- Designer: Heidelbaer Games Team
- Publisher: Heidelbaer Games
- Players: 3-5
- Age: 10+
- Time: 20 minutes
- Played with advance copy provided by publisher as well as online during their online convention
Blaze is a modified version of Durak – which according to Wikipedia is: “is a traditional Russian card game that is popular in many post-Soviet states. It is Russia’s most popular card game, having displaced Preferans. It has since become known in other parts of the world. The objective of the game is to shed all one’s cards when there are no more cards left in the deck. At the end of the game, the last player with cards in their hand is the durak or ‘fool’. The game is attributed to have appeared in late 18th century Russian Empire and was popularized by Imperial Army conscripts during the 1812 Russo-French war. Initially a social pastime of uneducated peasants and industrial workers, after the October Revolution Durak has spread to numerous social levels by mid-20th century to soon become the most popular Soviet card game.”
Blaze adds on a scoring system and a bit more structure to the game. Blaze is played in two rounds – each round has a set of scoring cards which are laid out at the start of the game. There will be enough scoring cards for everyone except for one player to gain one in each round.
The playing card deck here is 60 cards, three suits (red, blue and yellow), each with 2 copies of numbers 1 to 9 and a un-numbered Firebird card. To start the game, this deck is shuffled, each player is dealt a hand of 5 cards, and then the remainder is split approximately into two halves. One half is set aside for the second round. The other half, which is used in the first round, has the top card flipped over and placed underneath the deck. This revealed card shows the trump suit for the entire first round.
Again, the game is played in two rounds, each with two phases. In the first phase, players try to modify the cards in their hand in preparation for the second phase where they try to empty their card as quickly as possible. The only difference in the two rounds of the game is that the point cards are more valuable in the second round.
Each turn in the game consists of a challenge. And to prevent confusion (which I had a lot in my first few games), let me describe a few turns. The active player is called the Challenger, and this player will be the one to initiate a challenge (duh). The next player clockwise is called the Target player, and this player will be defending the challenge. The next player further clockwise is called the Supporter, and this player will be able to assist the Challenger during this turn. So in a four player game:
Target + + (4th player)
So, in a round, the Challenger must challenge the Target. To do so, the Challenger plays one or more cards of matching value on the table. They do not have to be the same suit. The target player must now decide to defend or pass. If he wants to defend, he must reject the cards in the challenge. To do so, he places cards from his hand directly opposite the challenging cards – but these cards must be a card of the same suit of equal or higher value OR any card of the trump suit. Note that Firebird cards have varying values – they are worth 10 when played by the Challenger but worth 0 when played as a rejection card by the Target player. Each card in the challenge must be rejected.
Sounds easy so far, right? Well, it gets a bit more complicated. First, the Challenger can extend the challenge at any time by adding more cards from their hand. Extending cards must be either the same rank as the original challenge or matching in rank to any of the cards played by the target player. There is a limit of 5 cards played in a challenge. Second, the Supporter player can jump in at any time and extend the challenge as well – following the same rules as above. However, if there is a timing conflict, the Challenger gets priority on playing cards first to a challenge.
Whenever the Challenger (and Supporter) are done playing cards to the challenge, the Target must decide to either Reject or pass. To reject, the challenging cards must be individually rejected with a equal/higher card of the same suit or with a trump card. If all the cards are rejected (and the Challenger/supporter) choose not to extend the challenge, the challenge ends and all cards played are discarded. Then, starting with the Challenger, players draw back up to 5 cards in their hand. Each player must finish drawing all their cards before the next player clockwise starts to draw theirs. If the challenge was successfully defended, then the roles shift one space clockwise, and the previous target player becomes the Challenger, and he now challenges the player to his left.
However, it may turn out that the Target is unable or chooses not to reject the challenge – and in this case, he passes. If he passes, he must take all the cards played in this challenge into his hand. To add insult to injury, if you pass, the Challenger and the Supporter can still choose to play valid cards out of their hand to extend the challenge to its maximum 5 cards. After the pass, all players draw back up to 5 cards (it is likely that the Target does not need to draw), and then the current Target player skips his next turn. Thus, the Supporter in this turn becomes the next Challenger, and the game goes on.
The first phase continues in this pattern until the draw deck is exhausted. The face up trump card will also be drawn as the last card. Players should remember the color of the card as it will no longer be visible, yet that color will be trump in the second phase of this round. As players must finish their drawing from the deck before the next player draws, it is possible that some players will end the first phase with fewer than 5 cards in their hand.
In the second phase of the round, the goal is to get rid of the cards in your hand as quickly as possible. Whenever you play your last card, you take the highest valued VP card on the table at the time. Before play starts in this round though, bets are placed. Each player has a set of betting cards, and you must place a bet facedown in front of the player that you think will be last to empty their hand. You may not bet on yourself, so if you really think that you’re going to be last, you should use your 0 card and place it in front of one of your opponents.
The turn order is determined by the final challenge of the first phase. The challenger makes a challenge and it is played in a slightly different manner. The target player must let everyone know how many cards he has, and if it is less than 5, that number becomes the maximum size of the challenge. At the resolution of the challenge, players do NOT draw cards back into their hands (this is easy to remember as there isn’t a draw deck!) – though players that are forced to pass on a challenge must still take up all the cards played in said challenge.
After a challenge, if a player is out of cards, they immediately take the highest available VP card and places it in their scoring pile. If multiple players are out of cards at the same time, cards are taken in clockwise order starting with the current Challenger. Also, in the rare case that a player has no cards in hand at the start of the second phase, they immediately take a VP card before the first challenge even happens. When a player takes a VP card for the round, they are no longer involved, and their table position is skipped when determining player roles.
The round ends when only one player is left holding cards – and that player loses the round. Now it is time to resolve the bets. If you are the loser, you must return all the bets in front of you to their owners, and they add these cards to their scoring pile. If you were not the loser, you can to keep any bets placed in front of you, and you add those to your own scoring pile. You must return any “0” bets to their owners.
Play a second round using the other half of the deck and using the more valuable scoring cards for the round. At the end of the second round, players total all their scoring cards (collected VP cards as well as bid cards) and the player with the most points wins. If there is a tie, it is broken in favor of the player with the highest scoring VP card from the second round.
My thoughts on the game
Blaze is a game unlike any that I have played before – even though it is one of the most popular games in Russia, it was completely foreign to me, and I’ll admit that it took me a few rounds to even figure out the weird timing of the game.
What took me awhile to figure out is that the whole first round is just a positioning exercise. You are cycling through cards as you are playing, trying to improve on your hand so that you can get out of the second phase as quick as possible. You might be trying to draw and accumulate high cards in your hand so that you can either effectively attack or defend – as you are limited to playing cards in a challenge of a single rank or those that the target has played; it is helpful to have pairs and trips in your starting hand for the second phase. There may even be times when you try to engineer a play so that you draw to less than 5 to end the phase – which also obviously puts you at an advantage when starting the next phase…
As I haven’t played any other game quite like it, I really had no framework for an initial strategy. So, my first few games have just been trying different things out. You know, as the joke goes, “In Russia, you do not play Blaze, instead Blaze plays you”… I have found it helpful to try to collect trump cards and multiples in my hand – even if this means that I have more than 5 cards to end the first phase.
Given the values of the VP cards (max 4VP in the first round and 5VP in the second round), the main focus should be on going out early in the second phase. But, it makes the 1VP bid cards enough to make a difference, and players that can make canny bids can often improve their relative standing in the final point totals.
It has been fun trying to learn a game that I haven’t encountered before. One thing that I’ve noticed so far though is that it seems that whoever is the “loser” of the first round has almost no chance of winning the game – well at least in the games that I’ve been involved in. Sure, the VP cards in the second round are worth one point more per position, so there is a chance, but it almost requires a perfect storm of things to happen. We’ll have to see if anyone is ever able to dig themselves out of this hole.
I assume that this game will eventually come out in a foil box and with foil cards to join the other cards in this line from Heidelbaer, and I look forward to seeing it in that final format. At this point, I’m honestly not sure what to think about the game – I still really feel like I don’t have a great strategy for it yet (due to its foreign-ness), but I said the same thing about Doppelkopf and Schafkopf when I learned those – and I have come to enjoy those games as well. I’ll probably give it another try in the future but it seems pretty fragile from my first few plays.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Dan Blum: I played this on BoardgameArena when it was up briefly for TriCon. Or rather, I played half a game, as no one much wanted to play the second half. The first phase of each half has very little control, and seems to be more about timing when you get decent cards; getting good cards early is not helpful as you will have to attack with them. Even worse, it drags on interminably. We were told later we were playing it wrong (in terms of approach, not rules, since the rules were of course enforced by BGA) and there is actually strategy in the first phase. Perhaps, but if the game makes that poor a first impression, who’s going to play it again to try to get better at it? Not me.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it.
- Neutral. Dale Y
- Not for me. Dan Blum