Full disclosure: A review copy of Fraction Poker was provided by Big Cat Games.
And now, we move onto a new set of doujin games from Big Cat Games! What, you didn’t think I was done after 11, did you? That’s silly. There’s at least another five coming down the pipeline: Fraction Poker, Hiktorune, BLOCK.BLOCK, Jikkuri Millet, and 7th Night, so we’ve got content to last us a while, yet. Since we’ve got so much available, makes sense to dive right into it, yeah?
In Fraction Poker, there’s … no lore whatsoever. It’s another not-backstory-heavy game, kinda like NMBR 9, which I covered a few weeks ago. Don’t sweat it too much. You ready to do some math?
First thing to do is set out all the coins:
Then, shuffle the cards:
Deal each player five and place five additional cards face-up in the center of the table; we’ll refer to this as the layout, going forward. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start!
Weirdly enough, the game is conceptually simple, but it’s going to be hard for folks out there who aren’t super into fractions.
The premise is this: combine cards to make integers, then score points. How do you do that?
Well, Fraction Poker is played over a series of turns. On your turn, start by taking a card from the layout and adding it to your hand (and then immediately refilling it). Now, you may either play or pass. If you pass, your turn ends.
To play, you must play a set of cards that, when added together, make an integer (a whole number). There are orange cards that have an X in lieu of a numerator or a denominator; you may choose what X is, following some rules:
- If X is the numerator, it must be less than the denominator.
- If X is the denominator, it must be 12 or less.
- If you use multiple orange cards in one turn, each X may be a different value.
Now, once you’ve played a set, you score. Scoring works as follows:
(Number of blue cards played) * (Integer formed)
Note that there is one exception, here, which is that if your cards can be grouped into distinct sets that each form an integer, score each set distinctly and then add their sums together to get your score. This means if you play (1 / 2), (3 / 4), (3 / 6), (1 / 4), you would add (1 / 2) and (3 / 6) to get 1, and (3 / 4) + (1 / 4) = 1, evaluating the score for each pair separately.
Orange cards do not boost your score. Now, you may want to take coins equal to the points you’ve scored, but that’s not necessarily how it works. You may take one coin per turn, and that coin must be less than or equal to the number of points you scored. If a coin value is unavailable, you cannot claim a coin of that value. This means even if you manage to score 24 points in one turn, somehow, you would end up taking a 6 (or a 5, if all the 6s are claimed). This also means if you only score 4 points and the coins remaining are 5s and 6s, you would get nothing. Be careful with that.
Once you’ve played, your turn ends. Do not redraw, unless you have no cards in your hand. If you have no cards remaining, take the five cards in the layout and add them to your hand, then reveal 5 more cards to form a new layout.
After the deck runs out (not necessarily the layout, just the deck), the game ends. Total your scores, but also take some bonus points! Each coin is worth its printed value / 8 points, so for every 8 points you score, gain 1 bonus point. The player with the most points wins!
If you’re playing with younger players, simplify the game as follows:
- Play with open hands.
- Don’t use coins.
- The game ends at the end of a round in which one player hits 20 points.
Again, player with the most points wins.
Player Count Differences
Honestly, the more players there are, the more likely you’re going to see the game run super long. I tend not to play with people who are, say, enamored with math, so they tend towards taking smaller denominators and generally fraction cards that I would say are easier to work with. That’s fine if one person is doing it, but if everyone’s doing it, you’re going to see things tend towards the Tragedy of the Commons very quickly, as sevenths, ninths, and other such fractions start making their way into people’s hands. That will ultimately extend out the game, which isn’t the best outcome, but it does happen. Add in some analysis paralysis from the math, and you get a game that I think I generally prefer at lower player counts. I’d recommend two, but I’ve played it with more players and still enjoyed it; it can just take a while.
- Have a plan. At worst, there will still be one card in the layout when it hits your turn again from right now. On other players’ turns, figure out what cards you can use and what cards you need. Stay flexible, of course, but if you know exactly what to do on your turn you might also be able to rattle your opponents a bit, which is always fun.
- If you’re in the lead, start running out the clock. If you have more points than other players, try to empty your hand. If you do, you take all the cards in the layout, which burns 5 turns’ worth of cards from the deck. That will accelerate the end of the game quite nicely.
- Try to take the high-value coins first. If you can successfully get enough of those, it may be hard for other players to catch you if you aren’t passing a lot on your turn. That’s not the best feature, game-wise, but strategically it’s sound if you’re trying to edge other players out. You can also try to do this with the low-value coins (so that later in the game players cannot score any points without going for the high values), and that’s fun, but I fundamentally think that will just slow players down on their turns, by a lot.
- Use your orange cards to fill in the gaps. Fundamentally, that’s what they’re here for, but you can play really well with them. Need 1/2? Why not use X/6 and set X = 3? Handy. 1 / X can be a lot of things in the right hands, and they might be exactly the things you need to set up a 6-point combo. Just make sure you’re playing them within the rules, and remember that they don’t count as cards played for scoring purposes.
- Watch out for that splitting rule. You should check to make sure you can’t group your cards into sets of integers so that they can’t be split up. If they’re split, you’ll generally get fewer points, which isn’t awesome. If that’s going to happen, maybe split them yourself across two turns (unless playing them all will empty your hand)?
- Don’t get too creative. Sure, you can go for 168 / 56, if you really know how to stretch your cards, but at the end of the day if that earns you 15 points, you’re massively wasting your cards, since you can only score 6 of those 15. It’s much better to spend two turns scoring 6 than one turn trying to score 15, and it makes the game move along at a much better clip if you’re not trying to factor out three- or four-digit numbers.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I mean, it’s a great way to learn fractions. Seriously, if I gave this to an eight-year-old and played with them so they could learn how to add and subtract fractions, that could be super. It helps that the cards have the visual representation (and decimal) on them. It’s very useful.
- I like that the coins are worth bonus points. That’s a nice touch that I definitely didn’t notice my first game, but now find delightful. It would be kind of fun if they were randomized rather than always just being “every 8 points is actually 9 points”, but hey whatever.
- The strategy around how coins are taken is neat. As I mentioned earlier, weighing whether or not it’s better to score more points now and try to limit your opponents later or score fewer points now in the hopes of shutting your opponents out completely is an interesting set of trade-offs. I haven’t seen many games that limit the scoring like this; if you know of many more, please let me know in the comments!
- It also speeds up the game a bit by limiting the scope and utility of analysis paralysis. Since you can only score a max of 6 points per turn, it’s not worth trying to come up with a perfect play. It’s an interesting sort of move to essentially truncate the optimal scoring curve, and I actually kind of like it? It means that you need to plan around what coins are available to take more than coming up with The Perfect Fraction.
- Very portable. Again, one of many games you can just throw in a Quiver or some equivalent device and take with you anywhere that you want to inflict math on your worst friends.
- It’s not actually a poker game. Just wanted to clear that up somewhere. It does have cards and a five-card central area, but that is about the only thing it has in common with poker.
- Even with the improvements, analysis paralysis can still stop this game dead in its tracks. I think this is a problem of framing more than anything else. Remind the players that the maximum that someone can score on a turn is 6 points, and so they don’t need to try and optimize past that. If you can talk them down, then the game should move more quickly. You may still want to consider using a timer on player turns.
- Wowee, you need to love math. This is up there with Lovelace & Babbage on my grand list of “Games Nobody Will Play With Me”. I love L&B, but it’s a real-time math path-building game and that is a divisive concept. This is a game of fraction tallying, which will probably frustrate the same groups of players. Maybe don’t necessarily break this out at every game night unless you like math or hate your friends. Both are valid reasons!
- The card art is only so-so. It’s not doing a lot for me, artistically. I can appreciate the minimalism of it, but it would be nice if there were more color or something to really make the cards pop.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, I like Fraction Poker! I’m going to be real with y’all, this is not a game that’s going to hit the table often for me unless I’m really looking to get into a mathematical showdown with my friends (which literally never happens). As far as math-heavy games go, I tend to prefer Lovelace & Babbage because it has a theme I really like (as well as a theme, in general) and the real-time element avoids a lot of the analysis paralysis that tends to grip games like this. That said, this game has a lot of neat stuff going for it! It’s more a game of precision than anything else, as it’s tasking you not with scoring as many points as possible, but essentially scoring efficiently so that you can get what you need without having to spend too many turns unable to score. That’s a cool concept! Also, as an educational tool, it’s super. Give it to kids who are just learning about fractions and see what they come up with. It’ll be rad. Either way, if you’re a huge fan of math, fractions, or you want to trick your friends into playing a game that’s heavy on both, I think Fraction Poker is pretty fun! I’d recommend it, but perhaps a bit cautiously, if you’re not a huge math person?