First Thursday session: Ubongo Mini, cards

Ubongo Mini box

I’ve started a new weekly game night. My wife wants me to see other people than her and Nooa, basically. That’s perfectly fine with me! Our first night had a good turnout of seven people, so we got two games going. The other table played Web of Power, Geschenkt and Phoenicia, while our table played cards.

First up was the new Ubongo Mini, though. This is very much reduced version of the basic game. This has a small deck of cards and bunch of tiles. The box is small, and if you ditch the box, you can make the game downright tiny. Good points for portability!

The problems are easier: one side has two pieces, the other three. The two-tile problems are silly and not worth playing. In the basic game, the first player to finish counts to 20 and everybody who finishes, keeps their card. In the pro version, first one to finish gets the card, others are out of luck. Either way, the player with the most cards wins.

So, obviously we played the pro game with three-tile puzzles. Everybody would’ve completed their puzzles in 20 seconds! This reduces the game to pure skill, so the fastest player will win. This is the typical downside of speed games the original Ubongo avoided so well. Worry not! What saves Ubongo Mini is the simple fact that our game took, what, five minutes? So, let’s count: the game is tiny, the rules are very straightforward, the game plays in five minutes and isn’t completely stupid. Yes sir, that does add up to a rather splendid quickie filler. Worth owning, I’d say!

Fairy Tale box

Then, cards. First up the basic staple of Fairy Tale. Nothing special about that, except Tero’s active shadow playing made the game really low on scores — winner had 39 (and it still wasn’t me!).

Then we played the oldest game around. Really! Karnöffel is probably the oldest card game that is recorded in the western history with rules available. It’s a chaotic trick-taking game: two teams of two players fight for five tricks. No need to follow suit, feel free to trump whenever you want and hey, not all cards of the trump suit are actually trumps. Also, even if you have a trump, it just might lose to a sufficiently high non-trump.

The rules are bizarre. Partners can discuss strategy with each other openly, though we didn’t use that much. Me and Olli H. lost our best-of-five match brutally 3-0. It’s an odd game, but once you get past the initial shock of the strange trumping rules, I suppose this could be decent entertainment. I’d rate this about six — will play, but probably won’t suggest. Worth one play, for the historical aspect.

Next up: All Fours, an English game from the 17th century, these days the national game of Trinidad. It’s another partnership game (or two-player game, as the original English version goes), and another rather chaotic game.

The trump selection is interesting: after dealing six cards to each player, dealer turns up trump card. The forehand either accepts and plays or asks for another trump. If dealer declines, it’s one point for the forehand’s team (you’re playing for 14 points, so one point is good). If dealer accepts, he deals three more and turns another card and repeats this until a new suit is found — that’s trump.

However, whenever an ace, a jack or a six comes up, dealer’s team scores 1-3 points. We lucked out and scored four points in the last hand, by turning up two sixes. Sweet, but lucky. The game play is follow

suit or trump. Each hand awards four points: one for highest trump dealt, one for lowest trump dealt, one for trick with the trump jack, one for the most card points collected. So, two out of for points are based on pure luck and the actual play of the hand is just one point, basically. You’d better be lucky!

Despite being a complete luckfest, All Fours is actually a pretty nice game. Another six, likely — would play again, if I needed a game that’s light and different. Perhaps this would be worth trying with just two? Not a must-try, however.

Then the main course: Slovenian Tarok. We had four players for the first two rounds, then lost one. Hannu had played before, while Harri and Tero were new to the game. They picked up the basic idea pretty swiftly, suggesting earlier trick-taking experience. We all sucked — Tero actually got positive points, before his one remaining radli pushed him to -78… I was in a deep hole of -238 points, but I played a tremendously good last round, scoring 160 points and losing a radli to tie the game with Tero.

It’s a great game. If you’re looking for a good trick-taking game for either three or four players, I strongly suggest trying Slovenian Tarok. The three-player game is slightly harder, and I think I prefer the four-player game with its surprising partnerships and wider selection of contracts. I’m going to play this game until I learn enough to be able to remain in positive points! I’m fairly sure I’ll find willing partners for this endeavour…

Next session is next Thursday at the university, starting at five. Everybody’s welcome! Expect Fairy Tale, Ubongo Mini, oddball card games, Tarot and other great games.

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One response to “First Thursday session: Ubongo Mini, cards”

  1. Thanks for game session!
    The other board played Web of Power and Phoenicia once and Geschenkt twice and enjoyed themselves greatly. Hope you’ll have growing number of players in the game nights in the future!