Idle Remorse

Miscellaneous: My Magic: the Gathering decks!

I’m still quarantining, and I have this whole Saturday yawning before me. This post probably won’t interest many people, but I’m going to write about my Magic: the Gathering decks!

I used to play Magic: the Gathering with a lovely group of people in Minneapolis on a regular basis. About weekly, sometimes more, sometimes less. I played all the way up until I moved away. I miss them, and I miss playing the game.

I have played a few times since moving to Wisconsin. I tried Friday night magic in Lake Geneva. I played with some friends. I even made my game group play once. But I have not found the same appeal that we had with the old group. We played very casually. We didn’t always buy the new cards. We didn’t play by tournament rules or anything. We had ways to accommodate 6 players, 8 players. We would get through several games in a single night. It was magical. I miss them all.

If you are not familiar with MtG, it has five color types:

  1. Red – a lot of direct damage, very fire-centric, can be very fast
  2. Blue – very meddlesome, manipulates things on the board, steals
  3. Green – creature-heavy, can create a lot of mana, provides a decent balance of offense and defense (if I had to take one color to an island I would probably choose green)
  4. Black – dark creatures, destructive, can cause direct kills to other creatures
  5. White – life-giving, defensive, not super powerful on offense but can be with a lot of creatures together
  6. Colorless or artifact – I consider this a 6th group that has established itself as an option in addition to the above colors

Now onto a closer look at my decks*!!
*in no particular order, just literally the order they are in my box

Box of decks shown from above
Come closer, friend

Deck 1 Black and Green Deck

This deck uses the destructive powers of black with the heavy creatures of green and the ability to trample in order to try and overwhelm the enemy quickly. This deck relies on large green creatures that let me deal damage or protect my creatures in an emergency, cards that let me search for the creatures I need, and cards that let me afford creatures quickly.

Cheapness, mana and soldiers

Deck 2 Red Deck

I don’t love a plain red deck, and it will be clear as we proceed. I didn’t play this one much. But variety is the spice of life. This deck has all the cheap direct damage that is at red’s disposal, some creature cards, and a couple of more rare cards that can give me an additional attack phase and a creature that does severe damage once it is leveled up.

I only have one of each of these, but when they come into play they matter
You can tell by just these cards that red makes compromises on power to be cheap and fast
It would be silly to play red without its cheap, punitive damage cards

Deck 3 The Gambling Deck (will require a coin on hand to flip, almost constantly)

Oh, not a favorite amongst the group. This deck is red and blue with a number of artifacts to boot. Now you might think I could call this a coin-flipping deck rather than gambling, but there are plenty of cards that just kind of say, let’s level the playing field and see what happens. Very fun. Does not last long because everyone attacks me as soon as they see the coin.

I love how much randomization these force
Wait, is that a win condition I spy on the right? Just need a bunch of coin flips

Deck 4 The Soldier Deck

This is a pretty straight-forward soldier deck. It consists of cards that allow me to play soldier tokens, creatures that buff other soldiers, enchantments that improve creatures. It can take awhile to get going, but then it gets fairly tough. The problem is when your group recognizes your deck and knows they have a limited amount of time to keep you in check.

Look at all that support!
All of these creatures benefit other soldiers or creatures. They add up quickly
These cards all create soldier tokens which are powerful immediately if other bonuses are in play, such as those in the above photo

Deck 5 The Decking Deck

If a player is unable to draw as many cards as needed at the beginning of their turn, they lose the game. One way to attack a player is to attack their deck directly by moving cards from their deck to their graveyard. This is called decking. If you think The Gambling Deck is annoying, decking decks are super annoying. This is not a particularly tough one, but it works. I just made it out of cards I had.

Decking decks almost always need team play to pull off a win. They often leave the player completely open to attack and draw a lot of attention.

Be careful about decking vs a black deck. They like having large graveyards.

If you can pull Traumatize card early in play, mwah
These creatures all contribute mightily to decking

Deck 6 The Five Color Deck (big creature version)

Five color decks are obviously challenging, plus there are so many different directions to go with one. So go big or go home, I say. This deck has the obvious things that allow me to create different colors of mana, and the rest is huge nasty creatures that I just hope to get on the field.

Mana makers are critical

Deck 7 The Leviathan Deck

This is just a blue deck full of large, blue sea creatures. It has a card in it called Quest for Ula’s Temple that gets counters and then lets me put a Kraken, Leviathan, Octopus or Serpent creature into play. I don’t think I built the deck around this card, but I probably chose the creatures based on it since they are all in there. The goal is get big creatures and turn enemy lands into islands so I can islandwalk them into oblivion.

My buddy Marc had a sea creature deck too. We enjoyed playing them together and, almost always, losing

Deck 8 The Five Color Deck (classic version)

Your first draw is so critical in a Five Color Deck. This deck is very diverse and I really enjoy playing it. It does not have a big mechanism that it needs to work. It just has a variety of small, medium, and large cards that play with different colors of mana. It is simple.

Creatures with varying powers
Mana of any color is important!

Deck 9 The Cascade Deck

Cascade is an ability that lets you play a card and then draw cards until you get a nonland card that was cheaper than the card you played. You play that card for free and put the rest of the cards you drew on the bottom of your library.

This deck is five colors but relies most on red, green, and white. It has cards to increase mana early in the game, and then consists of fairly expensive cards that include Cascade along with creature cards that have haste. It’s a tough deck to get going, but when it works, it works.

Some of the Cascade cards
Some of the cheaper cards that Cascade will pull into play

Deck 10 The Polymorph Deck

I love to give my Polymorph Deck a whirl. It consists of just five things: land, cards that increase mana production like Fertile Ground, sorcery and instant cards that generate token creatures, huge expensive creatures that I do not intend to get the mana to play, and polymorph cards.

The Polymorph card allows me to destroy one single creature and reveal cards from my library until I reveal a creature card. That creature goes into play. Mass Polymorph allows me to exile all my creatures (hopefully a ton of tokens) and replace them with creatures from my deck at no cost. There’s no feeling quite like pulling off a devastating Mass Polymorph. You are practically unstoppable then. This is a fun deck.

This is where the magic happens
How much are they? Just kidding, I don’t care

Deck 11 The Tim Deck

The Prodigal Sorcerer card was nicknamed Tim based on the Tim the Enchanter character in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It includes the ability to tap to deal 1 damage to target creature or player. So our group called that ability Timming. This was my Tim deck. It was feared and revered all over our dining room tables from South Minneapolis to Maplewood.

The deck is red and blue and consists almost entirely of Tim creatures as well as enchantments that let any creature Tim a creature.

It should hurt a little to look at this

Deck 12 The Artifact Deck

This is a pretty standard Artifact deck that contains several cards with Affinity for Artifact, meaning you pay one less mana for each Artifact you have in play. So it has Artifact Lands, Artifact Creatures, plain old Artifacts. It’s fun, but it’s not my favorite Artifact Deck. I haven’t pulled that one out of the box yet.

All the obvious choices for an Artifact deck

Deck 13 The Legendary Creature Deck

As implied by the name, this is a red and green deck that focuses on Legendary Creatures. I’m not sure why. Why not?

To make this deck work, I need lots of cards and lots of mana. So it has Howling Mines to draw extra cards, cards like Wild Growth and Lush Growth to increase mana production, and then a bunch of Legendary Creatures and their supporting cards. It’s similar to a lot of my decks where things have to really come together, but then I get big creatures. There is no shortcut in this, though. I have to pay full price for these Legendary Creatures.

I also only have one of each creature in the deck since playing a second of the same card would destroy the Legendary Creature. I can’t afford to risk having my hand polluted with duplicates.

The cost is not so bad when you are only focused on two colors

Deck 14 The White Deck

There is nothing really special about this deck. No particular mechanism. It has cards that protect creatures, cards that grant life, cheap creature cards, and cards that improve those creature cards. This is a deck for a long game. It allows you to be defensive and protect allies, and eventually to make some large attacks and lead your opponents to wonder how they can get past your front lines to get at all the health you stored up.

I like playing white fine, but it’s not my favorite. When I would play the Age of Empires computer game, I would spend what felt like generations of my people in order to set up the best defenses possible before drawing in my enemy. But in MtG I get impatient and want to attack. So this is not a go-to deck for me. It does well in team play though.

You know, it’s fine

Deck 15 The Proliferate Deck

This is another mostly-Artifact deck that is full of cards that add counters (whether they are +1 / +1 or -1 / -1) to creatures and artifacts. Then there are cards that allow me to Proliferate, meaning I can choose where to add counters to improve creatures for myself and my allies or increasingly damage enemy creatures.

This deck contains a lot of cards to increase drawing and mana production.

The counters are key
Mana mana mana!
Examples of cards that offer Proliferate

Deck 16 The Ally Deck

Lots of people have Ally decks because the Ally cards lend themselves to working together beautifully. Mine is five colored. Anyone who plays against an Ally deck knows that it has to be handled, and quickly. Many a time have I sat back and listened while my enemies decide how to triage the damage I am doing to them. The cards are cheap, so unless my mana shuts down with unlucky draws it’s a solid deck. My one kindness with it is to have the deck in card sleeves so the keen observer knows what deck I am playing immediately.

Ally creatures and benefits

Deck 17 The Spirit and Arcane Deck

I threw this together when we ended up with a bunch of cards that are Spirit and Arcane. This deck is green and white. It is filled with Spirit creatures and Arcane spells, along with cards that make these spells cheaper. It’s okay. I kind of think of it as a poorer version of an Ally deck.

You can see the benefits here

Deck 18 The Blue and White Mess with Everyone Deck

This is a fun deck to play and looking through it really made me want to play again. This deck is full of classic white life-giving and damage-negating cards, along with blue cards that manipulate what is in play. One of the beautiful cards in it, too, is Leyline of Anticipation which you can play instantly if it is in your opening hand, and it allows you to play nonland cards as though they are instants. That allows me to keep my mana handy to play interruption cards or, if nothing comes up, to play a creature card at end of turn of the player before me.

This is particularly a great deck for team play because I am unsummoning, countering, gathering life, preventing damage, causing opponents to pay more for their spells, all kinds of mean things.

I particularly enjoy the passive defense in this deck. I’m wide open, and you can attack me. But it’s probably going to hurt you more than it hurts me.

Doesn’t it look FUN?!

Deck 19 The Best Artifact Deck Ever

I love this deck. I don’t always play it because the play can take a long time. It involves tons of adjusting and playing and pulling back and reshuffling. Some turns I draw like 15 cards. It can get old for my fellow players, and I appreciate that.

This is a Blue Artifact deck. The goal is to get tons of mana and endless artifacts in play. Artifacts can give me no max hand size, cause opponents to lose life when they play creatures, give their creatures negative counters, etc.

One key component of this deck is the card Elixir of Immortality. True to its name, this card not only gives me life but allows me to shuffle my graveyard into my library. I can play this deck almost eternally. It’s tough to beat but the offense isn’t great, so I have to really focus on doing what I can to destroy my enemies. Otherwise this deck just wears them down, which isn’t fun.

Just looking at the cards makes me want to draw and play 11 times

Deck 20 The Direct Damage Deck

This deck is the only one in this list that I did not make. It belonged to my good friend Peter, and I admired it and feared it for a long time. He gave it to me one game night, probably for my birthday or some such occasion.

This is a green and red deck, and it’s a thing of beauty. Its focus is in creating incredible mana output. All of the land is Forest, and so there are Wild Growths and Fertile Grounds. Then there is a key card: Utopia Sprawl. When that comes into play you choose red since this is the only way to get red mana in the deck.

The rest of the deck is Creatures like Overgrown Battlement that give you a little defense, but also can be tapped to add more mana to your pool. The rest of the creatures simply allow you to untap a land. The idea is simple: get a few Forests out there that are stacked with extra mana cards that you can untap to create a huge amount of mana in your pool. Then play a comet storm and rain fire on your terrible friends. Comet storms allow you to switch targets and you can choose between creatures and players. This can be incredibly destructive.

If this picture doesn’t scare you then I didn’t describe it properly

Deck 21 The Elf Deck

I couldn’t find the exact rule, but I’m pretty sure there’s a rule that everyone must have an Elf Deck. Mine is my very first deck. I probably don’t need to explain an Elf Deck to you… it is full of elves.

This is a tough deck. Elf Decks start deceptively small, but they can get tough very quickly. My deck relies a lot on Blanchwood Armor to do really heavy damage. Ideally I can enchant a Silhana Ledgewalker so my enemies can’t really do anything about it. It’s my oldest deck, but I still enjoy it.

Good for me, not so good for you

Deck 22 The Equipment Deck

I made an Equipment Deck. It’s not my favorite; equipment in general is not something I have patience for. The deck is okay.

This deck includes white creatures, a few that have particular powers related to equipment. Then there is just equipment galore! When you pack enough equipment onto a single creature it can get really tough, providing both offense and defense. It just takes awhile to get there.

Some of the equipment
And the creatures that wear it

Deck 23 The Bird Deck

Last but certainly not least is my black and white bird deck. I did make this deck around a single card: Soulcatchers’ Aerie. This card allows me to put a +1 / +1 counter on it whenever a bird goes to my graveyard from play, and all my birds get that counter. So I can have up to four Soulcatchers’ Aerie cards played if I am lucky enough to draw them all. So I am not opposed to my own birds dying. I got more where they came from.

This becomes annoying for my fellow players. Sometimes they are not obliging enough to kill my birds for me and I have to do it myself. That’s where black comes in. I have four Carrion Feeder creatures that allow me to sacrifice a creature to put a +1 / +1 counter on the Carrion Feeder. But that sacrificed creature will be a bird so I get the counter on the Aeries too.

This deck can be pretty tough. The beauty of it is that birds are cheap, and even if my mechanism does not come together or gets handled, an army of flying birds is not the worst thing.

I love them all in unique but equal ways
These are some of the cards I need to ensure my birds die, and none of that matters until I get the Soulcatchers’ Aerie into play. One is great, two are fantastic, three are phenomenal and four are unstoppable

That’s it!

That’s all my decks. The casualness of our play comes out in these descriptions. Creating MtG decks is game design with pre-defined options. While it’s not my style, I know and admire people that do MtG deck design with the strictest disciplines that MtG communities offer.

No matter where you fall on that spectrum of seriousness, if you played much at all you likely have some favorite decks and fond memories. I’d love to hear them. 🙂

Review: Chicken Out

Review: Chicken Out
Publisher: Parker Brothers
Year: 1988
Tagline: “Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?” Game

This shows a frantic chicken running across a road with a truck coming

how we met

I found Chicken Out for the first time for $5 at a flea market, but the seller would not let me open it and did not know if it was complete. I also didn’t totally want to carry it for the remaining miles that I would be wandering around. So that was a pass for me. The next time I found Chicken Out was for $2 at the local thrift shop. That’s more my speed, and I was happy to give it a whirl.

how it plays

Your goal in Chicken Out is to be the first player to get both of your chicken pawns safely to the FINISH space at the end of the road. You do this by lacing in and out of traffic using cards to move.

8 pawns, 2 in each color
Each player gets 2 chicken pawns: one that appears in a hurry and one that is more moseying

To begin play, shuffle the deck and deal four cards to each player. Players should not show their hand to any other players; bluffing is a key part of gameplay. The remainder of the deck goes face down as a draw pile.

The long board
The board is long, so here is a terrible attempt at photographing it. It’s like a normal size vintage board you would unfold but it unfolds long instead of wide

On a player’s turn they simply play one card from their hand, do whatever is needed by the card, discard the card in a face up discard pile, and then draw to get up to four cards again.

There are four types of cards:

  • Number cards allow you to move one of your chickens that number of spaces (NOTE: the grassy edge of the road is not considered a space for movement, only for safety). You do not have to move your first chicken all the way to finish before starting your second chicken. Just be careful because chickens in roads are vulnerable and may need protection.
  • Chicken cards are played by placing the card face down in front of you and hollering, “Chicken!” There are three Chicken cards of each color in the deck, and only one Chicken card that is all four colors. When you place the card face down, you are threatening the chickens whose color you played, but other players do not know whether it is their color or not. (You can play your own color and your chickens remain safe.) Other players must decide whether to try and protect their flock or not. Not protecting a chicken whose Chicken card was played will send it all the way back to START!!!! These are the choices after another player plays a Chicken card:
    1. Play a Safe card for one or each chicken. Making both of your chickens safe will require two Safe cards. If you only have one Safe card you must pick which chicken is protected if you have more than one on the board.
    2. Play a Goose card and move one of your chickens to the next safe area on the board (the grassy lane). Similarly, moving ahead two chickens would require two Goose cards. These cards can only be played on an opponent’s turn.
    3. Decide to Chicken Out and move your chickens backwards to the previous safety areas. You lose ground, but they are safe from further harm that turn. This is not a card but a decision that you can always make.
    4. Ignore the threat and hold tight. Maybe your opponent was bluffing with their own color card, or maybe it is one of your opponents’ colors. But remember, if the Chicken card is your color then your birds are moved back to START!
    5. NOTE: You can do any combination of the above as long as you have the right cards.

If you don’t have a movement card in hand and want to skip your turn, you can discard and draw another card to account for your turn.

Example cards including Safe, Goose, 4, and Chicken in yellow
A closer look at some of the cards you will encounter. In case you were wondering, movement cards all use the same art whether 1 or 4 or in between

The first player to get both of their Chicken pawns to the FINISH space wins Chicken Out!

how it went

Well, my copy was complete other than the insert that includes the instructions. Shout out to the A Board Game a Day blog who not only has approximately 13 bazillion reviews including some fun, vintage toys and games, but who also uploaded the instructions of Chicken Out for my desperate self to find.

That became important, too, because for some reason we did not all agree on which spaces of the game board were spaces in play. I figured if any of us were confused then others may be too. The instructions have a nice diagram showing example movement that should clear up any confusion and keep you off the grassy sides.

You essentially move where the chicken footprints are, at times jumping over a car or short distance, unless you move to a safe spot. Then you are on the grass

Apart from that rocky start gameplay was straight forward. And fairly fun too. We don’t shy away from “take that” mechanics so our chickens were flying back to start, occasionally from very late in play. At four players, we went through the deck around 1,800 times.

Playing a Chicken card face down without announcing the color means that bluffing is an undeniable part of gameplay. There is a bit of strategy with regards to how you decide to play, specifically when to protect your chickens or when to attack vs move. But a lot of your success will depend upon the cards you draw. Sometimes you have two options for what to do on your turn, but a lot of times you may only have one.

The game is not terribly exciting unless you choose not to protect your chickens. But you can always take that backward Chicken Out movement to continue inching forward. Chicken Out is just waiting to remind us of the seemingly implausible lessons from “The Tortoise and the Hare” fable.

John was doing well in our game, but I think his chicken pawns might have even left tracks on the game board for how often they traveled the last section before FINISH. He just kept getting sent back to safety.

I eventually won our play of Chicken Out. I had very lucky draws; I’m not sure any other player even touched the four color Chicken card. I also had good diversity in Number cards, Chicken cards and the protection cards. But I also did not scoff at moving back a few spaces to save my overall progress. I “Chickened Out” plenty of times. I also waited until one of my chickens was safely home before I let the other one start. Fewer targets just seemed wise. And it’s not like I was playing Dizzy Dizzy Dinosaur and could stack them three-high into one giant pawn! I definitely would have done that. At any cost.

Chickens on FINISH space
Here we are lined up at the end! I guess I played red 🙂

play or pass

I think pass. Chicken Out is more middle-of-the-road for me because it’s easy to play and can be a fun press your luck game. But for all its simplicity, gameplay can take awhile. The few choices and limited card types that are constantly recycled aren’t enough to maintain amusement throughout an overly long play.

Review: Personal Preference

Review: Personal Preference
Publisher: Broderbund Games
Year: 1987
Tagline: You’re in the spotlight…

The cover is blocky like the board with four colors in each corner

how we met

I played Personal Preference years ago but hadn’t seen it for quite a long time. Then I met the Thrifting Minions in the Milwaukee area! Courtney is a very keen fan of Personal Preference. She found a fabulous copy at thrift one day, and I was the only person that didn’t have one yet! So it was quite a treat!

I have never seen it at thrift myself, but if I had I would have bought it. You know I love a vintage party game with lots of pictures!

how it plays

Personal Preference is a party game where players take turns randomly drawing four items, secretly ranking them in order of their personal preference, and letting the other players guess what their ranking will be.

Players each get chips indicating the ranking 1, 2, 3 or 4. The active player is called IT, and when you are IT you draw four items in the category of the space your pawn is on. For start and other corners, choose any category you want. Place these cards in the four quadrants of the board. Then secretly rank them using the envelope provided and cards for this purpose.

The colorful pawns and ranking chips
The team pawns and ranking chips

Then players (including anyone on your own team) use their ranking chips to guess what your rankings are. This is more difficult than it sounds because if you are playing with standard rules then you are on a team and you have to agree on the ranking together. How well do you know the active IT player? Do you know them better than your teammate does?

Placing a ranking chip within the hard-to-see center circle means you are very certain and wish to “DOUBLE” the outcome of that chip.

An overview of the board, the circle is a very lighter color in center
This shot of our play shows both the hard to see circle and an example turn where our IT player needed to rank Neon, Corn on the Cob, Walter Cronkite and Picketing for a just cause

When all players or teams have ranked their guesses at the active IT player’s preferences, the IT player reveals their ranking. Teams move their pawn forward one space for each correct guess and are not penalized for incorrect guesses. If the team chose to double on any guesses, right guesses get 2 spaces forward and incorrect guesses get 1 space backward! Don’t gamble, kids.

Four cards showing color and pattern of each quadrant for secret ranking
These four cards and this envelope are used for the IT player to secretly rank items

The first team to hit or pass the FINISH square wins! If more than one team passes FINISH in a single round then the one ahead wins, or play continues until one is ahead. That team wins!

how it went

I have played Personal Preference several times, and it’s always good fun. I have played both as part of a team and where I acted independently. Each has pros and cons.

Our play

On one hand, playing in a team results in compromise and imperfection which are both things we could learn to tolerate a lot more these days. You have to either fight for your rankings or concede. Discussions happen. Debates happen. Deals sometimes happen. And it ensures the IT player has no benefit in bluffing since their own team is guessing too. A certain Personal Preference purist I know would not have gameplay any other way than teams.

On the other hand, the first game I played where I acted independently I quickly went into the lead and never lost it. I listen and observe things, and sometimes I can make a pretty solid guess at rankings of even random things. I didn’t experience any false confidence in someone else’s rankings. But this type of play is a variation meant for fewer players, and that’s where it belongs.

Some individuals on BGG that have played Personal Preference a lot get to the point of lamenting the dated cards. As you likely know, I love dated cards. And while I have played multiple times, I have not worn my copy thin yet. So I am not one of these people.

People cards including Marilyn Monroe, Sting, JFK, Paul Harvey, Tony Randall and Franklin D. Roosevelt
The people cards get the most complaints in being dated. Here is a random example of me pulling out six cards. I don’t know who Paul Harvey is, but most people do.
Cards include strawberry daiquiri, stir fried vegetables, baked beans, cotton candy, cookies and brie
Tough one! No it’s not. Brie rules.
Activities include having a birthday, overhearing others talking about you, going to a nudist camp, going on a cruise and going to a casino
This is definitely a fun deck. You know what else is fun? Going to the casino.
Example cards here are computers, communism, labor unions, junk mail, Japanese cars
Another really fun deck because Potpourri = random. The one I accidentally cut off in this photo was “Incompetence” which is definitely timeless. Note: all cards are double-sided so there are quite a few cards in Personal Preference.

However if you are interested in trying the game with updated cards, Thrifting Minion Melissa made some and posted the files to BGG back in 2014. She did a really great job too. The cards strike that chord of being general knowledge, but also specific and well-known.

During our initial play after getting this copy, I was teamed up with Bill. At one point I complained over deciding a ranking, “This is hard.” To which Bill replied, “Is it? Are any of them?” I assume he meant the great games that I constantly buy, review and keep or donate. I am very lucky to have a game group that is willing to play random vintage board games and enjoy them!

An example of the People cards: we had to rank Angela Lansbury, Babe Ruth, Barbara Walters and Hulk Hogan

And we did enjoy Personal Preference. Sure it’s dated, but there is a timeless, inherent absurdity to comparing completely random things, like Nuclear Power Plants, David Letterman, chocolate chip cookies and cleaning house. It’s very fun to listen to the other teams discuss their rankings when you are the IT player. And you might even learn something about your friends! Important things like how they feel about unlisted phone numbers and acid rain.

I won our first game acting independently with four players. Bill and I won our first team game using the standard rules. Do I know my friends or what?!

play or pass

Definite play. Personal Preference captures the magic of a simple, fun party game with immense replayability. While the complaints of it being dated are valid, that can also add to the delight in ranking, particularly if you are around my age. And if not, updated cards are just a print and play away.

Review: Shark Tank: The Game

Review: Shark Tank: The Game
Publisher: Cardinal
Year: 2016
Tagline: Only the strong will survive.

The cover shows the main sharks posed and looking toward camera

how we met

Shark Tank: The Game is not some super find. My local farm store carries it on the shelves brand new. I have seen it at thrift numerous times. But the thing is, I really like the TV show Shark Tank. And eventually Bill started watching too when I had it on. Now when we eat dinner we sometimes throw on an episode. So with a couple of us prepared to compare the game to the television show, how could I say no?

how it plays

The goal of Shark Tank: The Game is very similar to the goal of Shark Tank: walk away with the most money.

Each player gets a SHARK coaster and corresponding chips. They also get an I’M OUT card and one million dollars in specific denominations. The SHARK coaster will explain your shark identity and, similar to another reality show board game Storage Wars, each SHARK has their own specialty to represent their expertise. You get bonuses if you win the honor of backing an idea in that area.

The sharks on coasters
They are a bit less intimidating as coasters. Note their specialties on the bottom of their coasters

To set up for play, place 6 COMPANY CARDS face down in the middle of the table. The game will end when each of these COMPANY CARDS has been pitched. One player acts as the READER (this role will pass to the next player for each pitch). The READER will choose one of the face down COMPANY CARDS and read the title and description only. The company type and worth info must remain secret until after bidding ends, which takes place over two rounds:

  • Round 1: Wagers are made in order, clockwise from the reader. Players bid openly using their money cards face up.
  • Round 2: This round is secret, and players bid with their money cards face down.

The highest bid wins the company. All wagers that were placed are put at the bottom of the money deck, so those wagers are the real deal. At any point if a player does not want to bid, they simply place their I’M OUT card for the other sharks to see. They are out of bidding for that company.

I'm out and money cards
You receive your initial $1 million in specific denominations to encourage card counting

The different companies have different values. When you win a company, roll the die to determine how much the company is worth. The result is represented by placing the corresponding chip on the card. If you are lucky enough to roll BLOCK BUSTER on the die then you are awarded the highest value and you get to draw another money card from the money deck.

Poker chips with shark faces on them, and the die
So if you rolled the blue dollar sign you would place a blue chip on the card. Be warned: a few people on BGG complain about the die wrapper coming off. We did not experience that

If the company you win corresponds with one of your specialties then you get to draw a money card from the money deck!

Company cards show title, type, description and 3 possible different values
There are approximately 15 bazillion COMPANY CARDS, and their color contrast leaves something to be desired

You are allowed to swap companies with other players or even purchase them if you can strike a deal. Any time a company changes hands, the new owner must roll the die to determine the new value of the company. The original roll does not transfer.

Once all 6 company cards have been pitched and purchased, the game is over. Add up the value of all companies you have and half the value of your left over money. The player with the most value wins!

how it went

We played Shark Tank: The Game as a group of three one game night – two of us familiar with Shark Tank and one of us not.

You know I love a good theme. I love how much the game embraces the strong personalities of Shark Tank. There are frequent guest sharks on the show, but the main group has lasted a long time and has a special dynamic. Here is a little bit about my take on them based on no real research but just watching the show:

  • Robert: the man loves dogs. He loves them. He does not make a lot of offers but does a good job of keeping the action moving along by reminding the entrepreneurs what offers they have and who is out
  • Lori: she is referred to as the Queen of QVC, and I think her offers reflect that. She is looking for a gadget that looks good on TV and a lot of people will buy, but won’t necessarily make the long haul. Kind of everything wrong with the world if you think about it that way
  • Barbara: she loves making offers on food ideas and giving hugs to the ones she takes under her wing
  • Kevin: aka Mr. Wonderful. My absolute favorite. He is dry, pessimistic and sometimes predatory. The seemingly sharkiest of the sharks. At times he manipulates the whole room. He is also good at reminding entrepreneurs where they stand, but less objectively than Robert
  • Daymond: nice guy, not on as much anymore. He does not make a lot of offers, but he shows particular interest in clothing items, where he has a lot of knowledge
  • Mark: seemingly beloved by most of those who set foot in the door. He has a soft spot for humanitarian ideas and is quick to praise entrepreneurs on their hard work and clever marketing
My Daymond coaster and chips
The one terrible photo I took during our play. I chose Daymond for play!

All of the COMPANY CARDS in Shark Tank: The Game come directly from the show, or at least I recognized most of them. So that is kind of fun to reminisce. People get some wild ideas.

There are a few places where my rules leave out important details or are wrong:

  1. Placing COMPANY CARDS face down: the instructions do not specify to do this, but the whole point of the bidding is that you do not know the value of the company. It is very important that they are face down.
  2. Green is blue: My instructions repeatedly imply that green is the highest value you can roll, but it’s actually blue on every single card. Perhaps the publisher was blue/green color blind.
  3. Reader role and its advantage or disadvantage at higher player numbers: The game is supposed to support 2-6 players, but the rules clearly state that the game includes 6 company pitches. The READER role can’t bid on the card they read (I’m assuming this, it’s not in the rules) because they have the secret info. So how do you balance 6 pitches between 4 or 5 players? Will the game balance if you add more pitches, or will everyone run out of money and hate it even more? If you allow the READER to bid, you still get more advantages to some players and not all.

Our play went pretty quickly, with just minor “Wait, what?” issues as we went through the rules. It’s easy to smooth those issues over if you game a lot, but it doesn’t mean they should be there. Bill won Shark Tank: The Game! Keri came in second, and I was a distant third. I probably bid way too much.

play or pass

Pass. I don’t think Shark Tank: The Game captures the spirit of the show, nor does it hold up as a very competent game. I appreciated the blind bidding round since it speeds up bidding, but it feels like a departure from theme. The rules are very poorly done. The game does not seem to have been blind play tested. It’s not painful to play, it’s just kind of nothing. For all of these reasons, I’m out.

Review: Shark Attack!

Review: Shark Attack!
Publisher: Milton Bradley
Year: 1988

A cartoon shark is menacingly swimming toward fish

how we met

Shark Attack! is a pretty desirable game, so finding the vintage version at thrift is fairly uncommon. We have found a few over the years, so sitting down to play was a must. I wanted to know: what is all the fuss about?

how it plays

Shark Attack! is a children’s game, so gameplay is pretty simple. Each player gets a certain colored fish pawn which they place on the game board at the correct starting space. The shark starts in its correct starting space, a ways back from the pawns.

Fish pawns yellow, red, green and a missing spot for white
Looks like I was missing the white fish pawn

When play starts, turn on the electronic shark and it will slowly eat its way around the board. Your goal is to try and be the last fish standing.

One player is declared the Roller. Their job is to roll the dice and then call out the colors. If your color is called, you get to move your pawn to the next space on the board, further away from the imminent danger. If the same color comes up on both dice, that player gets to move their pawn two spaces!

The dice with colored circles on each face
My copy of the rules did not address this (that I know of) but I assume one die has a dot in the middle and the other does not so the person calling colors does not accidentally call the same die twice. Kind of clever!

Once all the fish are moved the Roller rolls the dice again. Rinse and repeat. The shark will continue to grow closer. If it covers an entire fish in its mouth, that fish is considered eaten and is out of the game. Continue play until only one fish remains. That player wins Shark Attack!

The shark closing its mouth on the red fish pawn
Red is about one second from being fully eaten

NOTE: the game suggests that Shark Attack! veterans play an alternative version where the shark begins a bit further along and the Roller role passes from player to player.

how it went

I can see why little kiddos might really enjoy Shark Attack! I myself enjoy a constant tension in gameplay. But guys, this game is not good.

I think you could argue (if you are the argumentative type) that a lot of games are driven by luck, and perhaps you could just roll a die to determine the winner instead of playing the game. This argument is often astonishingly dismissive of certain elements of gameplay and enjoyment and social interaction. But it’s kind of how I feel about Shark Attack!

True, there is no strategy. True, this is entirely luck driven because if your color comes up more often then you are safer than the other terrible fish. True, assigning the job of rolling the die to a single person means that this could be played alone, and you could just bet on specific fish. But is that fun? Is the constant, droning threat of the shark enough to make this fun? Maybe for some people. I wasn’t into it.

I thought of several possible alternative forms of gameplay for your consideration:

  1. Introduce a story element to gameplay. Require each player to assign their fish a back story before play begins. This would at least make you give a tinker’s cuss about the little thing, and then you might actually care whether your fish gets eaten by the shark or not.
  2. Everyone picks a charity when they pick their fish pawn. Every 15 or 30 seconds players are required to throw a bet down on one of the fish pawns – could be dimes, quarters, dollars, whatever. The winning fish pawn’s charity gets that donation.
  3. Place magnets in your fish pawn and use fishing poles from Gone Fishin’ to move your pawn forward when your color is called. I picture this as short but ridiculous. And crazy fun.
  4. Require each player to share a little known fact about themselves before rolling the dice. This could be particularly painful in groups that include strangers.
  5. Require each player to ante something precious to them that is tied to their fish pawn. The winner of the game then owns each of the items that were offered up in the ante. This may sound familiar to Magic the Gathering players, though I never played that way myself. You’d have to be nuts.

These alternative gameplay suggestions are not tried and true. The game sold before we could really test these suggestions. But I feel pretty good about them.

Keri won our gameplay. She’s so lucky!

Keri making a fin over her head in the background
The electronic shark is in the foreground. The adorbs shark in the background is Keri celebrating her win!

play or pass

Pass, pass, pass. I tried to figure out what all the fuss is about and instead dived deep into suggesting ways to improve gameplay, because as it stands this is barely gameplay.

Please comment with further alternative gameplay suggestions! 366 BGG users are claiming ownership of this game, and they need you.

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