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Showing posts with label Cribbage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cribbage. Show all posts

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Review: Chicago Cribbage

Chicago Cribbage is a 2007 title by Outset Media for two to four players.  It requires a cribbage board (not provided) and familiarity with the traditional game of cribbage.  It comes with its own deck of conventional playing cards plus 28 "Chicago Cards" that modify the game of cribbage.  In a sense, Chicago Cribbage can really be thought of as a "cribbage expansion" deck.

Full disclosure:  Outset Media gave me a review copy of Chicago Cribbage.  No other consideration was given associated with this review.

[Since Chicago Cribbage is intended for players already familiar with cribbage, I refer to standard cribbage terms and rules without definition in this review.]

And a rather handsomely printed deck of cards it is, too.  The playing cards that come with Chicago Cribbage are designed with a font and art deco style reminiscent of 1920s Chicago.  The face cards and aces feature mob characters and icons representing the period.  Overall the game presents a rather nice look and feel just in the conventional deck of cards itself.

The real innovation in the game comes in the form of the additional "Chicago cards," which add a new dimension to the familiar game of cribbage.  Each player starts with a fixed set of seven Chicago cards, each of which may be used only once in the course of the entire cribbage game.  There are two opportunities during a hand of cribbage where a Chicago card can be put into play.  The first is immediately after the deal (before players place cards in the crib), at which point any player may play a "Deal Again" card.  The second opportunity comes immediately after the cut (when the "starter" card is revealed but before any play starts), at which point a player may play one of any of the other possible Chicago cards - "Cut Again," "Trade Hands," "No Fifteens," or "Reverse Counting."

As you might expect, "Deal Again," "Cut Again" (which forces cutting a new starter card) and "Trade Hands" can be played to change the cards that you have to work with.  "No Fifteens" and "Reverse Counting" affect scoring of the current hand.  "No Fifteens" affects all players (including the one who played it); when played, combinations that add to fifteen are worth no points - not when playing cards, nor when scoring hands, nor when scoring the crib.  When "Reverse Counting" is played, all opponents hands (and crib, if the dealer is an opponent) score negative points, but one's own scoring is unaffected.

At first, incorporating the additional Chicago cards takes some getting used to.  The two opportunities to play Chicago cards come almost as interruptions to the normal flow of a cribbage game, at least at first to the conventional cribbage player.  Once the Chicago cards become familiar, however, the opportunities to play them are anticipated and become a natural part of the flow of the game.  We found that when a hand is first dealt, the first thought isn't, "what should I put in the crib" but, "should I play the 'Deal Again' card?"

Likewise, after the cut, players start to evaluate the cut and the cards in hand against one's remaining Chicago card options.  A player holding several fives might benefit from a "Cut Again" in hopes of bringing up a face card as the starter.  Or if an opponent has built a big lead, it may be time to play "Reverse Counting."

We found that the Chicago cards nicely mitigate card luck, which had been a rather significant factor in our previous conventional sessions of cribbage.  A standard cribbage game requires some basic tactics to make the most of the cards that are dealt, but once dealt, the course of a hand is confined to the available cards.  Chicago Cribbage adds several opportunities to make up for bad card luck - but only a few opportunities, so the player must apply them judiciously.

Timing of Chicago card play can be crucial.  In one game, when my wife had built a big lead and I had the deal, I decided to wait to play "Reverse Counting" until she had the deal and the crib, when I figured the effect of the card would be greater.  But instead she scored so high during my deal that she ended up within pegging distance of winning the game.  Since "Reverse Counting" only affects hand and crib scoring (not pegging from card play), she was able to win the game on the next hand regardless of the card I played - a valuable lesson in timing.

We found that Chicago Cribbage is better suited to a full 121-point cribbage game, less so the shorter 61-point version.  It takes the full length of a 121-point game to force careful consideration of when to play a Chicago card, since there are only one or two of each available, and each can be played only once.  Most of them came into play over the course of a 121-point game, whereas they seemed underutilized and less tactically demanding in the shorter 61-point game.

One dimension that Chicago Cribbage adds is a certain poker-like element of trying to read one's opponent's reaction to his or her cards.  If I'm dealt a hand and react too enthusiastically, I can expect my opponent to play "Trade Hands" to take advantage of whatever got me so excited.  Similarly, if my opponent seems pleased with the starter card that is cut, I might consider playing "Cut Again" just to thwart whatever benefit he or she saw in that starter.

All of the games played for this review were in the standard two-player format, but Chicago Cribbage comes with enough Chicago cards to be played with three or four players as well (just as standard cribbage can be).  

Chicago Cribbage is a clever addition of a new dimension to conventional cribbage.  It spices up an old familiar game in a new and challenging way.  Purists might object to introducing new gameplay elements to a time-honored standard (like some chess variants, for example), so I wouldn't recommend it for those who like their cribbage "just fine the way it is, thank you."  For those who have played "the old cribbage" but find it a little dry and uninteresting, however, Chicago Cribbage provides a new element of strategy and thought, perhaps more in keeping with the kind of decision-making and gameplay that characterize more contemporary board and card games.  I would especially recommend Chicago Cribbage if you have a cribbage board gathering dust in a drawer or closet and vague memories of enjoying cribbage but never recently including it in your list of, "so what should we play today?"

I should add that my wife and I are divided on whether Outset Media ought to consider offering Chicago Cribbage as a complete set, with cribbage rules and board provided.  My wife feels that Outset Media could expand its customer base and broaden interest in cribbage by offering the game in a form that players can learn from scratch.  For my part, I'm skeptical that the game would work as a way of learning cribbage itself; to me, the appeal of the product is in bringing new life to an old familiar game.

Chicago Cribbage is recommended for ages 10 and up (although Outset Media's "cribbage game" web page lists it as "8+").  Frankly, the age recommendation is irrelevant; if you are familiar with cribbage, you can play Chicago Cribbage.

Outset Media doesn't sell games from their website but refers customers to independent retailers across North America and provides a toll-free phone number to inquire about finding a local retailer.  I did find that Chicago Cribbage is available at Amazon for $9.99.

Friday, October 8, 2010

More playing than designing this week

All week I've been coming home from my paying job and unwinding by playing games rather than buckling down and working on my submarine game. 

Image courtesy of
Rio Grande Games
Yesterday Kathy and I played Puerto Rico, inspired perhaps earlier this week by Race for the Galaxy, which is similar in concept though considerably more complex (to us) in execution.  PR is one of our favorites.  It's actually designed for three to five players.  We adopted the two-player variant that appears in a solitaire rules set called "SoloPlay Rules," which works well for us.

I used to approach PR with a rigid strategy in mind - either grow lots of cheap crops and ship them like a madman, or focus on generating income and go heavy on buildings.  I've since learned that a semi-flexible strategy is important, as is paying attention to what roles benefit one's opponent(s) as much as or more than oneself.  I have a hard time articulating my strategic approach to PR better than that, so perhaps it's worth some thought and a subsequent post ... and perhaps some research first into what others have written on PR.

In yesterday's session, Kathy picked up a hospice early, as well as a couple of quarries and a few corn plantations, so I was afraid she'd be off to the races. I had a small start in indigo but went pretty long in sugar. I picked up both small and large markets, so I had some good cash coming in, enough later to buy the fortress and city hall. Kathy got tobacco production going but could only sell it once or twice. She picked up the guild hall very late, but my building points ended up carrying me by three points at the end.

This afternoon was an absolutely perfect fall day, so Kathy lit a fire in the fire bowl in the back yard, I made some drinks, and we sat out and played a couple of games of cribbage.  That game was quite popular on my boat when I was in the Navy (and holds a submarine tradition going way back to World War II).  Nowadays, I find it a nice diversion.  I have to say that my opponent today is distractingly better looking and much more pleasant company than were my opponents aboard ship.

I picked up a copy of Castle Panic (designed by Justin de Witt, published by Fireside Games) today on the recommendation of my son, who came home after a game session raving about it.  We tried it as a family game after dinner tonight, and we picked it up pretty quick.  I think the cooperative aspect of this game works well for us as a family, once we have the "game courtesy protocol" established (no touching pieces on other people's turns, etc).  We players won against the monsters, and my youngest son emerged as the Master Slayer with 16 points.

This nice discovery of Castle Panic (thanks to Spike and Mary) comes serendipitously after my posting earlier this week in which I expressed concern about the approachability of games in their first playing.  CP turned out to be very intuitive and straightforward in its execution, and therefore easy to learn in the first play-through.  Now, it is a relatively simple game by any measure.  Still, I think its construct is conceptually transparent, so that individual quirks and capabilities of unique monsters and action cards could be learned one at a time as they came up.  We could learn each new capability as it emerged and accommodate it into our overall understanding of the game without the frustration of saying, "oh, well if I'd known that, I'd have done this differently."

So I think if I want to design family games, I really have to give some thought to this aspect of being able to sit down, start playing, and learn while playing without ever having to go back and re-visit points in the games that the new player previously thought they'd understood.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Games with my spouse

My wife Kathy and I have adopted the practice of setting aside everything else at 5:00 p.m. or so to sit down before dinner and play a game like two civilized people.  We have a few favorites that seem to work out nicely as "lightly competitive diversions."  They serve us well, because really, on any given afternoon, either of us could win, but both of us will have fun.

It has been tricky, though, to identify the games that work in this role.  We'd never play chess, for example, because we would be somewhat mismatched, and it wouldn't necessarily be fun.  We don't necessarily want to play a game that brings out the worst of our competitiveness; we would like to have a pleasant dinner together after the game is over.  Also, many of our favorites work well when played among a group of friends but fail as two-player games.  When we sit outside on a nice day, too, we have only small tables in the back yard, so sometimes there is the additional structural consideration of a game that doesn't take a lot of table space and doesn't have a lot of small pieces to drop or papers to lose in the breeze.

In future entries, I'll discuss some of our favorite games that we've found work well for our afternoon session.  Today we played cribbage, of all things.  This was a big favorite aboard ship when I was in the Navy some years ago, and it has been fun to resurrect at home.  Although card luck plays its role, the skill comes (as in most card games) in making the most of the hand that is dealt.  Kathy has, to my chagrin, learned to do that rather handily.   

BoardGameGeek has a fascinating list of board games for this context, a "geeklist" entitled, "How Gaming Saved Our Marriage."  We are already familiar with a number of games on this list, and I'm eager to try others.  I'll be curious to know what two-player games others have found are "couple-friendly" rather than "relationship-straining."