American Bookshop Card Game (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer: Taiki Shinzawa
  • Publisher: Twins Lion Do; Geeks N’ Orcs
  • Players: 3-5
  • Ages: 8 and up
  • Time: 30-50 Minutes
  • Times Played: > 5

Trick taking is a hot genre in gaming right now.  After the success of The Crew, gamers have a renewed interest in this classic card game mechanism.  We’ve seen growth in the Trick-Taking Guild, which now has hundreds of members.  

But while Europe and North America continue to churn out a few trick takers each year, the real innovation is coming from Japan, which sees the release of dozens of titles annually.  And perhaps no Japanese designer has affected trick taking (and climbing games) as much as Taiki Shinzawa, who has generated considerable buzz with innovative titles such as Ambiente Abissal, Time Palatrix (being released as Ghosts of Christmas), Maskmen, §egment Trix, and Zimbabwee Trick. He’s a trick-taking rock star, recently becoming the first designer to be nominated for back-to-back Golden Trickster awards by the Trick-Taking Guild (with American Bookshop Card Game being nominated last year, and §egment Trix being nominated this year). Whenever one of his new trick-taking games gets announced, a few of us who are fans take note.    

American Bookshop Card Game itself has been a hit among fans of trick taking.  There have already been a few printings, including a new version in Brazil called Corta.  But it has been notably difficult to get a copy in the United States, as is often the case with small-print Japanese games.  But the game is now on Kickstarter, so I thought I’d write a review.  

The Gameplay

Thematically, the cards in American Bookshop Card Game represent books.  The backstory is that the game was invented because a bookshop owner confiscated the designer’s card deck, so he invented a trick-taking game that could be played with books.  

American Bookshop is a no-trump, must-follow trick taking game.  There are four suits with cards going from 0-11, but with two 0s in each suit.  

The catch is that a trick doesn’t necessarily end after all players have played into the trick: a trick can end early if a player crosses a pre-set limit (14 in 3-player games; 16 in 4-player games; and 17 in 5-player games).  The person that causes a trick to break this limit — or the highest card of suit led if all players stay at or below the limit — takes the trick. The result of tricks ending early is that players can have different numbers of cards in their hand as the round progresses.  

The round ends when a player has no cards left.  At that point, each card is minus one point, unless a player has sole plurality in a suit, in which case those cards are positive one point.  (If players tie, then they both get negative points for that suit.) 

But before players calculate pluralities and points, players with cards remaining in their hands can simultaneously reveal them and add them to their captured cards.  

Players play an equal number of rounds to the number of players.  Highest score wins.  

My Thoughts on the Game

This is an extremely clever, easy-to-learn, and fun-to-play trick taking game.  I recently taught it to a new group, and they described it as having the smoothness of classic trick taking games while also feeling deeply innovative.  This is one of my favorite of Taiki Shinzawa’s designs.  With a few more plays, I could see it entering my list of all-time favorite trick-takers.  

To me, trick taking games often suffer from one of two major problems: (1) a feeling of obviousness, or (2) a feeling of chaos.  American Bookshop suffers from neither of those defects, and that is what makes it a great game.  Each card matters — you want neither all high cards, nor all low cards — and the scoring mechanic ensures every trick is filled with tense decisions.  

All trick-taking games feel a little interactive, but this feels deeply interactive, as players compete for the majorities.  Winning requires positive points, with scores generally being in the double digits, so it isn’t enough to just avoid tricks here: you have to plan to take at least one suit where you can to harvest positive points.  

There aren’t other trick-taking games that use the central mechanics here — either the trick limits, or the scoring — so this deserves a spot in each trick taking collection.  My compliments to Taiki Shinzawa for creating yet another clever design.  

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Chris Wray, Rand
  • I like it. 
  • Neutral. 
  • Not for me…
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