Designer: 新澤 大樹 (Taiki Shinzawa)
Artist: 菅原 美沙穂 (Misaho Sugawara)
Publisher: 倦怠期 (Kentaiki)
Playing Time: 40 minutes
Times Played: 7 with a purchased copy
I’ve delayed writing about this game since May and re-written this introduction several times, so I suppose enough with the folderol: this game is brilliant.
With a title that alludes to Jeffrey Allers’ Pala and the Japanese language pronunciation peculiarities of L and R sounds, Time Palatrix is trick taking game that elegantly allows three tricks to exist simultaneously, and then resolve at once. Each hand it will do this four times.
What this allows for is quite creative play, as you can go into the future to short yourself a suit, but moreover: the suit that you must follow, may not be the suit that is eventually lead. (I know, right?)
The game uses cards ranked 1 to 12 in 4 suits, with ranks 10-12 being removed for a three player game. One of the suits, pink, is always the trump suit.
The winner will be the player with the most points after a few rounds, and points are exclusively obtained by meeting your bid.
As is often the case, Taiki’s games have bidding with unforgiving edges. You won’t get points for missing your bid even slightly; you won’t get a smattering of points just from winning tricks alone; and there are not points to be gained from winning no tricks.
Instead, you can have 2 points per trick if you hit your bid exactly, or, you can slightly hedge in one direction, and earn 1 point per trick for hitting your bid, or exactly 1 more trick.
A few words on how the cards are played and resolved, but let’s start with resolving: it’s just like any other trick-taking game. The first player leads a card to the first trick. We don’t need to concern ourselves with following suit here, as the cards have already been played. We only need to know who wins the trick.
As usual, the highest trump card played will win the trick, and if none was played, the highest card of the lead suit. The winner of the trick marks their bid with a cube, and leads the next trick.
Nothing odd there, right?
You bid for how many tricks you’ll win at the start of the hand, and that bid is for all 12 cards in your hand which will eventually be played to 12 different tricks. However, rather than happening one after another, the tricks are played and resolved in sets of 3.
At the start of the hand (tricks 1-3), as with the start of tricks 4-6, 7-9, and 10-12, there are three slots available to play a card to: trick 1 (black), trick 2 (red), or trick 3 (yellow). On your turn, you are free to play to any of the three tricks for which you have not yet played a card.
When the first person plays a card to one of the tricks, a pawn is set in front of that card to indicate that it is the suit that must be followed. Again, nothing odd here: if I’m the first to play to trick 2 and choose a blue 5, other players must play a blue card if they have one when they play to that trick.
I’ve already explained both of the magic tricks that Taiki pulls off here, but they likely went by subtly. One feels sufficiently against trick-taking dogma that most folks I teach the game to assume they can’t do what I tell them they can do, and the other will probably require an example to illustrate where the lighter fluid came from.
The first is, you choose which trick to play to prior to any considerations of following suit. To illustrate what I mean, assume the only card played this round is that blue 5 I played to the second trick earlier. Now look at your hand, and see that you only have one blue card, a 4. If you choose to play to the second trick, then, yes, as you’d expect, you must play the blue 4.
However, instead, you could choose to play to the first or third trick, playing any card you’d like, as no follow suit has be determined. Let’s imagine you’ve chosen the third trick and played that blue card; now blue has become the suit that all players must follow when they play to the second or third trick.
We fast forward a few plays to find that you’ve played a high trump card to the first trick, and thrown a garbage “offsuit” card to the second trick, say an orange 1.
Let’s resolve, …abracadabra, and!:
As the start player, I “lead” the first trick with whatever card is in my first card slot, and you win the trick with your trump card, marking your bid that you’ve won a trick and then leading the next trick. So then you “lead” the orange 1, but wait! All other players had chosen blue card as that was the suit that they were obliged to “follow”, but you’ve twisted the timeline such that orange was the color that was lead, and is the highest of the non-trump suits!
It’s hard for me to talk about Time Palatrix without discussing so many other things that have gravitational interactions with it, but are ultimately immaterial to the brilliance of the game itself: the release of another time travel themed trick-taking game around the same time; the designer’s simultaneous commercial release of Zimbabweee Trick; the game being overshadowed as a trick-taking feat in 2019 by Die Crew; my personal desire to apologize for spreading information about ZT further than TP; and the designer’s release or reprinting of three more trick-taking games just a few weeks ago.
The bidding is tense and difficult, and it’s a game that engages you on each card play, as hitting that bid has been given such outsized importance. It’s a trick-taking game that has more hand management than usual as you dance around the timeline adjusting things just so. It allows for a bit more creative play than usual, but it’s work and there are still times when you need to fall in line.
The narrow band of hitting your bid target is also the weakness of the game, as it is so unforgiving. Can I have some consolation points? (Or at least a way to bail out a hand that can’t win many tricks?) But, no. That’s not really Taiki’s style.
In my first game, if I was to try to mentally balance if the rest of the game play was “worth” what felt like a clunky bidding system, I would’ve said I wasn’t sure. At this point, I’ve almost forgotten that I had such thoughts (outside of when I think my hand will likely win no tricks!)
I’m in love with this game and am glad I got to share it with you.
(Also, good luck to those folks competing in kumagoro_h’s Time Palatrix championship tournament tomorrow!)
(PS: I haven’t tried it yet, but the game also includes a variant for dividing the 12 tricks into three sets of 4 rather than four sets of 3.)
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it! James Nathan
I like it.
Not for me…