Full disclosure: A preview copy of this game was provided by Sizigi Studios. As this is a preview, I will mostly keep my comments limited to gameplay, though I actually also really like the art here, because it’s super cute little sheeps. Additionally, some wording / imagery may be out of date, just by virtue of the preview copy / set of rules that I have.
So this is a bit of a rapid turnover, as far as Kickstarter previews go, especially since the campaign’s already started, but I think it’s worth talking about so here we are.
Cake Duel is a recent KS launch that aims to be a two-player bluffing game as you compete between rival sheep factions to trick your opponent into giving you all their cake. As someone who has successfully connived their way into more cake, I’m at least on board with the theme. However, your opponent wants to steal your cake too, and since it’s a dueling game, you really can’t share. Will you be able to steal a meal and take some cake?
Setup is pretty straightforward for the introductory part of Cake Duel; for the full game there’s a few slight differences.
Basically, take out the game. You’ll notice you have two types of tokens: Cake Tokens and Round Tokens:
Set the Round Tokens aside in a pile, but choose a player to go first and give her three cake tokens and give her opponent four cake tokens.
Next, you’ll notice the basic cards:
You should have:
- 5 Soldiers
- 4 Archers
- 4 Defenders
- 3 Wizards
- 3 Scientists
- 1 Sir Wolfy
And I’ll talk about them in Gameplay. There are also some Special Cards. I don’t have all the ones you’ll see in the Kickstarter, but here’s a sampler:
If you’re playing the introductory game, shuffle the Basic Cards and deal each player 4. If you’re playing the normal game, shuffle two Special Cards into the Basic Card set and deal each player 4. Do not reveal what Special Cards you shuffled in. It makes it more mysterious!
All things considered, your play area should look like this when you’re ready to start:
As you might suspect from a 10m game, this is not going to take a particularly long time to explain. Cake Duel is played in a best-of-5 series of rounds, where each player is trying to steal all of their opponent’s Cake Tokens. If either player succeeds, they win the round.
But how do you steal Cake Tokens?
Well, on your turn, you attack! If you’re the start player, that is. You play as many Sheep Cards as you’d like of the same type. (Such as playing three Soldiers — no mixing!) Your opponent can then block, and if they’re unsuccessful, you’ll steal some of their cake tokens. You then both refill your hands and your opponent has a chance to attack.
The following cards attack:
- Soldiers: Physical attack. Steals one Cake Token if unblocked.
- Archers: Physical attack. Steals one Cake Token if unblocked.
- Wizards: Magical attack. Steals two Cake Tokens if unblocked.
And these cards defend:
- Defenders: Blocks one physical attack.
- Scientists: Blocks one magical attack.
So that’s all well and good, right? But, it seems kind of straightforward. Well, that’s what makes this interesting — you don’t play your cards face-up; you play them face-down. This means you might be bluffing about those three Soldiers you just played, similar to, say, Coup. This also lets us explain why Sir Wolfy is in the game:
- Sir Wolfy: Cannot be claimed as Sir Wolfy; you must flip this card face-up when you draw to refill your hand.
Essentially, you have to claim he’s something else (a Scientist or a Wizard or a Soldier, for instance), but then once your opponent has accepted your play, you flip him up as a taunt of “oooh, I was bluffing the whole time“. Very sneaky. Note that you do not flip up cards normally after you play them. Your entire play for a round should be face-down, save for good Sir Wolfy. Please also note that you must claim the correct number of cards, and you cannot claim that you are playing cards of multiple types (I play two Soldiers and one Archer, for instance). Obviously you also can’t play Attack Cards (for attacking) when you’re supposed to be defending, unless you are claiming those two Soldiers you put down were actually two Defenders. Sneaky.
Now, bluffing can’t just happen without consequences for lying, otherwise there’d be no intrigue to it. Your opponent can challenge your Attack or Block claim; if they’re correct (and you’re bluffing), you lose the round. That said, if they’re wrong, they lose the round. High risk, high reward.
As an additional action, you can pass. This means that you forego your turn as the Attacker, or you accept all damage done to you as the Defender. If both players pass consecutively (similar to Unfair, you might be able to take another turn in a round even if you pass), then the player with the most Cake Tokens wins the round. Naturally, if you have fewer Cake Tokens than your opponent, you never want to pass.
Similarly, you can also eventually run out all the cards in the play deck. If this happens and your hands are depleted (both players must have 0 cards left), the player with the most Cake Tokens wins.
This means the turns in a round progress in this order:
- Attacker: Claim Attack or Pass.
- Defender: Challenge Attack, Claim Block, or Accept Attack.
- Attacker: Challenge Block or Accept Block
- Both Players: Draw back up to refill your hand.
As I mentioned, play best of five rounds.
The Full Game
Once you’ve mastered the introductory game, you should try moving on to the full game! The full game adds in some of these Special Cards:
Each of which have a variety of strange effects. I’ll list the ones that came in my preview copy, but you can also potentially make your own!
- Assassin. Physical attack. Steal 5 Cakes.
- Oracle. Look at an opponent’s hand and discard a card from it. They then draw a replacement card (note this is different than what my card says).
- Angel. Block all attacks. Your opponent immediately gets another Attacker turn after this one (note this is also different than what my card says).
- Pierrot. Cannot be claimed as Pierrot; is always a copy of the last Attack you claimed.
- Quartermaster. Increase your hand size by one additional card for the rest of the game (you would have 5 cards in hand if you played this once).
- Rebel. Cannot be claimed as Rebel. If you have Sir Wolfy in hand, you may play both Rebel and Sir Wolfy as Soldiers. (Rumor has it that the Rebel didn’t make it into the Kickstarter version, so … RIP).
Note that you can still bluff these cards, which makes it a lot of fun, especially since neither you nor your opponent are sure which cards you’ve actually shuffled in (at first, maybe, at least). As you play more rounds you’re more likely to see which of the Special Cards are in play, so you’ll be able to make better claims, but it’s up to you whether or not it’s worth it to try to lie about having one of these in your hand.
Player Count Differences
I haven’t played it at more than two, so I can’t speak to this, but I hear it’s got a team-based synchronized bluffing thing going on. So that’s interesting.
- Try to understand your opponent. What kinds of bluffs don’t they tolerate? Is it too much to bluff three Soldiers? Two Wizards? If you can get them to call your bluff when you’re not lying, you’ve won a round without having to strategize, which is the best.
- Keep track of the cards you’ve seen. If you’ve already seen three Scientists (of three) and your opponent claims even one, you’ve got them. Similar to Secret Hitler, it pays to be sort-of counting cards, here. Hence the handy player guide.
- Underbluffing works well here. If you have zero Defenders and you get hit with two Archers, bluffing that you have one Defender is usually a safe way to get through that. People are generally (in my short experience) less likely to call you on only one card (unless you get unlucky and they have all the Defenders in-hand).
- Be skeptical of triple-plays, and so also try to play three of the same card at once. It’s a bit unlikely to get three of anything (especially on the first turn), so if you can do it go for it; it’s likely to get your opponent to challenge and give you the round. In the same vein, it becomes slightly more likely as you’ve seen more cards; just remember to keep track of how many you’ve seen of each type.
- (Advanced) Bluffing Quartermaster is great. If your opponent believes you, it’s generally worth it to try to get two Quartermaster plays in in a round; you get 50% more cards that way! Usually they’ll call you out on one of them, so try to figure out if they’re more likely to call you out on the first one or the second. (Usually, from my experience, it’s the first.)
- (Advanced) It’s not a bad idea to hold on to the Assassin. If it’s the last card you play and they’re out of cards, you’ve got them. Otherwise, it can be stopped by a single Defender and that’s a bit lackluster (not something you’d normally expect a player to bluff).
- (Advanced) Use Pierrot to your advantage. Note that Pierrot is a copy of your last claimed card during your Attack Turn, so if you bluff Quartermaster, you can play Pierrot as Quartermaster, and then play the Quartermaster for real on your next turn. I cannot guarantee that your opponent will not punch you, but … if you wanna take on the risk, be my guest. It’s also quite handy to use when you’re trying to play the Assassin, as you can potentially do the same thing as I mentioned with Quartermaster, but with the Assassin instead. This is slightly less helpful, as that means you can still be blocked by a defender each time. It also means you could potentially bluff an Assassin and then play two Assassins on your next turn.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- So short. Very quick little game with enough take-that that I’m often down for a few rounds in a short burst. Might be a good opener / finisher for game night or a way to kill time between games.
- Very easy to learn. I taught my housemate how to play in a couple minutes, and I learned it in a couple minutes. It’s not a particularly complex game, nor do I think it’s trying to be, which I appreciate. I also like that their iconography is consistent and they don’t try to invent a ton of new terms, so it seems very easy to pick up and play.
- The art is fantastic. It’s light, cute, and whimsical, which I think is exactly the right thematic place to go for with this game. I think it’s right on the nose. Current favorite is the Assassin.
- Light bluffing. I find that bluffing games aren’t for everyone, but this is a lot lighter than, say, even One Night Ultimate Werewolf or Spyfall (it takes less time to explain, at least), so it might have a bit wider of an appeal than your standard social deduction / deception game.
- Seems very expandable. Since there’s currently only one magic attacker, I assume that the Scientist will prevent further magical aggressions in the future, if this campaign is successful (which, as of even now, it’s funded, so … yes).
- There will be times you are forced to bluff. If you refuse to bluff under any circumstances, then Sir Wolfy is just dead weight in your hand, for instance. You also might just need to because you need to make an attack or else you’ll lose the round. This might be a con for some people, but I don’t mind it, so I’ll Meh it.
- Bit small, at the moment. I imagine that’ll improve over the course of the Kickstarter, but my preview copy is about 25 cards (which is more than Love Letter, to be fair). I hear that it’ll be fixed to be at least 30+ cards with the 20 Basic + 10 Special + some of the KS-special cards.
- Relies a fair amount on card counting / memory. Not in sort of the “get thrown out of Vegas” way, but it really helps to have a good sense of how many cards have been played vs. how many you’ve seen vs. what’s been claimed, and I feel like that’s not particularly my forte? I find myself losing a lot of rounds where that’s important, but it isn’t always.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I mean, I backed it (that way I’ll have enough to try 4p and update this post… eventually), so that’s pretty much the best endorsement I can give to it. For me, it feels like what two-player Coup should have been; a game about cycling through a bunch of cards and playing them, rather than just guessing what two cards your opponent has in front of them (especially because I think Coup at two players doesn’t work for me — too many degenerate matchups that are just inevitable losses unless someone bluffs really well). I think that’s a much stronger gameplay mechanic with only two people, and I definitely am enthusiastic about playing this game again soon.
Plus, it comes in a sheep box. I was never not going to be excited about this.