Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Review of Heroes & Tricks by Pencil First Games

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Review of Heroes & Tricks by Pencil First Games
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Title: Heroes & Tricks
Designed by: Eduardo Baraf, Jonathan Gilmour
Publisher: Pencil First Games
Year Published: 2017
MSRP: $20
2-6p | 15-25 min | 8+

No matter race, creed, gender, or empire – each child of Gamedor is born with an affinity to one of The Four Suits: Card, Meeple, Die, or Token. In Love and War these suits are absolutely meaningless, but in Game, well, they mean everything. A true leader uses their cards, and any means necessary, to gain the favor of other heroes of the land. Can you best the other Lords of Gamedor and build the biggest party of Heroes?

Gameplay:  The goal of Heroes and Tricks is to be the player to win the most tricks (thereby having the most Heroes) in the game. Each Trick is lead by a Hero card that defines the target suit and color, dramatically changing the play dynamic of typical trick-taking games. Players then play into the trick, but only see the last played card and need to use deduction, item play, and hand management to win the most tricks.

—description from the publisher

Blooms are the game's highlights and features.  Elements that are exceptional.
  • The artwork and component quality is great.  Characters and items are fun and comical, the cards and dividers are great quality, and the magnetic box is outstanding.
  • The ability to have the game playable without a table is very interesting.
  • Trick taking with some additional cards to give powers and abilities is a fun twist.
Buds are interesting parts of the game I would like to explore more. 
  • I'm curious to know if repeated plays adds a better sense of strategic choice.  
  • There is a variant to play more like a traditional trick-taking game, without the box.  This may feel like you have more control of your game.
  • The rock-paper-scissors style hierarchy of suits is an interesting way of figuring out the trick winner if nothing matches the hero exactly.
Thorns are a game's shortcomings and any issues I feel are noteworthy.
  • Felt like it was mostly luck.  
  • Very limited information about what other players had made choices feel very limited and just a shot in the dark.
  • The general mechanics seemed straightforward at first, but felt a bit kludgy in practice.
  • Though you can play without a table, it's very helpful to have a place to lay down cards as you win tricks.  It's tough to juggle your hand, your won tricks, and the box as it's passed around.
  • There are four suits, four colors, and various ranks of cards within each suit and color.  Each color has two suits, each of which it shares with another color.  That's just too much going on and it results in chaos.
Final Thoughts:
Admittedly I didn't play this game much, but what I did play felt like it was mostly luck since there was so little known information about what anyone had and what was played.  You can only see the card that was played before your own turn.  Unfortunately I couldn't ever find anyone interested in exploring the game further.

I do like the idea of games that you can play without needing a table, and you can play this without a table, but that's very cumbersome.  You need a place to put the cards you win.  It also gets tiring to have to pass the box around, open it to see the last card played, pick something from your hand, then place it in the box.  Then resolving tricks requires that everything be emptied, the winner figured out based on suit, color, rank, and if any of that happens to match the hero that started the trick or if any gear cards changed anything up along the way.  It all ends up being very chaotic and fiddly.

There are interesting ideas in Heroes & Tricks, but they don't feel well thought out and aren't implemented very well.  So much has been done and added that the game just feels like a random, chaotic mess.  All you're doing is guessing the whole time.  I think instead of expanding to essentially 8 suits (if you consider each suit/color combination separately), since you can only see the card played previously, reducing the number of suits would have been a better idea.  Then you'd be able to make some deductions based on cards you have in your own hand.

This may be more interesting as a standard trick-taking game, where you can see everything played, but only the first player gets to see the Hero that they are attempting to win.  I could see this played where the first player gets to see the hero.  Then all players play one card, visible to everyone, possibly with a Gear card played secretly behind their played card.  I think that would be a lot more interesting, add some clever player interactions and deduction, and feel much less chaotic.  You'd have to eliminate the box novelty though.

As it is, I can't recommend Heroes & Tricks, which is a shame since it looks great and has some great ideas.  If you are looking for something to play while in line at a convention, or at a restaurant with limited table space, I think there are better games to play.  But if you like the theme, and don't mind a game that's more an activity and exercise in randomness, then you may get some enjoyment out of it.  Be warned though, whether you win or lose will have more to do with chance than any choices you make.

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Rating:
Thorn!  I can't quite recommend this game,
although you may enjoy it if you like games
like this.  I feel this game has some flaws and
there are areas that it could improve in the
experience it provides.


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GJJ Games 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 were provided by a publisher or designer for my honest feedback and evaluation.  I make every attempt to be both honest and constructively critical in my reviews, and they are all my opinions.  There are four types of reviews on GJJ Games: Full Reviews feature critical reviews based on a rubric and games receive a rating from 0 to 100.  Quick Reviews and Kickstarter Previews are either shorter reviews of published games or detailed preview reviews of crowdfunding games that will receive a rating from 0 to 10 based on my impressions of the game.  Buds, Blooms,and Thorns reviews are shorter reviews of either published or upcoming games that highlight three aspects of a game: Buds are parts of a game I look forward to exploring more, Blooms are outstanding features of a game, and Thorns are shortcomings of a game.  Each BBT review game will receive an overall rating of Thorn, Bud, or Bloom.

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