Five Three Five (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer:  Kenichi Kabuki
  • Publisher:  Portland Game Collective
  • Players:  2-6
  • Ages:  8 and Up
  • Time:  15-30 Minutes
  • Times Played: > 6

Five Three Five is a new climbing/shedding game from Portland Game Collective. Five Three Five was originally published in Japan in 2020 by Game Nowa. The game was a massive hit at the trick-taking convention back in January (even though it is technically not a trick taking game), and from my vantage point, was probably the most played game there.

There’s a simple reason why it was so popular: it is devilishly clever! This is simply one of the best climbing/shedding games I’ve played.

The big twist to traditional climbing shedding games is that, in addition to overplaying a meld, you can also add to the one on the table.  Don’t have a pair higher than 12s on the table? Just add a 12 to the meld. It is a fun new way to get rid of cards. But as explained below, it is not the only new addition to the game.  

Five Three Five was on Kickstarter a few months ago, but copies are being shipped now, and copies are available on the PGC site

The Gameplay

The deck consists of five each of the following numbers: 1-5, 7-9, 11-15. There are no 6s, or 10s, so the first run in the game is five long, the second is three, and the third is again five. Hence the name Five Three Five. (Despite my first guess, it has nothing to do with the number of members of Congress!)

Five Three Five can be played with player counts from 2-6 players, but the 2-player rules are beyond the scope of this review, and there are minor changes to deck makeup at different player counts.  Players also receive a different number of cards at each player count.

The lead player is who most recently checked the weather. They shuffle the cards, deal them out, and become the first player.

On a player’s turn, if there are no cards in the middle of the table, they can play one, two, or three cards to a meld. They can play a single (one card), a set (two or more cards of matching rank), or a run (two or more sequential cards).  

Players after this can either overwrite, add, or pass. Overwriting means playing the same number of cards as the central meld, and the same type (single, set, or run), over it.  For singles and sets, higher cards overwrite, but for runs lower does.  This is pretty comparable to what you’d expect in traditional climbing/shedding games.  (Note that, because players can never play more than three cards in one turn, if the central meld contains four cards, they can no longer overwrite it.)

The adding mechanic is what makes this game unique. Players can add 1, 2, or 3 cards to an existing meld. For example, for a run, they can add it on either (or both) ends of the run. For a set or single, they can add additional cards to it.  

Lastly, players can pass, which they typically only do if they cannot play.  Lead players cannot pass.  

A meld will clear when it hits a certain number of cards (all the cards in the game for a set, or 5 cards for a run) or when all players around the table pass and it gets back to who played it. At that time, the player may lead again.

Additionally, the 8s have a special rule: when they are used to override or add (but not lead), the meld will clear, giving that player a sort of bonus turn.

The goal is to get rid of cards. Each card is worth points — most are worth one or two points, but the 8s are worth five — when one player empties their hand. Players play until one player hits 20 points, at which time the lowest score wins. That normally takes 3-4 hands.  

My Thoughts on the Game

Our hobby loves what a friend of mine calls “the clever card game.” Every year or two one comes along — like Linko or Scout — that just catches the gaming zeitgeist. I predict Five Three Five will be such a game.

This clever and original game is an excellent addition to the climbing/shedding genre, which tends to be crowded with games that all have a similar feel. Five Three Five feels fresh, and it’s clear that a lot of thought went into its development.

Like other climbers/shedders, the premise of the game is simple: get rid of your cards.  But the “add” mechanic is either unique or relatively rare, and it is what makes the game so fun: there is something to do with every hand, and making the best use of your hand is how you score the lowest points.

The Rule of 8s also adds to the fun. Playing them at the right time can be helpful — in fact, it can be game winning – but they are also the most costly cards in the deck to be caught with, so they are a risky proposition. I’m still not sure whether to be thrilled or feel dreadful when I get a hand of them, and that is a good thing: Five Three Five eludes obviousness.  

I’ll admit that I was skeptical of the premise — taking the 6s and 10s out of the deck — but it is what makes the game work. Players easily remember that they’re not there (the “Five Three Five” name helps!) and have fun thinking through how to handle the fact that there are essentially three sub-sets of cards in the game.  

Five Three Five is exceptionally well produced.  Sai Beppu’s art is eye-popping. The game comes in a right-sized container. The rules are clear, as are the player aids. The components for tracking score look nice and are a good addition. The adjustments for player count all make sense. You can tell that this was PGC’s work of love. The developers (Lee Gianou and Ryan Campbell) deserve kudos for their work here.

Overall, I’m highly impressed. I’ll be genuinely surprised if this isn’t wildly popular at the Gathering of Friends and other upcoming game conventions. As I said above, there is always room in this hobby for the clever card game. And this is the next one.  Five Three Five is simply a delight to play, the sort of thing that works with families and gamers alike.  

Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:

Mitchell: (10 plays) 535 is an excellent, accessible, and highly enjoyable card game. It’s quick to learn, great fun to play, and poses interesting decisions every step of the way. It also works very well with 2 players.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris, Mitchell
  • I like it. John P, Jonathan F., Tery, Jim
  • Neutral. 
  • Not for me… 
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3 Responses to Five Three Five (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  1. Lee says:

    WOW! Chris! Wow wow wow! Thank you. That doesn’t even remotely cover my gratitude, but I don’t know how to properly express it. I’m glad you enjoy FTF so much! When I initially read it was a favorite at T8 (can’t believe I missed!), I was ecstatic. I hope you continue to enjoy your plays! 2 player is my favorite, but also 3,4,5 and 6. 😂

    I just think this is an oft-missed beaut of a design from Japan by Mr kabuki and Sai! I just wanted to do my part in making it available for people to experience and hopefully end up with that same thought. .

    You’re the best Chris. Thank you again.

  2. Steve Marano says:

    Writing this while anxiously awaiting my Kickstarter copy of Five Three Five which is in the mail. Can’t think of a more deserving game of such a favorable review. I’ve been play-testing Five Three Five using a mockup from a Badger Deck and for us it sits right up there as one of the best if not our favorite new ladder/climbing game. I’ve tried this at two, four and six player counts and it works great at all of them. And I wanted to mention one additional thing that I believe only further demonstrates the value of the game. We’ve tried a team-based version of Five Three Five by adopting the excellent scoring mechanism employed in another great new climbing game: Bacon. All I can say is that IMHO Five Three Five works extremely well played as a team-based game as well. I’m not in any way suggesting this to diminish the published individual-player format of the game, which remains the best way to play. But if you’re looking for a refreshing change of pace, I’d suggest trying the team version as well. It works very well as both a 2vs2 and 3vs3 game, but particularly so with the latter. In fact, my family actually slightly prefers the team-based game with six players because it introduces some additional tactical considerations, and reduces somewhat the slightly more ‘chaotic’ nature of Five Three Five when played the standard free-for-all way at the maximum player count.

    I was a little hesitant to suggest a variant for a game that technically is only now being commercially released, but I wanted to share how much we’ve enjoyed Five Three Five no matter what format we’ve tried. And regardless of how we choose to play going forward, I can state with confidence that Five Three Five is going to become the standard way that we kick off our family game nights for the forseeable future!

    A footnote: if you’re interested in learning a little more about the way we play the team variant, I’ve posted a thread about it on the Five Three Five forum on BoardGameGeek. This is by no means an attempt to self-promote anything. I’ve left a short post there simply to let people know about another way they can enjoy this great new game.

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