Dale Yu: Review of Nirvana

Nirvana

  • Designer: Chikasuzu
  • Players: 2-6
  • Age: 8+
  • Time: 15-20 min
  • Played with review copy provided by Korea Boardgame

nirvana

Roll and Write Daifugo was one of the surprising hits from last year for me.  After playing James Nathan’s copy (imported from Japan, of course), I fell in love with the game.  As I tried to source my own copy, it became apparent that Korea Board Games was planning a new (and hopefully improved version), and I tried to get myself to be patient enough to wait for that release.  The basics of the game are the same, but there is an addition of rule cards which can be used to change the feel of the game each time.  The scoring sheet is also slightly different to allow for these new rules changes.

The game has two phases.  The first feels like a traditional roll and write game.  The second is a single hand of a climbing game, like Tichu, the Great Dalmuti or President.  What?  How are those two things combined?  Read on my friend…

 

Before you start, decide whether you will play with the Insight cards or not. If you choose to play with these, shuffle the deck of 24 Insight cards and then randomly draw 3 of them, placing them face up where all can see.  The rules on these three cards will be in effect for all players for this particular game. 

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Each player gets a score sheet.  They are all identical with a vaguely diamond shaped array of circles, split up into twelve groups of 3 (notified by color).  There are 14 arrows that go through this array, and each circle is only part of a single arrow path.  Each arrow points at a white card shape, and as you might expect, as you fill in the circles, you’ll add up the numbers on an arrow to generate a number.  There is a grid of 14 cards in the bottom right, which you’ll fill in with the same numbers as you have put in the individual card spaces.  There are four extra spaces below this to be used if the Insight cards require them.  Finally, in the upper right, there is an area with three +/- 1 spaces which can be crossed out as necessary. 

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On a turn, any player takes the 3d6 and rolls them, announcing the numbers out loud.  Players then use these three numbers to fill in any one colored grouping of circles.  At any point in this phase, you can modify a die roll by +/- 1, so long as you check off one of the +/- 1 spaces in the upper right of your sheet.  You can even modify the same die more than once as long as you have enough changes left.  This is repeated twelve times until the grid is full.  Now, each of the 14 arrows on the board is summed and the number placed in the card shape that the arrow points to.  Players can then transpose these numbers into their card grid in the lower left, taking the time to organize them.

 

In the second phase, you now use your hand of 14 cards to play a climbing card game. It’s a version of the common Japanese game, Daifugo. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daifug%C5%8D)  In this climbing game, players can only play sets – that is single cards, pairs, three-of-a-kinds, four-of-a-kinds, etc.  It is not allowed to play runs.  The first lead goes to the player who has the lowest number in the left most circle on their diamond array; this could be as low as -2 (if a 1 was rolled and then modified by -1 three times).  That player states what card combination he is playing, then crosses those cards off of his hand.  The next player can either pass (and be out for the rest of the trick) or play a higher combination of cards that match the type led.  That is, if the lead is a pair, all combinations played this trick must also be a pair.

 

Once all players but one have passed, the player left (who played the highest combination) “wins” the trick and then leads the next trick – again being free to choose whatever size set to play.  The game continues until one player has played all the cards from his hand (at least 14, but can be more due to the possible rules on the Insight cards), and that player is the winner!  That’s it.  There is no tiebreaker needed as only one player can go out first.

 

My thoughts on the game

 

I have been fascinated by this little game since I first played the original version. For me, it is a great combination of two of my favorite genres/mechanisms – and I can’t stop thinking about how to play it better.    

 

In the first phase, there are all sorts of different ways to play it.  Do you go for the highest possible singles and pairs to make sure that you have winning combinations of the most commonly led sets?  Do you try to get as many cards of a single number as possible?  (Once I had eight “7”s…).  When do you choose to use your +/- 1s?  Early on to ensure the max repetitions of a certain number?  Or do you try to save them for the end to protect against a disastrous roll?  Having the lead is always a powerful thing in a climbing game, but can you afford to wait until the last roll to fill in that spot?  Do you put a 1 in that space and hope it’s enough?  There are so many ways to try to play it, and so many ways that your plan can fall apart because the dice don’t go your way.

The addition of the Insight cards further complicates matters.  Each game is a little different, and you have to remember the rules!  Sometimes you’ll generate extra numbers, not based on the arrows but on other shapes in the grid.  Sometimes you’ll be able to automatically cancel some of your cards based on how you filled in the grid – so this may prompt you to put specific numbers in specific places.  There is even one particularly fun (evil) card that says you automatically lose if you create a card with value “13”!

 

Once you get into the climbing game, there are fewer decision points – though the Insight cards may again change the way you approach this phase.  Like most climbing games, the trick is figuring out when you want to play, how to get rid of your losers and how to gain control of the lead and then have cards left that will let you get out of the hand.  The trickiest thing for me is that you can really not be certain of what other people have.  There’s no set distribution of cards!  I guess you know that the highest possible single is a 33, the highest possible pair or trips would be a 31.  But, there is an art trying to figure out if your pair of 18s is going to be good enough to win a trick or not – especially near the start of the game.  

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Be wary of Insight cards which change the way cards are played.  Sometimes, an 8 is a guaranteed winner!  Sometimes value X can be played as value Y.  Sometimes a certain number can be played with a virtual copy of itself.  Sometimes, if you play a 20, you’re allowed to cross out cards off your sheet!  The rules change each game, and they are known at the start of the game to everyone – so you just have to keep them in mind as you both fill in your grid and then as you choose which cards to play.

 

As far as the components, there’s not much to mention. There’s a pad of scoresheets, three generic d6, 24 Insight cards and some pencils.  It’s functional, but that’s really about all that could or should be said about it.

 

I have now played with 2 to 6 players so far, and I still don’t know how I feel about it at 6.  The climbing part of the game is quite unpredictable, and with a larger player count, you might not even be able to participate in half of the tricks.  At that count, the game seems like it would be more of a random crapshoot about the timing of when someone gets the lead, and it’s much harder to predict that with six players.  (Well, at least that’s what I think based on my many many internal thought experiments about it).   If nothing else, I’d think very hard about trying to make a negative 2 to get the lead in the card playing phase!

 

The best thing for me, the whole game is over in under 15 minutes – which gives you time for a five minute discussion about what you could have done better, and then everyone gets a new scoresheet and does it again!  This is one of my favorite games of the pandemic, and I’m super glad to have this new version.  I can play the original Roll and Write Daifugo if I want, but the addition of the Insight cards is a vast improvement for me – making each game a new challenge.  This is definitely a roll and write that will need laminated sheets as we will surely play though the included pad soon.

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Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Dan B:I’ve played the original game several times but don’t have an actual copy of it. I definitely want to get one and the fact that it will come with the cards to change things up is a bonus.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Dale Y, John P
  • I like it. Steph, James Nathan, Dan B
  • 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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