Dale Yu: Review of Anansi

Anansi

  • Designers: Cyril Blondel and Jim Dratwa
  • Publisher: Heidelbaer
  • Players: 3-5
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Heidelbaer / Asmodee USA – also played 10+ times on original version, Eternity (2016)

anansi

Anansi is a remake of a little known game Eternity, first published in 2016.  We reviewed the game back then – but for whatever reason, the game never got a lot of attention.  Like a lot of games here, it had a good number of plays when it first arrived, but then it slipped to the back shelves of the gameroom as newer games arrived to take its place.  I’m glad to say that this new release has rekindled my interest in the game.

From the publisherm the new theme is: “Some say Anansi is a trickster, but he is a spider for sure and sometimes even a man. Let me tell you why he is also known as the “Keeper of Stories”: One day, Anansi decided to gather all stories and become the wisest of all. After many years, he finally had all the stories in the world, but poor Anansi did not feel any wiser. Eventually he realized that true wisdom is not achieved by keeping knowledge to yourself, so he decided to share his stories and inspire people with them — and believe it or not, that was how this game was made!

anansi in play

In the trick-taking card game Anansi, you have to be smart about which tricks you are trying to get. Each trick represents a story, but stories untold are worth only a little. If you can acquire followers — by playing a card not to the trick, but for its indicated number of followers — you can match up your followers with stories to inspire them, and inspiring all your followers should always be your goal because this grants you the trickster’s favor and sweet bonus points.“

Anansi is played with a bunch of cards, all a shiny pink foil on the back.  There are 42 Story cards, the cards you will play with.  There are 3 Trump cards – They are placed in random order in a horizontal line on the table.  The 36 Follower cards have a shiny pink side and a plain black a white side.  They are placed off to the side in a deck.  Finally, there are 15 Trickster Bonus cards, 5 each of three values: 2, 5, and 7.  Sort them by type. 

anansi cards

The 42 Story cards has three suits each containing cards numbered 1-14.  The three suits represent different animals: Leopard (pink), Hornet (yellow) and Snake (teal). In the 5-player game, each player gets 8 cards, and in the 4-player game, each player gets 10.  The 3-player game is dealt as with 4-players, but the 10 unallocated cards normally given to the fourth player are put in a face up display – out of play, but available for all to see for card counting purposes.  

The remaining two story cards are put under the matching colored trump card on the table. .  The trump suit will always be the suit with the most cards underneath its trump card.  In the event of a tie, the leftmost suit wins.  Note that as cards are added to this display, the trump suit can and will change.

In general, Anansi follows usual trick taking rules: you must follow if you can, and the highest card wins, unless there’s a trump, in which case, the highest trump wins.  In this game, if you can’t follow the lead suit, you must play a trump card if you have one.  If you don’t have one, you can then play a card of your choice.  

There is one big deviation from normal trick taking rules though – while the first player must always lead, later players get an interesting choice: play a card into the trick, possibly winning it, or instead, they can gain followers.  Followers are essentially a bet that you will win a matching number of tricks this round.. To gain followers, you play your card down sideways – it is not part of the trick.  Based on the card played, you’ll receive 0, 1, or 2 follower cards (icons seen under the rank of the card, and the higher ranks lead to more followers) which represent tricks you should try to take.  Only one player can pledge during each trick in the 3- and 4-player games; only two players can pledge during each trick in 5-player games.

The card used to gain followers gets added to the trump display, and the suit with the most cards in it becomes the trump for the next trick.  In other words, trump will shift mid-hand, but not mid-trick.  When the trick is taken, it is flipped upside down, and players inspire followers with this story by by placing a follower card on a trick taken, now displaying its pink shiny side.  

At the conclusion of the hand, the round is scored by comparing the number of tricks taken to the number of follower cards acquired.  If you get more tricks than follower cards, you score get a point for each follower card – take them and put them in your scoring stack.  .  If, however, you had more followers than tricks won, you get zero points – take all of your follower cards and return them to the supply.  If you exactly match your followers to your tricks, you get Trickster bonus points (take the bonus card for this round) plus points for each trick you took. The Trickster bonus is two points for the first round, then four points for the second round, then seven points for the third round.

The player with the highest score at the end of three rounds wins the game.  

PXL_20210514_000545767

There are rules for four other versions online – including a solo and 2-player variant, but I’ve not tried them.

My thoughts on the game

Anansi remains an intriguing trick-taker for sure.  The mutable trump suit makes it very difficult to formulate a concrete plan from the start – you really have to be able to shift gears mid-hand as the circumstances change.  The key moments here involve the followers – this generates the most interesting decisions. 

You will normally try to get followers in order to get the cards you need to qualify for the Trickster bonus.  You also may end up changing the trump suit, sometimes a good thing, and sometimes not.  There is also a chance that you play for followers in order to play defensively – i.e. pledging with a low card that doesn’t give you tree tokens only to prevent a player later in turn order from doing so.  You weren’t going to win the trick anyways, but this might prevent someone else from getting the followers they need.   Near the end of the round, sometimes you can change the trump suit only to try to screw up other player’s plans…

It is definitely an interesting balance between trying to find time/cards to gain followers while still keeping enough cards in reserve to win the needed tricks.  And then, once you’ve gotten on your way, the Pinochle style rules (i.e. must trump if you can) make it quite difficult to be sure about not taking unwanted tricks near the end of the hand.  And, of as I mentioned earlier, an unexpected change in trump can suddenly change the relative strength of your hand!

It is worth noting that the player count in the game can definitely change how it plays – it is almost a different game with 3p as opposed to 5p.  In a 5p game, there are only 8 tricks each round.  There are actually more chances to gain followers as two players can do so in any trick (thus 16 total chances instead of 10). However, the game seems a bit more unpredictable with the higher player count.  I wouldn’t say that any player count is better, but they all clearly play a little different, and each gives different problems to solve.

Though the components are a little different, this is essentially a reprint with no changes in the rules.  In the new version, some of the components (board and chits) have been replaced by cards – such that the only component in the new version are cards.  I was a bit worried about the shiny backs on the cards, but after a few games, they do not show any signs of wear which I was worried about.  The vibrant colors of the pink cards is definitely unique, though I personally wish that the different types of cards had different colors – this would have made it easier to sort the cards later.  I also think a contrasting foil color for the follower cards would have made it easier to glance at your tricks to see which ones were covered with inspired followers and which were not.  (Of course, I have no idea whether this is even an economically feasible idea – so there may be a completely reasonable reason why all the cards had to be pink…)  

PXL_20210514_000548784

As it stands now, I deviate a bit from the rules and keep all my collected followers off to the side, and then when I want to cover a trick, I use the inactive (black and white) side, so that I can quickly see which tricks are covered and which aren’t.  This system has worked well in our group and I think we’ll continue with this in the future.

Thus far, I have really enjoyed both Anasi and Eternity, and it looks to be one of those “quirky” trick-takers that will stay in the collection because there’s nothing else quite like it in the collection.  I’ll definitely be keeping one of them – though likely for me it will be the original as I prefer the darker, less shiny coloring scheme.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Chris W (rating based on Eternity)
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral.
  • 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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