Full disclosure: A preview copy of this game was provided by Appauling Games. As this is a preview, I will mostly keep my comments limited to gameplay. That said, please note that final artwork and rules may change, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
If you’re anything like me, then you’ve accidentally realized that you’ve committed a heinous act and left your nail clippers in your carry-on luggage and worried that you’re going to get tackled by an Air Marshal.
Or maybe that is just me. Who knows.
Anyways, Nothing To Declare is an imminent Kickstarter game with some tongue-in-cheek idea of that tension, tasking players to disguise themselves as various “stereotypical” passengers (more on that later) in a series of attempts to sneak valuable luggage onto a plane while avoiding inspections. Will you be able to get that chainsaw through security, or will you end up with literally nothing to declare?
So there are two types of cards, blue Passenger cards and orange Baggage cards:
So, search through the deck and give each player a 1-, 2-, and 3-value Baggage card. They should shuffle them and “conceal” them, or play them face-down in a row in front of them. They’ll likely end up with a second row of cards, so I generally err towards two rows of three, as you’ll see in later photos. Note that once you’ve placed your baggage, you cannot shuffle it around, but you can always look at your own cards. Shuffle the remaining Baggage cards and place them in a pile in the center. Now, give each player one of these three Passenger cards:
- The Personal Space Invader
- The Terrified
- The Chatterbox
You’ll then shuffle the remaining Passenger cards and deal each player two more random cards for a total of 5.
Once your game looks like this, you’re all ready to take off:
Gameplay is pretty straightforward. On every turn you must perform these three actions, in order:
- Reveal another player’s concealed Baggage cards (flipping it face-up if it’s currently face-down) or conceal one of your revealed Baggage cards (flipping it face-down if it’s currently face-up).
- Play one of your Passenger cards, resolving its effect and then discarding it.
- Take the top card of the Baggage deck and add it to your set of baggage concealed (face-down). If you have too many bags (6), you must discard a concealed bag that you currently have (you cannot discard the card you just picked up). You cannot discard revealed bags.
There are a variety of Passenger cards:
So you might have very different effects available than your opponent. There are also various values of Baggage cards, so what you get is fairly random:
That said, if you draw one of these Inspection cards (they’re hidden in the Baggage card deck as normal bags! So sneaky), things get a little hectic:
That effect activates immediately for all players and then the Inspection card is discarded (and you do not get another Baggage card! Tough break).
Play continues until every player is out of Passenger cards. Once that happens, discard all revealed cards and count the value of your concealed Baggage cards. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
So I’m actually more of a fan of this game (and most take-that games) at two players since it limits the potential for ganging-up. My frustration with a lot of direct conflict games like that is that you might just get dumped on by every player and then you have literally zero chance of success (even if that’s not their best move). At two, I feel like you pretty well know what your opponent has. So while it might come down to luck (and it generally does), you have a pretty reasonable task to remember their cards and yours.
At three+ players, I feel like the game generally becomes “pick on the person who you think is in the lead”, which means you might get hit a bunch in one round. It’s not that that isn’t the case at two players, it just feels a bit less frustrating since you have attempts to counter one person a bit more evenly.
Strategy’s a bit of a tough one here since it’s pretty luck-based, but I’ll see what I can come up with.
- You really need to remember other players’ cards. That’s just like, half the game right there. The other half is not getting ganged up on, but this is a half you can control. Knowing where a player has a 3 and a player has a 1 is crucial if you’re stealing, revealing, or discarding cards. At the very least, keep track of 3-value cards.
- The VIP’s ability is really only useful late-game, and only if you’re lucky / keeping track. Forcing another player to give you a card (if they’re allowed to choose; it was a bit unclear) generally means that they’ll just give you a 1 if they have any. But what if you know that they only have 3s? Well, that’s a different game entirely.
- Generally if I have no other information, I’ll go after the player on my left. They’ll generally get to play later than I will (unless I’m the last player), so I target them because they still have a whole turn that they could gain stuff. Usually after a “round” (complete set of player turns, since we don’t really track rounds) I see where every player is, and try to choose my next target accordingly.
- With the first three cards, play smart. You know that every player has a 1, 2, and 3 card as their initial three cards. So if you flip a card and it’s a 3, maybe you want to bother someone else since you’ve already revealed their most valuable card. Or you want to steal it? Or if you reveal a 1, maybe you hit them again since you have to get at least a 2?
- Remember that you can always look at your own cards. A lot of people playing forget this, and it makes the game a lot harder if you have to guess your own cards, too.
- Use the Tourist to force your opponents to reveal Inspections. You can seed the top three cards of the Baggage Deck with the Tourist. Got a player in the lead? Force them to get the Inspection instead of you, meaning that they also won’t get to draw a card. All’s fair in air travel.
- Sometimes you want to conceal your own cards. For instance, you might want to conceal a 1 if you want to swap it with another player’s 3 via The Infected, or you want to conceal that 3 that someone else flipped so it’ll score points at the end of the game.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I like the baggage art. It’s cute and whimsical and I love the western armadillo or whatever. Some of them are particularly humorous or whimsical, which is quite nice.
- Cute theme. I like that it’s centrally about sneaking weird stuff into your bags. The fact that the cards look like passports and suitcases is really endearing, as well. Good work on the graphic design.
- Simple to learn. I feel like it’s definitely a game that a family could pick up and play pretty quickly without too much effort. It was also smart to not add any explosive cards, since I imagine this is a game that would see a lot of play in airports.
- Generally fast. It plays quickly if you’re not getting analysis paralysis.
- The memory aspect of the game is interesting. It’s tough to remember who has what where, but that’s a neat mechanic.
- Easy to transport. It’s just a deck of special cards, essentially, so I could see this being a game to put in a bag on the go or play on an airplane because it’s small and has a VERY low footprint (you could pull a Super Hack Override and just play with the Baggage cards in your hand [adding them to your hand Hanabi-style] rather than flat on the table).
- I’m not a huge fan of take-that in games. I’m finding this more and more as I play, but it’s not a mechanic I’m particularly fond of. I think that it might also be due to my higher likelihood of getting ganged up on because I’m teaching the game. Not my favorite.
- High potential for analysis paralysis. When I play this game with certain players the game length balloons a bit because players are not only trying to decide their actions but also trying to remember every card they’ve seen revealed or re-concealed over the course of the game. It’s a bit strenuous.
- The Complainer takes a while to play. At 2 players it’s fine since you can just reveal all their cards, discard one, and then flip the remaining cards back to concealed, but since you look at an opponent’s concealed cards, with 3 or 4 players it can take a fairly long time.
- Playtime scales upwards with player count. I mean this to say that with more players the game takes longer by design. In NTD, every player gets 5 turns. With 2 players, that means you’re playing 10 turns, and with 4, you’re playing 20. It means that you will just end up playing longer games with more people, which I find somewhat frustrating for a game on the lighter end of the spectrum. It’s something I really appreciate about Wordsy, for instance, in that it doesn’t experience playtime bloat as you add more players, really.
- I’m a bit uncomfortable with the whole “stereotypical passengers” thing. I feel like the Passenger cards didn’t necessarily need to play on stereotypes and could have been anyone (and this might be a great place to insert Kickstarter Backers as a stretch goal). In my preview copy, at least, the current Passenger art has a couple stereotypes that I’m not as enthusiastic about.
- I feel like there aren’t a ton of interesting decisions to make on my turn. Generally my options are “conceal my valuable card” and “reveal / steal an opponent’s valuable card”, especially since we start with 60% of the same hand of Passenger cards. The Passenger cards don’t combo particularly well across turns, so I’m kind of making the best decision in the moment, especially since I have to eventually play them all anyways. This might be a bit more fun to younger gamers, but it disappoints me a bit. I think a decent way to fix this would be to allow players to have 6 or 7 Passenger cards in their hand and then choose 5 to play over the course of the game. It’d allow me to think a bit longer-term or consider different potential strategies, but since I must eventually play all my cards it’s more figuring out when to play them, not what to play. I’d also be interested in more combos between Passenger cards rather than one-time effects.
- I also feel like, in the games I’ve played, there’s a fairly significant advantage to going last. You can effectively conceal cards with no consequences (since no other player gets another turn) and you should have enough information to target other players’ high-value cards, should you want to do that. If you play your cards right, you could pull a six-point swing easily (stealing a 3-value card from another player) as well as concealing a 3-value card of your own, gaining six points total in one turn. Most of my games end with ~8 points, so you can imagine that’s pretty useful. I think there are a variety of ways to nerf this Final Player Advantage, but I haven’t had a chance to try any in my games to see what I like. I think the Ambassador (not pictured) is a helpful Passenger card for this, since it prevents someone from revealing, stealing, or discarding a card, but again, that depends on you drawing it.
- Take-that, but without many defensive options. Again, they’ve somewhat addressed it in the print-and-play with The Ambassador, which lets you lock down a Baggage card, but there are only two of those cards in the game, so you might not be able to draw it and there’s no way to get new Passenger cards. On that note:
- A bit too luck-based for my liking, even for a filler. It’s not as short to play as the Lost Legacy series or Love Letter, so the extra length makes the frustrating parts of how random it is linger a bit more. I think a particular pain point on this for me is when you draw an Inspection card and then can’t draw another Baggage card; if you’re already behind the power curve, this double-whammy almost certainly knocks you out of contention without a miracle. That can frustrate you if there’s still another 10+ minutes of gameplay to go.
Overall: ~ / 10
Overall, it kind of depends. I mentioned a few things I liked, but there are a few cons on my list as well. All those considered, I think that it might be better targeted as a family game, since the take-that would likely come off a bit smoother (as it does in Wolf & Hound where I’m too distracted by cute sheep to care about pretty much anything). Unfortunately, I haven’t played (and won’t likely ever have a chance to play) this with children, so I’m just going to go with my scores and speculate they’d be slightly higher if I were playing with families (similar to the bump I gave Wolf & Hound). I think, for me, I prefer it at two players, so I’ll also factor that in:
As a family game: > 5.5 / 10
At two players: 5.5 / 10
At three-four players: 4.5 / 10
So, what I will say is that I’ve played it with several different groups and there are some high points, but also a number of things things that make the game less appealing to me. As I’ve mentioned in my About page, my ratings aren’t “how good is this game”, but rather “how likely am I to play this game again”. If there are things you think I’ve overlooked or missed, please let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear what you think about the game / retry it with suggestions or variants. Additionally, if you’re looking for more thoughts on the game, I’d recommend taking a look at Kickin’ It With Meg‘s review or Bearded Meeple. My final thought would be that if you are looking for a game to play with the whole family or if you enjoy take-that a lot, this might be a game worth checking out.