Thursday, March 3, 2016

GJJ Games Reviews - Cabaret - by Know Chance Games

Designer: Patrick Dillon
Publisher: Know Chance Games
GJJG Game Reviews - Cabaret - by Know Chance Games

Cabaret is a card game that successfully funded on Kickstarter last August.  It is currently available from the Know Chance Games website for $19.  When Adam Whitney, founder of Know Chance Games, contacted me to see if I would like to review Cabaret I was very happy to oblige.

Game Overview:
Cabaret is a trick taking game similar to Hearts or Spades, both of which I grew up playing, but with a few twists. The first is the theme. Unlike traditional trick taking games that use a generic deck of playing cards, Cabaret uses custom cards with beautiful artwork depicting various acts in a French cabaret show around the turn of the (last) century. Represented are dancers, jugglers, musicians, and more. And, of course there are the mimes. Because of the custom cards, Cabaret can easily support anywhere from two to six players, just by varying which cards are included. The other big difference is how each trick is played and won. Instead of following suit, like pretty much every other trick taking game, in Cabaret you cannot follow suit! It takes a little getting used to, but it really sets Cabaret apart from other card games. So, is Cabaret worth picking up even if you are happy with your Hearts, Spades, and Euchre? Read on...

Components & Packaging:
There really isn't much to Cabaret.  It is just a deck of cards in a box.  It's a custom deck of 90 cards, but that's all for components.  That said, the artwork on the cards is gorgeous and they are linen embossed.  There are six sets of cards, one for each color, plus 18 mime cards.  The artwork on the cards represent different types of cabaret performances.  The backs of the cards look like a stage with red curtains and then there are the mime cards.  All the artwork is fantastic.
Gorgeous artwork!
The packaging is fine, just a two piece box that is good quality.  I found it odd though that the box didn't mention anything about player count, game time, or ages.
No mention of player count =(
I think my only complaint about the components is that a few details were overlooked.  The numbers on the cards are all facing upright in relation to the artwork.  This is aesthetically fine, but it means that the first thing everyone has to do at the start of a round is turn all the cards in their hand right side up.  This isn't a huge deal though because most players rearrange their hand anyway.  A bigger issue is that one of the variants mentioned in the rules can't be played because the agent cards are double sided.  The Agent cards are simply for reference and remind a player what color they are trying to collect.  Generally this is public knowledge, but one variant in the rules says the agent cards should be dealt face down so a player only knows their own color.  This sounds interesting, but isn't practical to do since both sides of the agent cards are identical.  This, like the numbers, seems like something that was overlooked in the transition from prototype (which apparently had upside down numbers on the bottom) and production artwork.

The box is nice and thick and holds everything securely.
Score: 8/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
The rules are very straight forward.  They take up a single sheet of paper, both sides.  But 2/3 of one of those sides is just a quick rules summary for people that are already familiar with trick taking games.  If you are familiar with Hearts or Spades, or any other trick taking game you'll be up and playing Cabaret in five minutes.  And explaining the game to someone else just takes a minute or two.  Even if you've never played a trick taking game before, the rules are simple.
The mimes are just one of the nice twists that set Cabaret
apart from traditional trick taking games.

Setup takes a tad bit longer than a standard card game, however.  Since each player has their own color cards that they are trying to collect the main deck has to be rebuilt whenever your player count changes.  Or if someone is insistent on having a specific color in the deck.  This isn't a huge deal and just takes a minute or two to separate out the colors, but it is something more than a standard card game.  But once you have your deck built and players have selected an agent card in their color, all that's left to do is deal out three mimes to each player, shuffle the deck, and deal 12 Performance cards to each player.  And between hands just shuffle all the cards and deal out another 12 to be ready for the next hand.  If you play with the same players, or the same number of players all the time just leave the deck pre-mixed for the next game - the box is deep enough to have a four player deck all ready to go.
Six colors allow the game to be played with 2-6 players,
something that requires a bit of finagling in traditional
card games.
Score: 9/10 x2

Gameplay is very straight forward.  Players are dealt 12 cards and given three mimes.  Then the player to the dealer's left starts the first trick.  Whatever color that player plays, the next players cannot play the same color.  Play proceeds around the table until each player has played a card in a color that has not been played previously, i.e. players cannot follow suit.  If a player cannot player a new color they instead play a mime card.  Mimes have a value of 0 and every other card has a value of 1-12.  The highest value card wins the trick.  Unless there is a tie.  Ties cancel out and then the next highest card wins the trick.  So it is possible, although unlikely, that you can win a trick with a mime.  The player that won the trick collects all the cards into a score pile, except for mimes, which go in front of the player and can be used again if necessary.  A hand ends when 12 tricks have been played (some players may still have a card or two in their hand, which are just discarded, if they had to play any mimes).  Then scores are tallied.  Mimes that a player has in front of them are worth 2 points and every other card is worth a number of points indicated by stars (half the card value rounded up).  Except for 11 and 12, which are worth -1 and -2 points.  The key is that players only score points for the cards they collected in their color.  Scores are tallied and then a new hand begins.  The highest score after 3 rounds wins.  Or play to a predetermined score, or for a set amount of time, or however long you want to play.  It's up to you.
I score points for winning with my color,
but I can't play red this turn since it's
already been played.
This adds a new twist to the strategy that you're used to in other trick taking games that keeps the game fresh and interesting.  It's an easy game to teach and learn, quick to play, and just deep enough that you have to think a little, but can socialize at the same time.  That makes this a great game in this genre.  
And the red 11 wins the trick!

Score: 9/10 x3

Like most card games in this genre replayability really depends on the players.  Each hand takes just a few minutes before you score it.  The rules recommend playing at least three hands, but also recommends playing to a predetermined score, or for a predetermined amount of time.  This is pretty typical of traditional games, too.  It's a great filler since a couple of hands can be finished in 30 minutes, but it's also the type of game that you can play for the entire evening.  It really just depends on the type of gameplay experience you want.  And like any other traditional card game, every experience is going to be a bit different, but also familiar and comfortable.
Just like juggled balls, this game will make it back around again!
Score: 8/10 x1

General Fun:
Cabaret isn't an edge or your seat game of excitement and thrills.  And it's not a deep brain burner either.  It's meant to be a casual game to play in social situations.  And it fits that niche very well.  I had an absolute blast playing Cabaret.  Cabaret brought me back to the days when I'd hang out with friends in college playing Euchre and Spades, or those camping trips with my family when I was growing up playing hours of Hearts.  Cabaret is a fresh twist on the familiar.  The artwork is inviting and the strategy is just different enough that I felt like this was something new, not just a rehash of something old.  It helps that the game can't quite be played with a standard deck of cards - it adds just enough to make it feel like its own game, not a traditional card game with fancy artwork.  Cabaret was easy enough that my 6 and 9 year old sons played with no problem (and loved it) and my game loving friends picked it up like an old friend (and loved it as well).  Since it plays with up to six players it's a perfect game to bring to gatherings and it'll be easy to draw non-gamers in.
The theme may be kind of pasted on, but it's a fun theme
and works well with the mechanics.
Score: 7/10 x2

Overall Value:
For under $20, Cabaret can provide hours of fun.  Yes, you can get very similar gameplay from a $2 deck of cards, but Cabaret offers a bit more thematic fun with the great artwork and unique mechanics.  You definitely won't go wrong with the game and it's a great price point for a game that you can play with gamers and non-gamers alike.  It's the kind of game that you can get a lot of mileage out of.  The $20 will easily get you 20 or more hours of gameplay and the components are high enough quality to hold up to that and much more, so that makes this game an excellent value.  Cabaret is likely a game that will stay in your collection and make it to the table for years to come.
Go ask your FLGS to carry Cabaret now!
Score: 7/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
Cabaret is definitely a winner in my book and a game that I'll be bringing lots of places and introducing to lots of players.  It is simple with some depth, familiar yet different, gorgeous, and small enough to take just about anywhere.  My only gripes with the game are super minor - the double sided agent cards and the numbers on the bottoms of the cards.  Other than that the game is absolutely outstanding.  Its mechanics work perfectly, the theme is fun and engaging, and the game is appealing to a wide variety of audiences.  Know Chance Games definitely has a winner hear and I definitely recommend you go check it out today!
I think Cabaret will be a game I play
for years to come.

Overall Score: 82/100

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review! People can get a copy at or on Amazon.