Introducing Elevenses

Drinking high tea may not be everyone's idea of a fun theme for a card game. But if you're one of those folk complaining about overused themes, then you need to give Elevenses half a chance. And no, this isn't just a game for young girls dressed in princess costumes! Elevenses is a term used to denote a mid-morning snack, typically some cake or biscuits along with a cup of coffee or tea. Isn't that a theme that everyone can get on board with? I'm being serious - even respected hobbits are known to have enjoy elevenses as a light snack between their second breakfast and luncheon. Really, this is a theme that you can have a lot of fun with, whether you're a young girl, a grown man, or for that matter a hobbit!

Elevenses is a relatively new card game from Adventureland Games, the folks who first brought us the remarkable Archaeology: The Card Game, a superb compact title that has been played countless times in our home. This new game is a small card game in which players all get an identical set of 11 morning tea cards, playing them on their table "spread" in front of them, in an effort to get points, and using their special powers to mess with their opponents hands and spreads while hopefully strengthening their own. When elevenses is called, who will have the best spread?



COMPONENTS

Game box

The game box is a small box that fits easily in the palm of your hand, and similar in size to other popular card games like Saboteur and No Thanks. The artwork featured on the cover evokes the atmosphere of socialites in the 1920s enjoying a fine morning tea, which is the setting of the game. Don't take the theme too seriously - it's not intended that way!



The back of the box gives us some basic information about the game, along with a list of components, and a picture of some of the cards from the game. Elevenses is a game for 2-4 players, and plays in around 30 minutes.



The concept of the game is summarized as follows: "You are a respectable 1920s socialite striving to serve the finest morning tea! All around Europe, eleven in the morning is recognised as the perfect time to stop and have a bite to eat. In Elevenses, you play cards to create your spread - sandwiches, biscuits, cakes - and don't forget the tea! When eleven o'clock strikes, the player with the best spread wins! Can you serve the most scrumptious morning tea of all?"

Component list

Here's all the components that you get inside the box:
● 56 cards
● 30 cubes
● rulebook



It's worth mentioning here already that the retail edition of the game includes the six card mini-expansion, Special Guests.

Player decks

Each player gets their own identical "deck" of 11 cards, differing only in that they feature different coloured artwork on the back in the four player colours: red, yellow, green, and blue.



Each player deck consists of 11 different cards numbered one through eleven, which are: 1. Tea Trolley; 2. Tea; 3. Milk; 4. Sugar; 5. Cups & Saucers; 6. Fine China; 7. Biscuits; 8. Sandwiches; 9. Cakes; 10. Servants; 11. Elevenses.



The cards feature a number on the top left, which will indicate the position this card may be played face-up in your personal "spread". At the top right are a number of tea-spoons, indicating the point-scoring "value" of that card. The cards have some flavour text below the name of the card, and a special action is described on the bottom of each card.



Sugar cubes and sugar-bowl card

During the game you're trying to earn points which are represented by sugar cubes; 30 nice wooden cubes, that you'll place appropriately on the sugar-bowl card.



Starting server card

The starting server card is used to track the starting player, and on the reverse side has an overview of how sugar cubes are distributed to winners, depending on the number of players.



Reference cards

There's a double-sided reference card for each player, one side summarizing the special abilities of all 11 cards in each player's deck, and the other side summarizing the position that each of these cards must be played in your "spread".



Special Guests

This mini-expansion of 6 players comes with the game, but is optional and best reserved for when you're somewhat familiar with the basic game.



Instructions

The rule book is a small booklet with suitable illustrative diagrams, and consists of just a few pages; it can be downloaded from from BGG here.



GAME-PLAY

Set-up

The sugar bowl is placed in the center with all the sugar cubes on it. Each player gets their own set of 11 morning tea cards in their chosen colour, and a reference card. The starting player (naturally the last person who drank a cup of tea!) is assigned the starting server card. Each round will start with players shuffling all their 11 cards, and randomly placing them face down in front of them in two rows of four cards; this is their "spread", while the three remaining cards go into their hand and are considered their "kitchen".



Flow of Play

Players take turns, each of which consists of doing one of the following:
● Play a morning tea card
● Take up to two rearrange actions

Playing morning tea cards

You simply take one of the three cards in your hand and place it face-up in your "spread" in the appropriate position corresponding to that number (as indicated on the reference card pictured below), and taking the card that was previously there back to your hand.



At the same time you must carry out the special action indicated on the face-up card you have just played, namely:
1. Tea Trolley: Gain a sugar cube at the end of the round.
2. Tea: Choose a player. Flip one of her spread cards valued 2 - 9 face-down.
3. Milk: Choose a player. Look at her kitchen. You may swap for a card.
4. Sugar: While this card is face-up in your spread you may look at all your face-down spread cards.
5. Cups & Saucers: Take up to 3 arrange actions.
6. Fine China: All players pass a card from their kitchen to the left.
7. Biscuits: All players pass a card from their kitchen to the right.
8. Sandwiches: Choose a player. She takes a card from your kitchen without looking and may swap for it or return it.
9. Cakes: Choose a player. She looks at your kitchen and may swap for a card.
10. Servants: Show your kitchen to all players.
11. Elevenses: End the round if you have at least 4 face-up spread cards. This card may not be passed or swapped.



Notice how some of these cards will have an impact on other players when played, e.g. Biscuits forces all players to pass a card to the right. It's usually a good practice to announce the total face-up tea spoons you have at the end of your turn, to help the other players keep track of their relative position. Some cards (Tea Trolley, Servants) are placed alongside your spread, so you don't get to take a card back to your hand when these are played.

Taking rearrange actions

This lets you replace a face-down card in your "spread" with a card from your hand ("kitchen"). In most cases you'll opt to play a morning tea card when you can, but being able to take up to two rearrange actions instead will sometimes be necessary or useful in order to get cards that you need into your hand.



To get a sense of the flow of play, watch an example of a round of play here.

End of a round

A round ends as soon as someone plays the "Elevenses" card, with the players having the best spread earning sugar cubes. To do this, players add up the number of tea-spoons face up in their spread; the player with the highest gets 2 cubes and the player with the second highest gets 1 cube (in a two player game the second highest valued spread doesn't get a cube). Additionally anyone with a face up Tea Trolley gets a cube. The player who has the lowest total of cubes becomes the new starting player, and another round begins, until someone gets 7 or more cubes altogether, to win the game.



Expansion

The game also comes with a mini-expansion that consists of six "Special Guests" that can be added to the game. These are: The Vicar, Master Atkins, Duke Dudley, Lady Dorothy, Prue Devine, and Miss Carrington. Players are randomly given one of these at the start of a game, and they effectively function as secret objectives. If you have the three cards that are indicated on your Special Guest face up in your spread, you can reveal your Special Guest card to add an additional two spoons to the value of your spread (these spoons can't be lost even if the required face up cards are later turned over).



CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

Unique and fun theme: How many other games can you think of that have a theme that revolves around drinking cups of tea? It's the kind of thing that even hobbits would approve of, given their love for second breakfasts and elevenses! And as a send-up of British socialites, or something that evokes an upper-class Jane Austen style setting, it is a novel theme and an enchanting one. Despite the prominent use of the colour pink, it's less "girlie" than one might think, and has a tongue-in-cheek fluffiness that should endear itself to all ages and genders, especially if approached with the light-hearted attitude that is intended. In an interview (well worth reading!), the designer David Harding describes what happened the first time he introduced Elevenses to outsiders. "My brother and cousin were over for a games night and I said I wanted to show them a new game idea. "It's called Elevenses," I said. My cousin cracked up, my brother had no idea what was going on. "It's a game about serving tea," I said, and we all laughed in bewilderment. My cousin said, "This is either going to be crazy or brilliant." That whole game we were laughing and speaking in older lady English accents. It was hilarious, and I just thought, even if that was the only time the game gets played, it was worth it." That is indeed the spirit in which the game is best played and enjoyed! For a light filler type game, this theme works well, and has to be considered one of the game's assets.

Artwork complementing the theme: The cartoon like artwork by T.J. Lubrano does a good job of supporting the theme, by evoking a genteel atmosphere that captures the sense of a high tea, simultaneously honouring the seriousness of the ritual, while at the same time almost mocking it. There are a couple of videos (#1 and #2) that show the artist speed painting some of the artwork, which are well-worth watching to get an appreciation of her creativity and work. The flavour text also helps evoke an atmosphere that will at times have players role-playing the tea-drinking social elite by reciting flavour text in their best British accents, e.g. "My tea is the finest tea in town!" (Tea card); "Setting the table correctly is of utmost importance!" (Cups & Saucers card).

Clever and thematic `table spread' mechanic: I like the idea behind having players arrange their cards in the form of a table "spread", and the table-cloth style artwork on the reverse of the card adds to this effect. Cards in hand are called a "kitchen", which is also a nice touch given the theme. But the table spread is the core of the game, and works thematically and mechanically, further strengthening the theme and game-play.

Hand management: A big part of the game is trying to manipulate your hand, so that you can play powerful cards with multiple teaspoons, and get ahead in the race towards playing the Elevenses card. So ideally you'll try to build up your teaspoon power and set yourself up with the Elevenses card, while at the same time keeping an eye on your opponent, and this requires careful hand management, trying to acquire and use the cards you need in order to do this.

Luck of the draw: There's certainly some luck, and starting with an Elevenses in your initial hand can be quite annoying, because it effectively reduces your hand size to two. Fortunately players do have the option of taking two arrange actions as your turn, and there certainly will be occasions you'll want to do this. Sometimes you'll struggle to find the right card you need in your spread, but there are ways to make this easier, especially with the Sugar card, which lets you look at any of the face-down cards in your spread. All in all, the mixture of strategy and luck feels just right for a game like this; players are all in with a chance, and yet the game does require enough decisions that you do feel that your choices matter.

Different tactical approaches: There are some nice game-play elements in Elevenses, and you can hardly play on auto-pilot, due to the in-game decisions that will require consideration. Flipping over an opponent's spread card with "Tea" can really help slow down the opposition, and help you in the race for being ahead when you play Elevenses. Another approach is to simply go for second place, while supplementing your cubes earned with a Tea Trolley, which guarantees you one additional cube anyway. Using Tea Trolley and the powerful Servants can be strong, but it reduces your hand size to one, which can be very restrictive, so you'll have to consider whether your current position warrants reducing your hand management options by playing these cards. You'll also have to find ways to find out where the cards you need are in your spread, and try to get them into your hand. For a small and light game, there is more than enough to think about and enjoy, without it becoming a brain-burning exercise in heavy strategy.

Take-that elements: There are many ways to mess with your opponents, which can happen directly through the Tea card, but especially by playing cards that force players to exchange or pass cards. This means that the game is far from an exercise in multi-player solitaire. You certainly can't set up your hand for a series of multiple plays over the next few turns, because more than likely you're going to be passing cards, which will often interfere with your long-term plans - although fortunately it has the potential to do the same to your opponents. Yet it doesn't feel nasty, because passing cards can also lead to you getting the very card you need from an opponent!

Accessible and broad appeal: Elevenses is fairly straight forward to learn and play, because for the most part you simply follow the basic instruction on the card you play. In that sense, it's almost as easy to introduce as Love Letter. The light-hearted and silly theme plus the ease of game-play means that it is an ideal game that you can introduce to your non-gamer friends, or even as a light filler for your most macho of gamer buddies.

Potentially drags with more players: A two player game of Elevenses plays very quickly, and can be one of the more enjoyable ways to play. When playing with 3 players and especially with 4, the game can start to drag a little, particularly when if you play to the standard win condition of 7 cubes. Some people have advocated lowering the win condition, and we have tried that on occasion, although somehow playing to 5 cubes doesn't quite feel satisfying, and we usually end up playing an extra round or two anyway. But at the end of a four player game, you may find yourself thinking that the entire experience took longer than it should have for a light game of this type. Elevenses is perhaps best enjoyed with a lower player count.

Excellent mini-expansion: While the main game is quite decent, we really enjoyed playing with the Special Guests expansion that is included, because it gives you alternative way to get teaspoons. But perhaps more importantly, it forces you to try to get very specific cards into play, that you might otherwise not use. This adds an extra layer of thought to the game by introducing something additional to consider, and it also helps ensure that the game plays out differently each time, as you have different objectives to work with. It's hard to ignore the increased value you gain by accomplishing the objective offered by the Special Guests, and you may find yourself always going for them. But they offer some more hidden information and tactical variation that is welcome. I'm very glad these were included in all copies of the game, and after your first couple of plays you'll definitely want to include the Special Guests, and probably never play again without them.



What do others think?

The criticism

Overall Elevenses has been received with a fair amount of enthusiasm. Those who were more critical of the game mentioned various reasons for their disappointment, including their opinion that (a) the game can plod and take too long for what it is; (b) it has a memory element where players at times need to remember the location of cards in the 4x2 grid; (c) it can be too dependent on drawing the right cards; and (d) the gameplay can feel bland. But even the naysayers spoke favourable of the unique theme, fresh artwork, and some of the game-play elements.

The praise

Here's a selection of positive comments from people who did enjoy the game, most applauding it for being a fast and fun filler with charming artwork and theme:

"Fun, fast filler with lovely artwork and a charming theme." - Sebastian R.
"There are a lot of nice touches here... TJ Lubrano's artwork is gorgeous. There's enough tactical depth there that decisions take some thought." - srand
"Nice, little light/medium-weight card game." - Jens Hoppe
"A really cute card game where you play a 1920s socialite trying to serve the best morning tea." - homemadehugmachine
"Very cute; charming original theme; and a bit of the puzzle-solving and deduction that I enjoy in Love Letter and Palastgeflüster. Nice." - Dave Peters
"Quite a fun not-quite-micro game. For me far better than Love Letter et al." - Tony Ackroyd
"A fun little game with a lot of strategy and depth as well as theme. I bought it almost as a joke because of a friend who likes tea, it was an instant hit." - Justin Frantz
"It looks like a silly, frilly filler. But in reality it is a mind blowing, brain burning filler." - Randall Rasmussen
"A beautifully illustrated game, with fairly simple Love Letter's play one/pick one mechanics set in a fancy dinner party setting." - Quijanoth
"Not a bad light filler. Deeper than it looks at first glance, but not too much so. Very dainty." - Kris Wiggins
"Cute theme, very pretty design. I like the face down cards forming the play area and the card swap mechanism." - Elizabeth Jensen
"For such a prim and proper theme this sure is cut throat and nasty! But it's also a tasty game! Try it!" - Rocke Serrano
"Wonderful, vicious, little game about having a lovely tea party! Players always surprised how cut throat it gets." - ldavi27
"Brilliant stuff! A push-and-shove tableau-building card game, full of timing and to-and-fro." - Ben Bateson
"Minigame with great replayability and innovative theme." - Keith Beckman
"Love the theme and the design. The game itself is a huge hit in our family lady circle." - Anna Metreveli
"Living up to all its hype ... this is just a charming and evil little 2pl card game of making the ultimate afternoon tea." - Paul D
"A truly beautiful game that's super fun to play. A big hit for the older folks!" - Justin Stephens



Recommendation

So is Elevenses for you? Elevenses is not something incredibly ground-breaking, and some of the criticisms raised about it have merit, so it isn't going to see the same kind of repeated play or popular success as other micro-games like Love Letter, or even the terrific Archaeology the Card Game from the same publisher. The fact that it can drag a little at times is perhaps the biggest downfall of Elevenses, but it's certainly not a fatal weakness. We've always had fun playing the game, but I just don't find myself pulling it out to play quite as often as I thought I would.

Nonetheless, Elevenses has a lot going for it, and if you're looking for a light filler game that features a theme that is fun, light-hearted and original, with artwork and mechanics to match, then certainly this is an excellent candidate. And there's a lot to appreciate beyond the theme and artwork, especially the neat mechanics that have players literally decking themselves with a table spread in front of them, and trying to manipulate cups and saucers, tea and sugar, in way that is most favourable and will get them the sugar cubes needed for the win. Elevenses is a fun light game that stands out from the crowd precisely because of its unusual elements, and if you're looking for a quirky filler for your collection, then definitely consider picking this up. Essential for hobbits, and heartily recommended for elves, dwarves, and even men!

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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Roger Fawcett
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Great review, as always, Ender. This is a game I might look out for now.

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Ben Bateson
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One omission from the review is the delightful tie-break rule, which requires the players involved to... "Kiss each other on the cheek and rejoice in their shared victory."

Depending on who you are playing with, this can add a whole new level of strategy.
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Robert Werve
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ousgg wrote:
One omission from the review is the delightful tie-break rule, which requires the players involved to... "Kiss each other on the cheek and rejoice in their shared victory."

Depending on who you are playing with, this can add a whole new level of strategy.

Didin't you mean tea-break?
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Welcome back good sir - It's been a while...
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Thank you for these wonderful under-radar games' reviews thumbsup
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TJ Lubrano
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"The cartoon like artwork by T.J. Lubrano does a good job of supporting the theme, by evoking a genteel atmosphere that captures the sense of a high tea, simultaneously honouring the seriousness of the ritual, while at the same time almost mocking it."

If only you could see what went through my mind when I painted this. I kinda just space out when I work on my art, haha! This was very fun to read! ^_^
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TJLubrano wrote:
"The cartoon like artwork by T.J. Lubrano does a good job of supporting the theme, by evoking a genteel atmosphere that captures the sense of a high tea, simultaneously honouring the seriousness of the ritual, while at the same time almost mocking it."

If only you could see what went through my mind when I painted this. I kinda just space out when I work on my art, haha! This was very fun to read! ^_^
It's lovely to hear some feedback from the artist - great work, and thanks for posting!
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So you've obviously read through more reviews and comments than I have - am I the only person who's played Play Nine or the traditional card game of Golf, which is obviously the foundation for Elevenses?

https://www.pagat.com/draw/Golightly

I really like Elevenses so far (it probably helps that I've always liked Golf), but I was surprised that Golf wasn't mentioned in any of the reviews or comments that I read.
 
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Rococo_Zephyr wrote:
So you've obviously read through more reviews and comments than I have - am I the only person who's played Play Nine or the traditional card game of Golf, which is obviously the foundation for Elevenses?

https://www.pagat.com/draw/Golightly

I really like Elevenses so far (it probably helps that I've always liked Golf), but I was surprised that Golf wasn't mentioned in any of the reviews or comments that I read.
I've never heard of Play Nine before. Your link to pagat doesn't work, presumably you mean this one?

https://www.pagat.com/draw/golf.html

Solitaire Golf is quite commonly played with regular playing cards, but over at pagat.com (link) it says that it has no connection with the Golf game you're presumably referencing above.
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EndersGame wrote:
Rococo_Zephyr wrote:
So you've obviously read through more reviews and comments than I have - am I the only person who's played Play Nine or the traditional card game of Golf, which is obviously the foundation for Elevenses?

https://www.pagat.com/draw/Golightly

I really like Elevenses so far (it probably helps that I've always liked Golf), but I was surprised that Golf wasn't mentioned in any of the reviews or comments that I read.
I've never heard of Play Nine before. Your link to pagat doesn't work, presumably you mean this one?

https://www.pagat.com/draw/golf.html

Solitaire Golf is quite commonly played with regular playing cards, but over at pagat.com (link) it says that it has no connection with the Golf game you're presumably referencing above.

Weird... I wonder how I got that broken link. You had the right one.

I'm not sure what you're talking about with solitaire golf - I meant the broad spectrum of multiplayer Golf games listed on the page. While I always played with four cards, it mentions an eight-card version. I think you indirectly answered my question, which is that you haven't seen anyone comment on the similarities between Elevenses and Golf.

I taught four people Elevenses at various times yesterday, two "hobby" gamers and two "family" gamers. Three of them said "oh, like Golf but with passing cards?" when I explained the game and the fourth said "this is just like Play Nine."

I guess if I want an official answer to my question of whether Elevenses is influenced by Golf or not I should track down the designer - I've seen him post in this game forum. At this point I'm curious to know if what I thought was a really common traditional game ever made it to regular play in Australia or not.

*edit* Wait... I think that's David who gave you a thumbs up. Maybe I summoned him after all.
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David Harding
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Hi there!
I've never heard of any of these games!
Thanks for bringing them to my attention, I'll check them out.
Thanks for playing and teaching Elevenses.
David
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huffa2 wrote:
Hi there!
I've never heard of any of these games!
Thanks for bringing them to my attention, I'll check them out.
Thanks for playing and teaching Elevenses.
David

Thanks for chiming in! I definitely wouldn't say they're the same game at all, but there are some core pieces that are so similar I had to have my curiosity satisfied.

And you bet on the teaching thing - you've made a fantastic Sunday (or a Monday holiday) afternoon game with a charming theme and presentation. Thanks! Although we just taught someone new and they beat everyone in two rounds so they probably like it best of all right now. The game has stayed on the table the whole holiday weekend!
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Well that's just awesome :D Thanks again!!
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I just want to update this thread by putting in a plug for a follow-up game, called Elevenses for One. Also by David Harding, it's a microgame consisting of just 13 cards, and is a very clever and fun solitaire game that plays in 5-10 minutes. It features the same artwork and graphic design, and is well worth a look!

See my pictorial review here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1656036

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