This was my first attempt with this light card game.
Players were Jeremy, Rich, Stephanie and Bob.
The rules explanation didn't go too smoothly, as I think there was some confusion over the idea that the cards you play don't actually score for you, and instead you're playing cards to get the Tide cards which actually affect your scoring. I'll have to be more clear about that next time.
Because of the difficult rules explanation, we played the first round as practice. We had some trouble coming up with a system that kept our hands well organized, as we needed a stack for the tide cards we got plus for the cards we played, and room for our life preserver counters. Perhaps the table was a tad small for the space we were taking up, but we had a couple situations where a stray card would pop up and it took some fiddling about to determine where it was supposed to belong. The game seems to encourage quick play but I'd recommend keeping the pace a little slow to give people time to organize.
After starting 'for real', the distribution of life tokens revealed a couple decent hands (4 tokens), a fair hand (5 tokens) and one very poor hand with 6 tokens. We were all about to discover just how bad that hand was in comparison to the others.
Rich was the first to succumb to the 'death hand', dropping to -1 points right off the bat. Bob scored 1, Stephanie scored a whopping 4 (getting the low tide card and only losing 1 token), and I had 2 points.
The second round saw Bob, who now held the 'death hand', drop back down to 0. The rest of us held our own, gaining points and keeping within 1 or 2 points of each other.
Round three, and the death hand had passed to Stephanie. She held on longer than the rest of us, only succumbing to drowning on the last round. This was only after Bob had drowned for the second time in a row... at this point obscene words and gestures began to spew forth, as his score had dropped to -1. With only two of us scoring points, the points became fairly equalized, with Rich beginning to pull ahead.
Finally, it was my turn to see the hand that was causing so much misery. I held approximately 6 cards with values between 22 and 30, and only a couple above 50 which meant I was almost never going to be able to guarantee access to the lower tide card, and I was quickly going to run out of very low cards that would help keep me out of contention altogether. Even the foreknowledge of other peoples' card distributions failed to help. I did fine for the first few hands, keeping hold of tide cards between 3 and 6. But disaster struck and I got stuck with a 12 card, which dogged me until I drowned.
Final scores were:
Rich - 9
Steph - 8
Jeremy - 8
Bob - 1
Everyone liked the game, except for Bob (whose description "sucks" seemed to clarify any sense of ambiguity on his part.) The rest of us briefly discussed the mechanics. Rich was interested in the tactics of which cards to get rid of first, and found the hand trading to be a nice factor to mitigate the luck.
I found the game to be fairly enjoyable, though I felt like the card play could get a bit fiddly on the small table we were playing on. We got the hang of keeping things organized in later rounds, but we were hurrying just a little as I think Bob wanted to flip over the table after the second time he drowned. The other question I hope to answer on subsequent plays is whether the so-called 'death hand' was just a fluke, or if there will be a pattern of one hand generally being far worse than the others. My feeling was that it was a fluke, as the trouble was caused mainly by a tiny concentration of middling cards almost in numerical order.
All in all, I think this a decent alternative to 6 Nimmt! for a smaller number of players. It isn't quite as elegant due to the need to reshuffle tide cards and swap hands, but the hand fun swapping mechanic serves to compensate for this. I think there are some deeper strategies that could come out on further plays (though I think Bob would rather not find out) but it definitely seems suitable for play with more casual non-gaming people as well, and should play very well in a family setting.