Full disclosure: A review copy of Nessos was provided by IELLO.
Time to power through the last few games of 2018. I should probably make a resolution, or something, but we’ll see where that gets me. I’d say play more games, but honestly I think ~1600 is probably my limit; need to watch some TV and sleep some or I won’t feel like a full person. Either way, more games to review, so here come the reviews of the games.
Nessos is a recent release from IELLO (reviewed Fairy Tile from them a while back) that’s all about Greek mythos (a favorite around here given how much I love Santorini). In this one, though, you’re Greek Heroes trying to seal ancient monsters into amphora in order to give them to the gods and be like “gotta catch ’em all”, or something more legally okay to say. Either way, you need to be careful, because Charon is also lurking and you don’t have nearly enough badges to train that dude; he’ll just drag you to the underworld and out of the game. Will you be able to impress the gods of Olympus? Or will you end up telling your war stories to Hades?
Setup is thankfully not too involved for this game. You’ve got a bunch of cards:
You’ll remove some based on player count:
- 3 players: Remove all 4s, 6s, 8s, and 1 Charon Card.
- 4 players: Remove all 6s and 4 Charon Cards.
- 5 / 6 players: Use all cards.
Shuffle them up and give 5 cards to each player to form their starting hand. Choose a player to get the start player token:
And that’s about it! That player will go first.
So this game actually has a lot of similarities to Cockroach Poker, if you’ve played that. If not, well, I’m going to explain the rules either way, so buckle up. The start player begins a round by passing a card face-down to another player. This card can be one of two types:
If it’s a Number Card, you must announce what number it is that you’re passing. If it’s a Charon Card, you may (and should) lie about what the card is. This means that if I tell you the face-down card is a 6, you’re not necessarily sure if it is or not. You must pass the card to a player who has not yet received a card this round, and they must choose one of three responses:
- Accept: The player flips the card(s) face-up and places them in front of them.
- Reject: The player flips the card(s) face-up and places them in front of the player who passed the card(s) to them.
- Pass: Without looking at the face-down cards, the player chooses a card from their hand and passes the stack to a player who has not yet passed or received cards this round. They must indicate what card they’re passing according to the previous rules.
This continues until there are three cards being passed, at which point the player receiving three cards must Accept or Reject. Number Cards are worth points towards the end of the game, whereas Charon Cards are just bad. If you ever have three Charon Cards face-up in front of you, you are eliminated from the game. Additionally, a set of 1/2/3 is worth a bonus 10 points (16 points total).
Once someone Accepts or Rejects, the round ends and the start player token is passed one player to the left. If that player has been eliminated, keep passing to the left until a player who is still in the game gets the start player token.
End of Game
There are a few different ways that the game can end:
- The target score is reached: If a player has enough points at the end of a round, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.
- 3 players: 40 points
- 4 players: 40 points
- 5 players: 35 points
- 6 players: 30 points
- All players except one are eliminated: As you might guess, this player wins.
- 9 Charon Cards have been revealed: If that happens, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.
Player Count Differences
The one place you’ll get tripped up at lower player counts is the same thing that happens with Coup once you play with promo cards; inevitably, someone will try to bluff a card that isn’t in the game, which is deeply funny for you and kind of poor luck for them. That won’t happen if every card is in the game, and hopefully it’s kind of unlikely to happen even if every card isn’t in the game, but it’s still worth mentioning.
Beyond that, not very many differences. The player elimination thing will become a bit more annoying at higher player counts just because everything takes a bit longer at higher player counts, but hopefully the reduced score threshold balances it out (and, in practice, it usually does).
No real preference, here, except for maybe 4+.
- Remember: there are only four of every card. The more cards you can see face-up, the less likely it is that the card you’re lying about could be that number. That makes playing Charon cards kind of risky. You don’t want to say “this is a 10” when there are already four 10s showing; they’ll just automatically reject it. Also remember that players have cards in their hand that you can’t see; often, I’ll claim that the Charon card I just passed is a card in my hand, that way I can guarantee that there’s no way that they know for sure that I’m lying. Don’t do that consistently, though; it makes you predictable.
- Don’t forget that you can reject. A lot of new players don’t reject; they just pass. That’s fine, but if you know the player you’re passing to is just going to pass, you should throw down a Charon and make it Someone Else’s Problem. If there’s no risk of them rejecting, you’re not getting that Charon back, so it’s fine. To that end, sometimes it’s best to reject rather than putting yourself on the hook for a card someone else passed you.
- Don’t let another player win. I’ve played with many people who do this — they’ll pass cards to a player that will push them over the score threshold because they’re not totally paying attention. It’s a short game, but, if I have 0 Charon Cards and you pass me two and tell me that either will put me over the threshold, I’ll happily accept! It’s possible they’re both Charon cards, sure, but in that case I’ll just be more careful in the future. The same logic applies when a player passes you a card that, if rejected, will hand them the game. It’s better to pass that one along and deal with it later than Reject it back to them and potentially give them the game. Sure, you’re also kind of trying to read them, but, if you don’t have a good read don’t take the risk. Also, try to avoid passing players cards that give them a ton of points, like the 2 if they already have a 1 and a 3.
- Players may not have Charon cards. It’s not always easy to tell, but even the trickiest person occasionally has 5 Number cards in their hand and therefore can’t bluff. Don’t forget about that possibility when you’re trying to evaluate.
- If you ever end up with 2 Charon Cards, players are going to start gunning for you. It’s not an enviable position, so try not to play too riskily. Players will reject cards you pass, other players will pass you Charon cards; it’s going to get a lot more challenging because players will start essentially ganging up on you to get you out of the game.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Fun theme. It’s loose, but I love Greek mythology, so, whatever. To be fair, it could literally be themed anything and the game would likely play the same exact way, so, again, whatever.
- Great art. I think it’s Miguel Coimbra? Yup, it is. Lots of great work from him — 7 Wonders, When I Dream, Sea of Clouds. The art here is super nice; very thematic and striking.
- Basically no setup. I love games that are really easy to get started; just helps me out a lot.
- Very portable. Another easy fit for a Quiver, if that’s what you’re looking for. Which, for me, it usually is.
- Rulebook has a bunch of typos. It’s just a bit annoying, but I also understand how that kind of stuff can get missed.
- I kind of wish there were more bluffing? It’s very light on the bluffing; you can totally play the game and never bluff if you don’t want to, but I wish it had more situations like Cake Duel where you have to bluff. At least, more than just having 5 Charon Cards in hand (which is unlikely but possible).
- I generally kind of hate player elimination. I kind of wish the Charon cards were negative points or something so even though you couldn’t win, you wouldn’t be completely out of it. Though I suppose that incentivizes spoiler-y behavior, so that’s not fun either. Thankfully, the game doesn’t usually run long enough that you feel the player elimination. Unfortunately, sometimes, well, it does. And that’s not always the best.
- It’s very possible, at higher player counts, to get left out. The same sort of thing happens in Cockroach Poker if you’re playing with people who don’t know one of the players as well. Basically, the problem is that the players are familiar with most of the group and not one person, so they’re not sure how to read that player’s choices (and figure out if they’re bluffing). In lieu of interacting with them, they decide to minimize the risk by just not passing them cards. This means that the player can’t win and won’t be eliminated; they just don’t really get to participate in the game. Thankfully the start player passes around so they will at least get to start one round every so often, but that might not be enough for them to still feel invested. This is more of a social problem than a problem with the game itself, though, so just keep in mind that you should try to make sure everyone feels included when you play, as this game has the potential to mostly exclude a player or two if you’re not paying attention.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, Nessos is pretty fun. I like the fast pace of the game and I admire its portability. It’s quick to pick up, easy to take with you, and seats a good number of players (though a two-player variant would be appreciated). This probably isn’t going to be a game that sits well with the anti-bluffing crowd (even though, again, you likely could play the entire game without bluffing, unless you got comically unlucky), and I think that’s reasonable; there are a lot of people who just don’t enjoy that mechanic, and it’s most of what makes this game tick. The major advantage of this is the same thing that One Night Ultimate Werewolf has going for it; it plays very quickly. It’s also not too complicated, so I could see this seeing some wide appeal as a nice filler game that you can play while waiting for people to show up at a game night (or waiting for a longer game to finish). Either way, I’m a big fan of the art, too, so that helps a lot. If you’re looking for a cute, quick game that you can take with you (and don’t mind bluffing or player elimination), Nessos is worth checking out!