Wow, so this is what you get for 100 pieces of gold.
I am blessed to be in a gaming group, where we can virtually get hold of any game, no matter how obscure, to play. Sometimes we have gems, sometimes we have lemons. Sadly, the game is more of the latter, rather than the former. This game is actually good for a few laughs, very light and suitable for a large number of players (up to ten).
Koalition was released in 1992 by the designer Hartmut Witt, published by Hexagames Salagmes and supports from three to ten players. The picture of the designer is at the back of the rules: he has long hair running down below his elbows, and he has a cunning grin on his face. It basically resembles a mug shot. Why would a designer put his picture on the rules? To mock us for buying the game?
Rules: Koalition is a card game, where one attempts to earn political party points in the main countries in Europe. A country card is first flipped over, then in clockwise order, players play down one political party strength card at a time, with values ranging from 1 to 10, and there are seven possible political factions: Roses, Top hats, Leaves, Lemons, Fists, Acorns and Crosses. The flipped up country card dictates how many total cards a player may play (two to four cards). There are 15 country cards, so the game will consist of 15 elections. The player who won the last election plays a card first, then in clockwise order, everyone plays a single card, until their card limit has been played. For instance, if Great Britian is the country card flipped up, everyone will play a total of 4 cards each, if Spain is the country card, 3 cards each are played or if Ireland is the country card, then only two cards will be played.
The distribution of the values of the cards are as follows:
Roses - 10, 10, 9, 8, 8, 7, 6, 6, 5, 4, 4, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1
Top Hats - 10, 10, 9, 8, 8, 7, 6, 6, 5, 4, 4, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1
Leaves - 8, 8, 6, 6, 5, 5, 3, 3
Lemons - 9, 8, 7, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1
Fists - 10, 8, 6, 4
Acorns - 10, 8, 5, 3
Crosses - 9, 7, 4, 2
Jokers - 7, 7, 5, 5, 5
When played, the jokers are announced to be part of one political party. In addition, there are a number of action cards:
X2: Seven of these cards that double the value of a politician card
Cracked Egg: Four of these cards; they are played on an opponent's politician card to remove that politician from counting their value
Death symbol: Party leader is replaced by the next highest ranking politician of that suit
Sausage: Political party of that type only score half (2 cards)
Clean Shirt: Bad action cards are removed (3 cards)
The cards are shuffled together and everyone gets an equal number of cards, with some leftover cards in the draw pile, and this depends on the number of players.
Each of the country cards state how many parties can form the government, the number of bonus points for being the leader of the largest party in the coalition and points for having secondary parties in the coalition. For instance, the Denmark country card states two cards from each player will be played in this round; the ruling party leader earns a two point bonus, anyone with a ruling party member earns one point, and if there is a coaltion party, players who played a card of the coalition party earn one point per card.
Once everyone has played the requisite number of cards, the political strength of each and every party is added up. The total strength of all political parties are recorded, including the total sum. In the case that one party has more than half of the strength, that party forms the government, and there will only be one ruling party. In this case, only the players who contributed cards of that party will score points. Amongst those players who played that party, the sum of their contributions is totalled. Whoever has the most strength will earn the point bonus on the country card (in case of a tie, the tiebreaker is the person with the single highest politician value); then every player who played cards of that party will earn one point per card played.
In the more common case that there is not one party that has more than half the strength, then negotiations must take place. A representative for each party is determined by the numerical contributions of each player. Whoever has the highest sum total of the politician values of a party becomes the party spokesman (again, in case of a tie, the single highest politician value breaks ties). It is possible that a player can be spokesman for more than one party. All party spokesmen then negotiate a coalition party that will have more than half the strength of all the political parties. The only restrictions are that some parties will only ally with certain parties. For instance, Roses will ally with anyone except Acorns, Religious will ally with anyone execpt Fists, Acrons will only ally with Top Hats and Religious, etc.
Example: In a four player game, Denmark is flipped up.
Fritz plays 8 Acorn, 3 Lemon
Arhippa plays 9 Religious, 1 Top Hat
Egomonte plays 10 fist, 8 fist
Odu plays 4 fist, 4 lemon
The total value of all parties is 47: 8 Acorn, 7 Lemon, 9 Religious, 1 Top Hat, 22 Fists. A majority value of 24 value is required. Fists have 22 strength but can only ally with Roses or Leaves, none of which are present. Egomonte is the spokesman of the Fists, but cannot ally with anyone. Arhippa is the spokesman of the Religious party and proposes an alliance of Religious, Acorns and Lemons. (This is in fact, the only legal alliance). This alliance is agreed upon by Odu, spokesman for Lemons and Fritz, spokesman for Acorns. Arhippa earns three points, two points for the leader of the highest party contribution, and one point for the ruling coalition party. Fritz earns two points, a point each for his two cards in the coalition, Odu earn one point for his Lemon card, and Egomonte earns 0 points.
Once a country is finished, the next country card is flipped up. The person that plays first to this country is the person who won the election in the previous country.
Points are marked off in the specific party they are scored. In the example above, Arhippa's three points are marked under the Religious column. Fritz has a point marked off in the Acorn column and 1 point under the Lemon column. This is important, since at the end, a majority bonus for each party is also added. Whichever party has the most points at the end of the game will earn a 7 pt bonus to the person who scored the most points for that party. The second highest scoring party will score 6 pts to the person who scored the most, etc, down to the 1 pt bonus for the smallest party.
General gameplay: There are different sets of rules floating around for this game. I think I can summarize the differences. As written here, it tends to be quite a random game. The broken egg cards and the death cards tend to destabilize the game very much. We played the game a few times and thought the game was too random. The cards were quite humorous. There is a "Donald Mc Chicken" and "Sokrates Spartakis" (an 8 value Fist card), with a funny picture of a Russian symbol emblazoned on his forehead. But as a game, it didn't really stand up. It actually reminds me of a Martin Wallace game, where there are some neat majority concepts, but the random bugger cards really destablilize the game. A couple of my friends thought so as well, since we began to play with one noteable improvement. All the random bugger (the 'action' cards) cards were removed, just keeping the jokers.
The scoring can be a bit confusing, especially with the majority calculations at the end of the game. It took me a couple of games to figure that out.
Perhaps the author realized the action cards caused too much randomness, since version two of the rules gives everyone an equal amount of action cards, e.g., the politician cards and action cards (including jokers) are put into separate piles, and every player gets the same number of politician and action cards.
Our gaming group really enjoys the game without the action cards. Some members of the gaming group enjoy the "negotiating" aspect of the game, which sometimes involving manipulation, or shouting down other people, a huge aspect of the game I personally do not enjoy. The scores have to be visible so that players can see who is winning so that they do not form coalitions that give the leaders more points. In reality, I find that there isn't much to this phase. Most often it involves the party spokesmen looking at the scoreboard, and attempt to maximize their points while minimizing those of their opponents, especially those who are leading.
My friend, Steve Zanini, runs a gaming weekend extravaganza in September (www.fallcon.com) called Fallcon, and on Saturday evening, he organizes the Koalition game with 10 players. Steve creates a giant scoreboard on the wall so that all players can see who is leading and who has the most points in each party. This is recommended if you play. The game does come with a scorepad, but it is quite small and hard to read by all players. I'm surprised a scoring board hasn't been designed for this game yet, but this game appears to have a small following.
Strategy tips: Like all card games, there is a large luck of the draw. Because you only recycle cards a few times, it is possible to see all the high cards go to your opponents, and you get the small cards. Having said that, trying to strategize is like playing the stock market. If your four largest cards are Top Hats and you blindly play them (in this example, assume the country card is Great Britain), and everyone else plays Roses, you will have wasted your four best cards, scored zero points, and everyone else gains on you. On the other hand, if you had a sense of where the wind was blowing, you could have put down four small Rose cards (if you had them) to earn some points. That is the essence of this game. You must be fleixible to see which parties could become the ruling coalition. It is suggested that you add a house rule where a person is not allowed to count the cumulative values of party values as they are played. This slows the game down tremendously and takes away the fun.
Having a general idea of what party cards to play is a bit inexact, but if in the previous country, people played a bunch of Top Hat cards, then it is more likely that Rose cards will be played in future countries. You also have to keep in mind that coalition members also score points as well. Even though you may not be able to compete in the largest party leadership, that party will more than likely need an ally, and if you can be leader of a secondary party, you will also earn points, sometimes with only one card. For instance, Lemons can ally with Top Hats and Roses, so a well timed Lemon card, could give you a few unexpected points.
There is a bit more control if this game is played with less players. A decent number appears to be four players, but the interesting aspect of this game is that it supports up to 10 players, and one of those rare games that supports a large number of players. However, the larger the number of players, the less amount of control one has and one is really trying to go with the flow and play cards to score points depending who they think will be the ruling party.
If there is a clear leader, trying to avoid what the leader plays is a good idea. If the current leader plays Top Hat cards, then you are probably best to avoid Top Hat cards since no one else will want to give the leader points and avoid playing Top Hat cards. If you play them yourself, you will just happen to be an unintended victim.
It is rare to see one party win the majority outright. If people start playing Rose cards, you might want to try playing some Lemon cards to earn the second party bonus. It is usually not in any one player's favour to follow everyone else since the person with the high cards will earn the party bonus. Having said that, if you have small cards in that suit, now might be a good time to play them to play off your small cards to earn points and save your big cards so that you have a chance to earn the leadership bonus points.
One also has to note that there are more Roses and Top Hat cards than any other party cards and plan their play accordingly. This usually means that the end game scoring bonuses, the 7 and 6 pt bonuses will usually be scored by the Roses or Top Hats. This can be viewed as unfortunate, but due more to the distribution of cards.
Conclusions: There are some neat scoring mechanisms in this game, and the cards are good for a few laughs. If you really enjoy negotiating games and political party games, you will enjoy this game. If you are like me, and tend not to like the negotiating aspects (the raising of voices, why this person should ally with this person), then you will not be too fond of this game. It is suggested you play with no action cards (but leave the Jokers in), and do not allow players to count the party strengths as they are played as this slows the game down too much. The one advantage of this game is that it supports 10 players and with the right crowd can be fun. Most games take two and a half hours, but this can be shortened by playing a specified number of country cards, rahter than all fifteen countries.