size/shape) and the overhanging tag part makes it hard to read the title of the game.  At some point, if I keep the game, I’ll take an exacto knife to the hanging part of the box to make it a more regular shape.

I have had conversations with numerous other games, Opinionated and otherwise, and there does seem to be a sense that most of the “basic” trick taking ideas are already taken; so any new entry in the genre has to do something different or quirky to stand out from previous ideas.  I will admit that I haven’t been able to fully wrap my head around Ton Ton yet after 4 games, but I still want to keep playing it to see if I can solve the puzzle of how to win the cards that I want at the times that I want. And I suppose, for a game, that’s doing something right.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

James Nathan (1 play): I’m predisposed to liking the trick-taking sub-genre where you sort the cards taken into piles by suit, and I like this one above average in that category. I’m with Dale in that it is difficult to wrap your head around the strategy and tactics of playing your hand, and at this point, that’s a good thing.  The card size unfortunately makes it harder to enjoy – shuffling, playing, and wiping a trick from the table are all more difficult as a result, so what is the payoff of that component decision?

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it.  Dale Y
  • Neutral. James Nathan
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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