I wrote a review of Gang of Four. It’s in Finnish, as usual.
Gang of Four was published around ten years ago for the first time. Now Days of Wonder has published a new edition of the game. The game is designed by a designer Lee Yih from Hong Kong, but it has it’s roots strongly in the traditional Chinese game (well, at least the game’s from 80’s) Choh Dai Di or Big Two. However, I don’t think Gang of Four is another commercial rip-off of a classic traditional game. The changes have been big enough.
First of all, the deck is different. Instead of standard deck, the game is played with a deck of 1-10, doubled, in three suits. This increases the number of Gang of Fours (ie. sets of four cards with the same number), which makes the game more fun. Also, the rules are made simpler.
Gang of Four is a climbing game and thus reminds of Tichu and The Great Dalmuti. The goal of the game is to empty your hands — played cards are worthless. Winner of each hand is the player who empties their hand first, the rest get penalty points. There’s one penalty point for each card, with a factor that depends on the amount of cards. Seven or less and it’s one, all 16 and it’s five. So there’s quite a big incentive to reduce the number of cards in your hand!
Players play single cards, pairs, triplets or poker hands. Each player may pass, but if they want to play, they must improve the combination of cards (the value of the cards climbs up, hence the name climbing game). Players can play only as many cards as the leading player played, which means that poker hands can be beaten with either a better version of the same combination or better combination (straight -> flush -> full house -> straight flush). Gangs of Four are a special combination, which can always be played and they beat everything, adding a touch of surprise to the game.
As you can combine your cards in many ways, choosing the right combinations isn’t exactly easy. You want to have as strong combinations as possible, but also have to worry about leaving yourself with good cards so you can actually go out. One killer combination is pretty worthless, if it leaves you with crud you can’t play. It’s tricky and whenever you think you have your plans worked out, somebody surprises you with a Gang of Four.
The easiest comparison for Gang of Four is Tichu. The games share a common heritage (even though I don’t think they are derived from the same game, the games are similar). Both have advantages over the other. Tichu is a partners game, which is both good and bad. Gang of Four is clearly better when three players are playing. I’d say Tichu is a bit more complicated and thus better if you play the game a lot. For random games with random people, Gang of Four is better. Both are excellent games, so you won’t go wrong with either of them.
Days of Wonder is well-known for their good production quality. Gang of Four comes in a sturdy box, which is larger than necessary — making the game look more expensive. The cards are of good quality. The illustrations are a bit dull but at least they are functional. There are decent player aid cards included. There’s also a Web Card, which gives you a year of online play time for free. There’s a nice online version of the game, it works well and it’s easy to use so if you like the game, you’ll be able to play it more often. It’s also a good way to try before you buy.
To put it all together, I find the game to be great fun. It’s relatively easy to teach and play (especially if you’re familiar with the poker hands) and offers some mind-boggling decisions. It also works well with both three and four players. If you use the Chinese methods of play described in the rule book (mainly knocking and not picking up the cards) the game goes with a snappy pace, too. Despite slightly higher price point, I find the game offers enough entertainment to warrant the price.