BON (Boast or Nothing)

Designer: Yeon-Min Jung
Artist: Mr. Misang
Publisher: A.ger Games, 1979 Games
Players: 3-5
Ages: 8+
Times Played: 6 times on various purchased or borrowed copies

BON is a trick-taking game with one main conceit, and a few twists, though I imagine that depending upon who you ask, those numbers and categories may vary.  For me, the conceit is there in the name: Boast or Northing.  You want to win a certain number of tricks, or nothing, and that number will depend upon the player count. 

The notable twists: “Pass” cards that allow you to sort of skip revealing if you could follow suit and sit out a trick; and a rotating hierarchy of suit strengths such that the suit which won a trick most recently becomes the weakest suit and the suit that has not won a trick since the other two suits will be the strongest.

Also, what is likely the most entertaining rule book I’ve come across.

Not just the humor, and at times, condescension of the rules, but the little jabs it adds as rules.  Many games have the now familiar first-player choosing rules based upon some sort of thematic gimmick, but what about choosing player colors:

Assign a Player Token to each player and place them all on the starting space of the Scoreboard. Take your favorite color.  Give the other players their least favorite colors.  This will throw them off their game.

It’s brilliant. (And props to the production of the game for player color cards so that the person keeping score can look over and easily see which scoring bit belongs to which player.)

OK, but let’s get to how it plays.  The game consists of three suits, with the card range varying upon player count.  At each count, there are two extra undealt cards and a varying number of “Pass” cards shuffled into the deck.

For determining the strongest suit, the game comes with three chonky gilded discs that are placed in a stack, and, if the rules are to be believed: This is the best part of the game. Seriously. Pay Attention.

The game starts with the discs in a random order, and when a suit wins a trick, its disc is moved to the bottom.  That is, if the discs are stacked yellow (bottom)/red (middle)/blue (top), then all blue cards are stronger than all red cards, which are stronger than all yellow cards.  (Yes, you must follow suit, though we’ll get to the pass card.)  If a red or blue card wins a trick, move that disc to the bottom.  If yellow wins, you move it to the bottom too, but it is already there. 

The game ends at the end of a round in which a player reaches 5 points, with 2 points bestowed each round to players that can win no tricks, and 1 point to players that can win a given number of tricks, that varies by player count (1, 2, or 3).  This is why the suit stack shines – you know you are trying to win zero tricks, but which cards are your low cards and which cards will be your low cards in the next trick and the trick after that.  Also, if you win 1 trick, it’s time to jump off this sinking ship and find something more stable: which card(s) can you win one or two more with?

So the timing is important. The suit stack can also feel chaotic – one of those game elements that presents with you the classic puzzle: is this game too random for me or have I simply not learned how to reign it in?  The confluence of all of this is where the pass cards come in. It’s a simple touch: if you don’t want to follow suit and you have a pass card in your hand, you can play it.  It gives you just a bit more control when you don’t want to follow suit.  It gives you a bit more of a push your luck mini-game deciding when is the right time to use it. It gives you a bit of deception for how your opponents interpret your card choice. 

As with many games, and more to the point here, many trick-taking games, BON is player count sensitive. The changes in my enjoyment of the plays aren’t from a change in my agency, or concerns about the deck composition, but the scoring gulf.  The 4 player game feels like it hits a Goldilocks spot, where I want to win exactly 0 or 2 tricks; if I accidentally win 1, ok, I accept my new mission to try to win exactly 1 more.  

In 3, the mission is a bit harder: win 0 or 3.  If you stick your nose out to get 1, you’re committed to exactly 2 more.  OK, I’m down for that.

But 5 is more of an explicit trick-avoidance game, with points awarded for winning no tricks or 1 trick.  But the setup (two points for no tricks, and one for one), give that one trick a sort of consolation prize feel.  Without that gap that a player needs to stride to hit the next scoring plateau, other than a few edge cases, players will never be trying to win any tricks.  I’m confident that makes a good game for some, but it’s a different experience than the one with the gap.

The rules say that the suit stack is the best part, but for me it’s managing that gap.  The tactical and strategic implications that the scoring rules impose on the stack.  I can’t win 1 trick, I need to win 0 or 2.  It’s like a fixed-number-of-tricks game, but without rule enforcement. It shines a bright light through the game play’s magnifying glass onto what can otherwise often be neglected: which of these low cards that I won’t ever need should I slough off this trick? Be careful in what you choose, as what remains could become trump!

The original Korean edition is essentially out of stock, but the Japanese game cafe Sunny Bird has recently announced a reprint.

regards,
James Nathan

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! James Nathan (4 player)
  • I like it.  James Nathan (3 player), John P
  • Neutral. 
  • Not for me…
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1 Response to BON (Boast or Nothing)

  1. Dan Blum says:

    I forgot to comment on this before publication because I had forgotten the name of the game and didn’t realize I had played it. I thought it was an interesting idea but in practice having a slightly strong hand seemed to mean that you could manipulate things to your benefit with no problems – it just didn’t seem challenging at all if you got decent hands (which I did) and no doubt seemed hopeless to everyone else. I guess I would rate it Neutral.

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