Dale Yu: Review of 5211


5211 was a surprise to me at GenCon – I wasn’t expecting a Japanese trick taking game at the Plan B/Next Move Games booth. The press rep, Mike, was hot to trot about it, and as you may know, there are a number of lovers of Japanese games in my local area…

Anyways, as I generally love card games, love trick taking games, and even took part in a local convention where we tried to focus on trick taking games – I was thrilled to try it out. As I played my first game (at GenCon), I felt that I had played it before – but I couldn’t place where… After getting home, I realized that this was previously released as Five Colors, a game from a few years back that I played late night at Essen once.

In 5211, the deck of cards is made up of cards of 5 different “colors”, some numbered 2, 3, 4, or 5, and some with a Kododo (lizard) in the corner which have a stated value of 1 – though this is not printed on the card.

The name of the game is now used as a mnemonic for how to play. In each round, players are dealt a hand of 5 cards. Then, in the first round, players secretly and simultaneously pick 2 cards, reveal them at the same time and play them to the table. Each player then draws 2 cards to replenish their hand to 5. Then, one card is chosen, revealed and played and then a card is drawn to replenish the hand to 5. Finally, one more card is done in the same fashion. 5-2-1-1. (The last card of each hand is simply discarded).

Then, it’s time for the scoring – be warned that is sounds super complicated at first, but becomes quite easy to follow after a few go-rounds.

First, look to see if the target number of Kododo cards has been played. This changes based on the number of players in the game. For a 4p game, for example, it is 6 Kododo cards. If the entire table has played exactly 6 Kododo cards, then it is the Kododo cards that will be scored. Each player who has played a Kododo card takes said Kododo card(s) and places them in his scoring pile. At the end of the game, each of these cards is worth 1 point. All other cards are discarded and the round ends.

If the Kododo target is not met, then the most prevalent color is scored. Well, sort of. First, there is a limit of cards that a color can have, again varying by player count. For a 4p game, it is 7 cards of a color; that is, a color is eliminated if it has 7 or more cards played in a round. Additionally, colors which are tied for card count with another color are all eliminated from consideration. Once you have applied these two rules, the most prevalent color remaining is the one that scores. All players how have played cards in this color take those cards and place them in their scoring pile. At the end of the game, these cards are worth the number printed on them (so long as you consider the lizard Kododo shape as a squiggly “1”). All cards of the other colors are discarded and the round ends.

The limit never changes, yet it’s something that I find that we have to constantly remind ourselves of. There is a decent one sheet player aid on BGG that outlines the limits, though I have thought about making a homebrew set of cards which has the Kododo target and color limit for each player count, and I can put the appropriate card face up in the center of the table so that no one has to ask the question (again). Or heck, just writing it on a post-it note. But, for now, I have printed up the player aid from BGG and just cut out the corner with the appropriate charts in it.

cropped from the aid on BGG by user by Karujin

The game continues in this pattern until the deck is empty. In the final round, cards are played, but none are drawn as there is no deck to draw from. After this final round, players total up their points in their score pile and the player with the most points is the winner. Ties go to the player with the most individual cards in their scoring pile.

As I played my first game, I remembered that I was intrigued by the scoring system when I first met the game, and frustratingly, I still can’t figure out how to get the table to play their cards the way that I want them to! The game is one of partial information (though increasing with each successive card play each round) where you try to gauge what other players want to do. Maybe you just try to ride to coat-tails of what another player is doing – for instance, if you think Green is going to be the winning color, you might be able to slip in a 5 or a 6 card in the final round.

Or, maybe someone has a nice set going in a particular color. You could try to thwart a big score by playing a Kododo to bring the count exactly to the limit and thus nerf that huge scoring opportunity. Of course, you have to consider what you think everyone else will do – because if two of you have the same idea, and both play Kododos, then the count will exceed the limit, and your plan will blow up.

Visually, I personally had some issues with the cards. As you might know, we play in the basement, and at times the lighting can be dim. Sure, that’s an issue on my part that Next Move Games can’t do anything about. I also have aging Asian eyes – again something out of their control. But, I must say that I have a problem with the busy card backs and fronts here – to the point that sometimes I had issues distinguishing the cards when they lay on the other side of the table. The mosaic theme on the back of the cards is fine, but I don’t know if I personally agree with using a similar non-solid pattern on the fronts. The first picture below is the 5211 cards, then below that is a picture from the Japanese publisher of the original version of the game

sure, the Japanese cards could have had bigger numbers, but at least I can tell easily what colors are in play. Of note, the numbers, but especially the iguanas on the yellow cards are nearly invisible to my eyes in 5211.

But, this problem could be a personal issue. None of the other gamers in my groups here have had the same problems that I have had. So, it could be simply that I have bad eyesight. And in the press picture above, which is under ideal lighting, it seems ludicrous to think that I couldn’t tell the cards apart – yet, I still did.

But those visual issues aren’t stopping me from playing the game. It’s still a fun and challenging game that is a nice filler/closer. I think I keep returning to it because I have yet to figure out how to play it well, and I want to be able to improve upon that. For those that like an interesting card game where you have to play the opponents as much as you have to play the cards in your hand – this is likely going to be a great game for you. I’d definitely recommend looking it up in Essen if you’re in this group.

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

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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1 Response to Dale Yu: Review of 5211

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