Full disclosure: A preview copy of this game was provided by Aether Tower Studios. As this is a preview, I will mostly keep my comments limited to gameplay. That said, please note that final artwork will change and rules may change, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. Especially with Kickstarter, y’never quite know what the final product will look like. I plan to, should I get my hands on a production copy, re-do most of this photography (with less SAMPLE), in case you were wondering.
Another preview, this time from Aether Tower Studios. Currently, I don’t have a ton of lore on it (I imagine there will be more once the Kickstarter goes live on 11/15), so rather than make it up I’ll probably launch right into it.
Tricksters features three races of what are called the Annukuh, little creatures with light and dark sides. Your goal is to favor the right race at the right time in order to gain light or dark energy (but only one type!). Gain enough, and you win!
So setup’s pretty simple for this game. You’ve got 78 cards, each of a different race or type:
Shuffle those together and deal each player 7 cards. Set the deck aside, but reveal two off of the top to be the hatching cards, like so:
Note that you can do it any way that you want; I’m not going to stop you or judge you. You’ll also find some Light and Dark tokens that almost certainly will not look like this in the final product:
Set those somewhere close. That’s … honestly kind of the entire setup. So once your play area looks like this, you’re ready to start:
So, Gameplay. How the game works is pretty simple, with a bit more complex scoring. So let’s break it into segments:
On your turn, you can do one of two actions:
- Draw two cards. You can choose to draw two cards from either the top of the deck or the hatching cards. Once you’ve completed drawing, replenish the hatching cards. Note that this isn’t like Ticket to Ride or Lotus where you replenish the hatching cards immediately, so keep that in mind.
- Play to the pool. You can add a card from your hand to the center of the table, face-down. If you add the fourth card to the pool, reveal it, face-up.
Once four cards have been added to the pool, the Scoring Phase begins. Note again that the fourth card played must be played face-up.
So here’s what’s complicated.
Basically, as soon as scoring starts, each player needs to choose a card from their hand and then all players simultaneously reveal which card they chose. This is considered the favored race for that player, and they gain certain bonuses (or penalties) for the scoring round. If you were unlucky enough to have no cards in hand when the Scoring Phase started, you favor no race and get to watch from the sidelines. Good job!
Shuffle all the cards currently in the pool (including the cards played this round and the revealed fourth card, which we did not do my first game, whoops) and reveal all but X cards. X is the current round you’re in, which becomes increasingly difficult to remember as the game progresses. Sorry. Use a counter or something. This means in the first round you’ll leave one card face-down, two in the second, and so forth. It will likely help if you organize the cards by race and light / dark affinity (the corner color).
Now, perform these steps:
Resolve Special Effects on cards.
Some cards have special effects:
You should resolve them starting with the player who played the last card. Interestingly, you only resolve special effect cards on cards of your favored race (with one exception). So if you revealed a blue card at the start of scoring, you only resolve blue effects. You always resolve all special effects on cards currently revealed in the pool, even if the pool changed before your turn, as well.
The special effects are as follows:
- x3 – This card counts as three of itself for determining Casters / Keepers / Hunters. More on that later. This effect is passive, so it doesn’t activate on anyone’s turn, per se. It just kind of … is.
- Eye – Look at another player’s hand and steal one of their cards. Sneaky!
- Swap Arrows – Swap your favor card with one of the two hatching cards, randomly. Your turn ends as soon as you’ve completed this action, so you won’t get to activate any special cards for your new favored race (and you also avoid an infinite loop of swapping, should that be a concern). …This generally isn’t what you want to do.
- Skull – Discard a revealed card from the pool. Replace it with one from your hand. If you thought the eye card was sneaky, just wait for this! You can completely change the flow of a round.
Anyways. Resolve those things in any order you want (generally y’want to resolve Swap Arrows last), then move on to the next phase of Scoring:
Actually Scoring Points
So, now you score points. Look at the cards in the pool and determine which race has the most, middle, and fewest cards (only three races). If you’re tied for most, reveal cards from the deck until the tie is broken, and then shuffle those revealed cards back into the deck; if you’re tied for fewest both are considered “least”, for gameplay purposes. Then, check which race you favored:
- The race with the fewest cards in the center is known as Casters. If you favored the Casters, you gain one light point or one dark point, your choice.
- The race with neither the most nor the fewest cards is known as the Keepers. If you favored the Keepers, you score nothing this round. Try not to do that.
- Finally, the race with the most cards in the center are the Hunters. The Hunters, in this game, hunt the Casters, so you gain one point for each Caster card in the center. You determine the type of point by looking at which type of cards are in the pool. If there are more Dark cards in the pool, Hunters gain Dark points. If there are more Light cards in the pool, Hunters gain Light points. If you have a tie, reveal one of the unrevealed cards — Hunters earn that type of energy. If there are no unrevealed cards for some reason, use and then discard the top card of the deck. Note that you gain (|# Dark Cards – # Light Cards|) points (absolute value), so if there is one Light card and one Dark card, then you gain nothing as a Hunter because they cancel out. Sneaky!
Note that you only consider cards in the center for determining Casters / Keepers / Hunters. Don’t count your favor cards or the hatching cards or something weird.
So when you gain points, you can only hold one type of points at a time, and gaining points of the opposite type cancels out points you currently have. So if you have 3 Light Points and you gain 2 Dark Points, you lose 2 Light Points. Again, try to not do that.
End of Scoring Phase
So now that you’re at the end of the Scoring Phase, your pact with your little creature is over. First, discard any special effect cards from the pool. This also helps prevent the game from taking too long. Now, check your favor cards:
- If you favored the Hunters, discard your favoring card.
- If you favored the Keepers, take your favoring card back into your hand.
- If you favored the Casters, add your favoring card to the pool.
Play continues until one person scores either 7 Light or 7 Dark points! Remember that you can only have points of one type at any time, so … good luck!
Player Count Differences
So I’ve tried it at two and four, and I feel like I prefer it as player counts increase because it’s easier to cover your bases at two, and that causes the game to drag out. At two players, I can see what my opponent has (score-wise), generally figure out what they’re trying to do and block them. At three, it’s harder to do that because blocking player 1 might help player 2. At four, it’s even more chaotic, so it feels like a shorter game and moves faster. Generally, it’s still fun at two, but I found that the game took longer at two since it was much easier to prevent my opponent from scoring.
There is a team variant, but that requires an extra copy of Tricksters to play, so I haven’t had a chance to try it out.
It’s kind of a short, light game, so I’ll try to cover what I can.
- Use the Skull. The skull is super powerful, since it lets you discard a card and replace it with one from your hand. Using that can let you switch which race is the Casters / Keepers / Hunters, denying your opponents points, or changing the polarity of the points an opponent gets, which could really hurt them.
- When you use the Skull, also target special ability cards. If you remove a card with a special effect from the pool, your opponents do not get to use it on their subsequent turns. This is generally good for you since, especially with the Skull, you want to manipulate the pool and then lock it in.
- Fake-outs are totally acceptable. If you play the fourth card to the pool (and therefore must reveal it), you might want to play a card that tricks your opponent into favoring a race that ends up being the Keepers, for instance. You’ll have to do stuff like that if you want to win.
- Late-game, it’s probably safer to try to be the Casters. You gain a point of your choice between Light and Dark, which is much less volatile than being stuck with gaining X points off of Hunting the Casters, which might get you a LOT of points in the wrong direction (getting Light points when you are trying to stock up on Dark). Generally I recommend Casters early-game, Hunters mid-game, and Casters again late-game.
- Playing the Swap Arrows is a great trap. I usually throw Swap Arrows into the pool if I’m worried about another player trying to make a big play and I hope that it forces them to swap to the Keeper race, rather than whatever they usually picked. It’s unlikely, but it can help.
- If you play the Eye, try to steal Skulls. I find that Skulls are very useful pretty much generally throughout the game, so if you can, try to steal one from an opponent.
- Try to remember what’s in the pool. While that seems obvious, there’s going to be a lot of strategy around whether or not you can successfully shoot for a Caster play towards the late game, and if you’d rather not rely on luck then you’ll have to rely on memory.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Fairly short, once gameplay starts. It takes a bit of time to explain how the game works (see below), but once it starts it moves fairly quickly.
- The game also organizes itself quite nicely. It tends to have a large (but manageable) pool each round after Round 1 (which works well as a “here’s how the game works” round), and getting rid of the special cards each round helps make it so that the game doesn’t spiral up in complexity. It’s a slick design that I think works pretty well.
- I like the colors / artwork. I’d probably like it a lot more if I didn’t have SAMPLE emblazoned on everything, but hey y’know prototypes. Producing review copies can be heinously expensive, anyways. I’ll probably do a full reshoot once I have a production copy.
- I like the random elements of the game. It allows for some memory management as a gameplay style (which I’m not super huge on, but it’s also fine if you’re just playing it as a quick luck-based game, a la Dragon Slayer or something).
- Sits in a happy medium between older card games and modern card games. It feels almost like a game you could play with a deck of playing cards, but slightly modified. To that end, I’m sure you could convince people who are fans of playing card games to give it a whirl and use that to transition them to other card games, potentially. Dunno if you’d be able to make the jump to Dominion straight afterwards, but you might be able to try, say, Cake Duel.
- Doesn’t seem to take a lot of risks. I think that’s fine, honestly, but it could likely use some extra powers or expansions to make it a bit more exciting, game-to-game. I still think it’s fun, regardless. It just feels somewhat safe. Which is fine!
- The Light / Dark scoring, while a neat concept, also runs the risk of making the game drag / introducing incentives to gang up on one player. Since you can’t have Light and Dark points, if you are nearing a victory in one category every player is strongly incentivized to make sure that you gain points of the opposite type, if possible, especially if that means ganging up on you via Eye cards or Skull cards. I don’t think this is a major problem (since you can just try to get a Caster and ignore the Hunter issue altogether), but it’s worth considering, somewhat.
- Bit complex for as short as it is. I think the major hiccup here is that like many Kickstarter games, Tricksters makes up a lot of new words to describe what it’s doing (Casters / Keepers / Hunters, Favored, Annukuh, etc.), which adds tiny speed bumps on the road to comprehension. This makes the game take a fairly long time to explain, and honestly I’ve just started using “colors” instead of Annukuh when I teach it to people. I’d generally argue that this is a Kickstarter problem (it was something I pointed out with Super Hack Override as well), but it’s something worth noting.
- I feel like Skulls are pretty powerful, especially compared to the other special effect cards. It just seems like they’re significantly better to play, but there’s still the chance they won’t get activated so you lock yourself into favoring a race until you see them again. Either way, Skulls. Great.
- Currently, there’s no way to keep track of rounds, so it’s actually pretty difficult to remember how many cards to remove from the pool. By Round 12 I was like, “so… 11 cards? 13? 12? No idea.”, so it’d be helpful if for the Kickstarter they include some kind of round marker so that you know how many rounds you’ve played, and thereby how many cards to remove.
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Overall, I think Tricksters is fun. It’s light enough that I could see myself playing it on a plane or while waiting for something, and it has some interesting decisions / random elements that make each game pretty different. Nice part is that it’s fairly light, thematically, as well, so you can totally play this with families or people that wouldn’t be in for, say, Jack the Ripper or The Grizzled. It feels somewhat in between a modern tabletop game and a classic card game, so that’s also got something going for it, as I mentioned previously. It seems like a good way to get people to transition from, say, Hearts or Spades to modern card games, if that’s what you’re looking for. Either way, if you’re looking for that or just a fun little game that’s got some cool art, check it out when the Kickstarter launches 11/15!