Ender Wiggins
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Introducing Sneaks & Snitches



With successful titles like Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization (2006), Dungeon Lords (2009), Galaxy Trucker (2007), and Space Alert (2008), there's no doubt that Vlaada Chvátil has already hit the big time as a game designer. To be credited with the design of any one of those games would be an honor - to have published a new hit for four years running is outstanding. So it won't come as a surprise to anyone that Chvátil has a new game out for 2010. He already surprised us in 2009 with the release of Bunny Bunny Moose Moose, a much lighter party game with cuddly animals. The surprises continue, because 2010's Sneaks & Snitches is another departure from the heavier games Vlaada Chvátil has produced in recent years, and yet it contains some of the unusual and interesting elements that make most of us enjoy his designs. This is a filler type game with a simultaneous selection mechanic that is brimming with psychology, bluffing, guessing and double guessing. The best way I can describe it is: it's like Pick Picknic for grown ups! If you like the "Battle of Wits" in the film The Princess Bride, or enjoy the bluffing of games like Citadels and Witch's Brew, then this might just be the game for you! Let's open the box, find out what's inside, and learn how to play!




COMPONENTS

Game box

The box is a similar size to the games in the Gryphon Games bookshelf series, although this is technically an independent release that's not part of the series.



The back of the box tells us some more about the game, including the fact that it's produced by Czech Games Edition, and published in English by Gryphon Games.



Since the game is still bursting with newness, the summary of the game on the box cover is not yet tired and old, so I'll quote it in full, for the benefit of the gamers looking to learn everything they possibly can about the game before getting it into their warm little hands:
"Imagine you are the head of a company of thieves – oh, not a filthy band of cutpurses and pickpockets, but rather an elite cadre of elegant ladies and gentlemen skilled in the art of illegal acquisition. As their criminal mastermind, your job is to coordinate their efforts and gain recognition as the best in the business.
You decide whether to enter the presitigious and risky field of information theft. You decide how much effort to focus on stealing artifacts and jewelry. And don’t forget about gold! Only the top thieves in each category will win the respect and admiration of their peers. Out-guess your competition and foil their plans, while sending your team after items no one expected you to steal.
Sneaks and Snitches is a fast-paced game of psychological suspense. To win, you will need to be perceptive, clever, and daring.
"

There's a note saying that the game is "Made in the Czech Republic", but no mention is made of the number of players it's suitable for or the recommended age. The game is designed for 3-5 players (a 2 player variant is included with the rules), and I'd suggest that the age suitability is age 8 and up - my daughter and her friend that age both had a great time with it, although my 6 year old was able to play just fine too. My initial impression of the game was that it was a clever filler appealing to the more gamer-savvy crowd, to my surprise it seems to please families and children as well.

Component list

Here's our first look at what's inside the box, which includes a cardboard component tray, and components and cards in ziplocked bags, a nice touch:



Here's a complete list of the components:
● 45 Player Cards
● 24 Secret Stash Cards
● 42 Loot Cards
● 8 Location Cards
● 4 Victory Points Cards
● 100 tokens in 4 colors
● Rulebook

So in short, you get a rulebook, plastic tokens, and lots of cards!



Rule book

The rulebook is an improvement over many of the rulebooks published by Gryphon Games that I've seen - the pages have the feel of a high quality glossy coloured magazine (which I prefer above thin card).



The standard of quality and style here is similar most rulebooks from Rio Grande games, and that's a compliment. They are well laid out, with clear headings and good illustrations. You can read the rules in about ten minutes and have a good grip on the game; teaching the game to new players should prove quite simple, and everyone should be able to have a great time on their first outing of gameplay.

Item tokens

The goal of the game is to `steal' items which will earn you tokens in one of four categories: information (blue), artifacts (green), jewelry (red), and gold (yellow).



Curiously, the tokens representing these items are made out of a kind of plastic, rather than the traditional euro wooden bits, and feature a small plastic bubble in the center of each cube. They do have a nice shiny treasure-like appearance, seem to be of good quality, are visually appealing, and I suppose they also fit with the theme. There are 25 tokens in each of the four colours.



Secret Stash cards

During the game players will also get the opportunity to `steal' items that other players don't know about. These are called "Secret Stash Cards", and remain hidden when they are drawn, their identity known only by the player who drew it:



At the end of the game, these get added to the amount of Item tokens you have when calculating the score. Each card represents a single Item token, and at random will be from one of the four categories:



The neat part about this aspect of Sneaks & Snitches is that it means that part of the game involves hidden information. You can have a rough idea about who is ahead in the race to get the most Item tokens of a certain colour, but because you don't know which Secret Stash cards a player has, you can never be entirely sure!

Victory Point cards

The aim of the game is to collect the tokens, which will convert to victory points. But only players with the most tokens in a color/category will earn points, which are listed on the Victory Points card. For example, here's the Victory Points card for a four player game:



Here only the player with the most blue tokens (information) will get 3 victory points; all other players get nothing. The player with the most green tokens (artifacts) will get 3 points, while the player with the second most green tokens will get 2 points. Points are easier to get with jewelry and gold; as you can see, with gold tokens, everyone gets 3 points except the player with the least tokens. In the case of ties, points are shared. The amount of points varies depending on the number of player - so the game comes with four Victory Points cards that list the points earned at the end of the game based on the amount of players:



Location cards

There are eight cards which depict the locations where valuable items are found, and are designated A through H.



If you look closely at the pictures, you'll see that each letter corresponds to the name of a building: Auction House, Bank, Casino, Depository, Embassy, Federal Achive, Gallery, and Hotel. I really like the artwork on these cards!



The location cards will be laid out in a row in the center of the table, and the number used is three more than the number of players (i.e. A-F for 3 player game, A-G for 4 players, A-H for 5 players).

Player cards

Player cards come in 5 different colours/characters (which have no relationship with the token colours by the way!).



Each player gets their own set of cards in their own colour/character, which contains a boss (pictured on the left), and one card corresponding to each location (A-H).



As this next picture shows, all the cards look the same on the reverse side, so when played face down, the identity remains secret.



The "Boss" card (marked with a `loot' bag on the left and `handcuffs' on the top) remains in front of you at all times. Each turn you will select two of your other cards, one as a "Sneak" to attempt to steal loot from a particular location A-H, the other as a "Snitch" to attempt to prevent other players from stealing loot from another location A-H.

Loot cards

The usual way to `steal' items (and get the corresponding coloured tokens) is by sending your Sneaks to the different locations in an attempt to get the Loot card there (hoping that your opponents won't have placed a Snitch at the same location!). The Loot cards are the same size as the Location cards, and are smaller than all the other regular-sized cards in the game. They are marked with a I or II on the back, because they're designed to be separated into two decks, with the I deck cards on top. The II deck cards generally have more valuable or powerful Loot cards, which ensures that these come out in the latter half of the game.



The standard Loot cards simply represent the appropriate number of coloured tokens to be taken from the bank - here are some examples of standard loot.



Aside from the standard Loot cards that earn tokens, there are six special Loot cards (multiple copies of each) that give a variety of benefits to the player who gets them.



Clockwise from top left, they are: Blank Check, Safecracking, Intrigues, Compromising Documents, Special Items, and Collection. The special effects of each of these will be explained in the gameplay section.

GAME-PLAY

Set-up

Each player gets their own set of cards, including a Boss card, and cards corresponding to each of the locations from A - H. They also get three random tokens.



The number of location cards used is three more than the number of players, i.e. for 3 players use A - F, for 4 players use A - G, for 5 players use A - H. They are placed in the center of the table, and loot cards are dealt for each location. The rulebook has a nicely labelled example of a four player set-up:



Flow of Play

Now that you've actually set up the game, you're ready to play!



Here's what you do each round:
● Assign Sneaks & Snitches
● Reveal Plans
● Take Loot
● Replenish Loot

Assign Sneaks and Snitches

Each round, you need to decide which location you are going to try to steal loot from (with your Sneak), and which location you are going to protect and thus prevent other players from stealing loot from (with your Snitch). We call the Snitches "Cops" and the Sneaks "Robbers", because the "Cops and Robbers" terminology is more accessible to children.

So let's say you are the green player, and this is what the board looks like (picture below) - which of the loot cards would you like to try to win on this turn? You get to choose one location to steal (Sneak), and one location to protect (Snitch), so choose carefully!



Let's say we want to send our Robber (Sneak) to location G to attempt to get four red jewelry tokens, and that we send our Cop (Snitch) to location E, because we suspect that one of the other players is going to attempt to get the four yellow gold tokens there. You'd take your G card and put it to the left of your Boss card (beside the `loot' symbol, to denote that this is the Sneak = Robber), and you take your E card and put it above your boss card (above the `handcuff' symbol, to denote that this is the Snitch = Cop).



Reveal Plans

All the players choose one Sneak and one Snitch simultaneously, and then you reveal your cards, first placing the Sneaks (Robbers) underneath the matching locations, and then placing the Snitches (Cops) above the matching locations. Oh dear, it looks like we weren't the only player to attempt to steal the red jewelry from G!!



Take Loot

Starting with location A, you check to see what happens at each spot. To illustrate the four possibilities of what can happen, let's use the example from the rulebook:



1. One or more snitches: Nothing happens, they protect the loot at that location, and prevent sneaks from stealing it (in the example above: B, D, F, H)
2. One sneak and no snitches: The sneak steals the loot, discards the loot card and gets the tokens pictured on the card (in the example above: E)
3. More than one sneak and no snitches: The sneaks prevent each other from stealing the loot, but draw a Secret Stash Card in compensation, because no snitches were present so they didn't go home completely empty handed (in the example above: C)
4. No sneaks or snitches: The loot card is discarded and nobody gets the pictured tokens (in the example above: A,G)

So the Purple player would get nothing at B (because it's protected by a Snitch), the Red and Yellow player would each get a Secret Stash card at C (because it's unprotected but they are competing), the Blue player would get three blue tokens at E (because it's unprotected), and the Green player would get nothing at H (because it's protected by a Snitch). This is the fun part of the game, because you have to try to anticipate what other players might do, and choose accordingly! Bluff and double bluff!

You will have noticed already that there are some special Loot cards that give unique benefits. Let me just quickly run you through the special kinds of Loot cards:

Collection: Take one of each of the four coloured tokens.



Blank Check: Take three tokens of your choice (any colour or colours).



Safecracking: Draw three Secret Stash cards.



Intrigues: Exchange up to three of your tokens with other players.



Special Items: These are worth that number of victory points at the end of the game.



Compromising Documents: All other players must return to the bank half (rounded up) of their tokens of that colour.



Replenish Loot

Discarded Loot cards are replaced by new cards from the deck. In the second half of the game you'll start drawing the deck II cards, which are generally worth more or add other twists that give players a chance to come from behind (e.g. Compromising Documents). Then you repeat the process for another round, with each player simultaneously choosing another Sneak and another Snitch!

Scoring

The game ends when there's not enough loot cards to replenish all the locations. You then use the Victory Points card to calculate the points. Players add their Secret Stash cards to their tokens of matching colour, and you compare the combined total of tokens and Secret Stash cards to determine which players earn points for that colour/category. For example, in the four player game, points would be awarded according to the Victory Point card for that number of players.



● the player with the most blue tokens/secret stash (Information) gets three points while all other players get no points for their blue tokens
● the player with the most green tokens/secret stash (Artifacts) gets three points while the player with the second most gets two points
● the players with the most and second most red tokens/secret stash (Jewelry) each get three points while the player with the third most gets one point
● the players with the first, second and third most yellow tokens/secret stash (Gold) each get three points, while the player with the least gets nothing.
Points are shared (rounding down) in the case of ties. Points from Special Items are added, and the player with the highest score is the winner!

The final score in the above game would be: Blue player 6, Green player 5, Red player 6, Purple player 8. Scores tend to range from 3 to 10 points, so games are often very close. With just the right loot card, even towards the end of the game, you can swing the numbers for a particular category/colour in your favour, so there's lots of tension, and sometimes the outcome is only decided in the last round or two!

Two Players

Sneaks & Snitches is surprisingly excellent with two players, and becomes a real battle of wits! There are some special rules for the two-player game which are easy to learn: you play with locations A-F (same as a three player game), but give an extra boss card to one player.



The player with the extra boss as ally gets to play a second sneak while the other player gets to play a second snitch that round. In this example, the blue player gets to play an extra sneak (while his opponent would get to play an extra snitch that round):



The next round they would switch roles, so the blue player would get to play a second snitch, and the opponent gets a second sneak. The only other small change is scoring: only first place in each category scores, and to win a category you need to have at least two more than your opponent. I've played the two player game many times and find it particularly good; you can whiz through a game in under 20 minutes, and there's not much luck or chaos - it's all about out-guessing your opponent!

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

What particularly makes Sneaks & Snitches shine is the fun psychological interaction. In fact, that really is the essence and heart of the game. It's a battle of wits, as you try to divine what your opponent will do, and counter appropriately ... or do you? One of the most memorable scenes of the film The Princess Bride is about a game just like this.



"The battle of wits has begun," said the man in black. "It ends when you decide and we drink and find out who is right and who is dead."
"But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you. Are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet, or his enemy's?"
"Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I'm not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool; you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me."


If you like this Princess Bride style of double think, then Sneaks & Snitches is your game. Granted, the more players you play this with, the more wits are at your table, and the harder it is to join the battle with a clear strategy. In that sense the game is more chaotic with the full complement of players. Chaotic is different than random, however, because there's actually very little randomness - once the loot cards are on the table, the outcome is going to be decided purely by your choices... and the choices of your opponents! One could argue that with too many players one loses a sense of control and might as well play randomly. That might work - sometimes - believe me, my son tried it! But especially with 2 or 3 players this is not the case, and if you know the person on the other side of the table well enough and play the man, there's no doubt the right amount of bluffing and second-guessing can help win you the game. I particularly like the fact that the loot cards increase in value and effect in the latter half of the game, so the stakes become bigger and the possibilities for turning the game around are real - you feel that you are always in with a chance.

It's this fun combination of simultaneous selection, blind bidding, bluffing, and psychological drama that is the game's biggest strength. Sure, your best laid plans can be vetoed by the unpredictability of your opponent's choices, because they are trying to do the same thing as you are! But that's the fun of the game, and there's always tension and excitement as the assignments of the sneaks and the snitches are revealed, and cries of victory over unexpected hauls, or gnashing of teeth over dashed hopes. And even if you don't get any loot yourself on a particular round, there's often the satisfaction that your snitch has successfully prevented someone else's sneak from hauling loot from another location, so there's still something to be pleased about.

I concede that not everyone is going to like this. And that's fine - games are often a matter of taste, and not everyone enjoys this kind of psychological element as the main course of a game. If you are one of these people, then this is not the game for you. But if you enjoy games with bluffing and blind bidding like Citadels and Witch's Brew, then you are just going to love Sneaks & Snitches. I love Witch's Brew (see my review here for details), and Sneaks & Snitches is the game that comes the closest to offering the same kind of feel and tension, without any sense of duplication the mechanics of that game. The mechanics also remind me a great deal of Pick Picknic, but I think most gamers will enjoy Sneaks & Snitches more, because the randomness of card draw is removed, and it's all about trying to outwit your opponents, and every round you have the full range of choices to pick from.

A further strength of Sneaks & Snitches is its quick gameplay. We can usually finish a game in 15-20 minutes. Easily. No matter how many players. That's excellent for a game of this type. Sure, it's a light kind of game, and can even be somewhat chaotic at times. But given that you're only investing 15 minutes of game-time, that's just right. It's no steak dinner, but it's a light and fluffy dessert, and it's good at what it does. This may be somewhat of a departure from Vlaada Chvátil's usual meaty affairs, but it just goes to prove that he's a games chef with a wide range of abilities. This is certainly a filler, but many people will find that it packs enough thrills and tension into 15 minutes that it's well worthwhile, and in that regard this psychological filler does have the potential to be a psychological thriller. Combined with very attractive artwork and components, this little filler will get some good mileage in the right circles.

I admit that when I first read about the game on the back of the box, I was rather unenthusiastic and sceptical, both about the theme and the mechanics. But over a dozen plays later, the gameplay has won me over, and even the `cops and robbers' type theme has proven to be better than I anticipated. To my surprise, Sneaks & Snitches has become quite a hit with my wife, my children, and their friends, and seen a lot of play over the last couple of weeks. The game also turned out to be much easier to explain and learn than I expected. Given that it plays so quickly and has a high fun factor, I'm quite happy to have this new title in my collection, even if I lose more often than not. I'm content to spend 15-20 minutes playing a 4-5 player game with my family given the amount of laughs and fun that will be had in that time, although I particularly enjoy it as a 2-3 player game where it even more becomes a matter of my wits against my opponents.



Recommendation

Is Sneaks & Snitches for you? That depends on your taste - gamers who can't stand psychological drama, bluffing and blind bidding should politely look elsewhere, because this is just not `their' kind of game. But if you do have an appetite for this genre, then this is well worth picking up. It should work well in family settings or with non-gamers, but has a broader appeal that social gamers will enjoy as well. Once again, chef Vlaada Chvátil has surprised us with a new gaming dish, this time a light appetizer that's particularly tasty and stands out from average. I don't plan on locking this stash away or keeping it secret, because Sneaks & Snitches is sure to find its way onto my table more often!



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

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Günther
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Great review! Thanks!

Quote:
The final score in the above game would be: Blue player 6, Green player 5, Red player 6, Purple player 8.


I count Blue 5, Green 4, Red 6, Purple 7.
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Aaron Walker
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Evil Knivel wrote:
Great review! Thanks!

Quote:
The final score in the above game would be: Blue player 6, Green player 5, Red player 6, Purple player 8.


I count Blue 5, Green 4, Red 6, Purple 7.


Blue = 1 for tying for first for Information (blue) + 2 for tying with 2 other players for 2nd for Gold (yellow) + 3 for the two special cards = 6

Green = 1 for tying for first for Information (blue) + 1 for 3rd for Jewelry (red) + 2 for tying with 2 other players for 2nd for Gold (yellow) + 1 for the special card = 5

Purple = 3 for 1st in Artifacts (green) + 3 for 2nd in Jewelry (red) + 2 for tying with 2 other players for 2nd for Gold (yellow) = 8
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Carlos Ferreira
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By your review this game looks similar with Edel, Stein & Reich.

Here you have a lot of options while on ES$R you have only 3... but it just looks too familiar.
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Houserule Jay
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Thanks for the great review, the game had my interest.

If I didn't already own Adel Verpflichtet I would likely pick it up, for me it seems VERY similiar and looks to scratch the same itch.
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Ender Wiggins
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Evil Knivel wrote:
Quote:
The final score in the above game would be: Blue player 6, Green player 5, Red player 6, Purple player 8.

I count Blue 5, Green 4, Red 6, Purple 7.

Aaron Walker nailed the explanation correctly in his post above (thanks Aaron!). Maybe it helps if I show the steps of this particular example in a bit more detail. As mentioned, points are awarded according to the Victory Points card for a four player game:


Remember that ties result in shared points (rounding down if necessary). This example from the rulebook illustrates what happens in the case of more complex and multiple ties - in reality figuring out the points is usually very straight forward, and it's rarely anything like this! So given the items and secret stash cards players have at game end (left), points would be awarded as Aaron explained (right):



I've not played Edel, Stein & Reich or Hoity Toity (aka Adel Verpflichtet), so I can't make any comparative comments with respect to those games. In comparison with Citadels, the choices in Sneaks & Snitches are simpler (which loot shall I go for this round, and which loot shall I try to stop my opponents getting this round?), but the amount of psychological interaction and of outguessing your opponent is more important and a bigger part of the game. The special loot cards make the choices tough and interesting (especially the Compromising Documents cards in the second half of the game), and I've rarely seen a runaway leader as I've sometimes seen happen in Citadels - the lead for earning points in a particular category can change hands rapidly, so a couple of successful rounds at the end can revive your fortunes, leading to a tense finish. Sneaks & Snitches is also a much quicker game than Citadels; for what it offers, the gameplay time is just right.
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Jae Ha Woo
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Thanks for a helpful review.

As far as I can tell, your description reminds me of Vabanque more than anything else, despite some clear differences between the two. I personally think that Vabanque is a very well-designed game, and it looks as if this game might have the same kind of potential.
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Thomas Chipman
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great review as always.

i love the fact that the purple card character looks like rick astley.

did vlaada just rickroll us?
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John Mitchell
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EndersGame wrote:
You get to choose one location to steal (Sneak), and one location to protect (Sneak)

typo, should be Snitch?
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Steve Ellis
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Another excellent review. I truly appreciate your efforts from the perspective of a gamer and a retailer.
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Krzysztof Koschany
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EndersGame wrote:
Evil Knivel wrote:
Quote:
The final score in the above game would be: Blue player 6, Green player 5, Red player 6, Purple player 8.

I count Blue 5, Green 4, Red 6, Purple 7.

Aaron Walker nailed the explanation correctly in his post above (thanks Aaron!). Maybe it helps if I show the steps of this particular example in a bit more detail. As mentioned, points are awarded according to the Victory Points card for a four player game:


Remember that ties result in shared points (rounding down if necessary)...


Am I missing something ? Blue, Green and Purple are tying for 2nd for gold. So... shouldn't be 3 points (2nd for gold) divided by 3, which gives them 1 point each (and not 2 points each as in example) ?
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Steve Duff
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comma777 wrote:
Am I missing something ? Blue, Green and Purple are tying for 2nd for gold. So... shouldn't be 3 points (2nd for gold) divided by 3, which gives them 1 point each (and not 2 points each as in example) ?


They all tie for 2nd *and* 3rd, so they all share 6 points, 2 each.
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Bowie
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The winner of the only game i've ever played was doing his turns at random, without looking at other players movements or bothering about scoring. No psichology, only a little luck... and he won. Not a game for my tastes.
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David Jablonovsky
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nice review!

i've just bought the game yesterday and we played it with my girlfriend, which was a funny experience - half of the time we guessed the same locations

looking forward to play it with more friends, looks like a quick light game suitable also for beginners -> parties
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William McDuff
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"'A grey man,' she said. 'Neither white nor black, but partaking of both. Is that what you are, Ser Davos?' 'What if I am? It seems to me most men are grey.'" -- Lady Melisandre of Asshai and Ser Davos Seaworth from A Clash of Kings by G.R.R. Martin
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Do you consider this to be an 'unofficial entry' into the Gryphon Bookshelf series, Ender? Just curious.

(Also, found a typo: "There are eight cards which depict the locations where valuable items are found, and are designated A through G." You mean A through H, of course.)
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Ender Wiggins
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wmcduff wrote:
Do you consider this to be an 'unofficial entry' into the Gryphon Bookshelf series, Ender? Just curious.

(Also, found a typo: "There are eight cards which depict the locations where valuable items are found, and are designated A through G." You mean A through H, of course.)

Thanks for pointing out the typo - edit made.

I do think this game would be a natural fit in the Gryphon Bookshelf series. At one time I even asked the publisher why it wasn't part of this series, and apparently it has to do with the fact that it was co-produced with Czech Games Edition - otherwise it would indeed be an ideal candidate for the bookshelf series.
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Saint Ronin
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Can anyone tell me the dimensions of the cards? I have some extra sleeves from Dominion and thought they might be usable.


Edit: Disregard,I pulled up a video review on youtube and either the people have giant hands, or the cards are clearly smaller than standard euro. Combine that with the smaller loot cards and stuff and I probably will not bother sleeving it.

Edit #2: The Larger cards are 56mm x 86mm (std. USA size which is NOT the same as std. card USA) and the smaller cards are 43mm x 67mm (the Fantasy Flight mini euro sleeve size is 44x68 while Mayday's is slightly wider at 45x68).

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123 CARDS TOTAL (50 mini euro and 73 std. USA board game)
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I'm sure the card breakdown is provided elsewhere, but here it is again for sizes...

42 loot cards + 8 locations = 50 mini Euro size cards

1 character + 8 location cards for all 5 players = 45 cards
+ the 24 secret stash cards and 4 score cards is 28 more
which gets you to the total of 73 std USA board game size cards
 
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