#757 – Somnia

Base price: $30.
2 – 4 players.
Play time: 30 – 45 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy directly!
Logged plays: 2 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Somnia was provided by Big Cat Games.

This one’s very exciting for me, as well! It’s a review of another game from my friends at Big Cat Games, and I’m super hyped to be able to get more of these back into my queue, again. It was unbelievably rough going for a while, since a lot of these are 3+-player trick-taking games, but I got Somnia played and now I can review it for y’all! I’m hoping to be able to play more, soon, but teaching some of these doujin games can be a bit challenging. We’ll see what happens! In the meantime, here’s Somnia!

In Somnia, you play as dreamers entering their own dreamscape to dream-make by taking fragments of dreams and stitching them together. The problem is, too many will rapidly overwhelm your dreamscape and turn it into a hideous nightmare. You and your opponents walk your own dreamscapes trying to craft these fragments into something beautiful without tying each other down with a black string of fate. Take tricks, avoid or wield nightmares, and try to sculpt a better dream with the cards you’ve been dealt. Will you be successful? Or will you trap yourselves in an unending nightmare?

Contents

Setup

Generally very little. Give each player 3 life chips:

Place the Nightmare Chip on the center of the game lid:

If you’re playing with two players, remove the cards of value 2 – 4. Either way, shuffle the cards:

In a two-player game, deal each player 6 and leave the rest in a draw pile. In a three- or four-player game, deal all the cards to each player. You should be ready to start!

Gameplay

At its core, Somnia is a trick-taking game. This means that over the course of several rounds, players will play a “trick”, where every player plays a card from their hand. Typically, the first player that starts the trick is the “lead”, and they play any card from their hand. The color or suit of this card is known as the “led suit”. All players must play a card of the same suit, if they have it, on their turn. This is known as “following suit”. If they cannot, they can play any card from their hand. Typically, the highest card played in the led suit is the winner of the trick, and the player who played that card leads the next trick.

What changes in Somnia is that the first person to play a card other than the led suit from their hand establishes that suit as the Nightmare Suit. The Nightmare Suit is known as a “trump suit”, which means that any card of the Nightmare Suit beats every card of every other suit. There are a few caveats to this:

  • The ‘5’ and ‘7’ of the Nightmare Suit become an ’11’ and a ’12’ as soon as the Nightmare Suit is determined.
  • If you are planning to play a Nightmare card when the suit led is not the Nightmare Suit, your Nightmare card must be of a higher value, if possible.
  • If the Nightmare Suit is led, you do not have to play the ’12’, even if it is the only card in your hand. Fun bonus.

You’ll notice that each card has a “points” value on it inside of the devil icon. Those are used for scoring.

In a two-player game, after the trick winner is determined, the winner draws a card and the loser draws a card from the deck.

After all tricks have been played, move on to Scoring.

Scoring

So this is the most complicated part. After all of the tricks are resolved, you score by summing up the point value (not the card value) of the cards you took. Then, you score based on your player count. Scoring resolves in order, based on whether or not the criteria are met. Based on that criteria, losers are determined by the “Ending” for the current round. Players that “lose” lose a life chip.

2-Player Scoring

  1. If a player has 86+ points, they lose. (Ending: Dream Captive)
  2. If not (1), if players have equal points, they both lose. (Ending: A Black String)
  3. If not (1) or (2), the player with fewer points loses. (Ending: Dreamless Child)

3-Player Scoring

  1. If a player won 0 tricks, they lose. (Ending: Sleepless Child)
  2. If not (1), if a player has 100+ points, they lose. (Ending: Dream Captive)
  3. If not (1) or (2), all players with equal points lose. (Ending: A Black String)
  4. If not (1), (2), or (3), the player with the second-most points loses. (Ending: Between the Dream and the Dawn)

4-Player Scoring

  1. A player with 86+ points loses, unless they won all the points (note, not all the tricks). In that case, the other three players lose (Ending: Dream Captive or Ending: Monopoly)
  2. If not (1), if all players have equal points, they lose. (Ending: A Black String)
  3. If not (1) or (2), if the top two players have equal points, then the third-place player loses. If the bottom two players have equal points, the second-place player loses, and if the top two players and the bottom two players have equal points, they all lose. (Ending: Solitude or Ending: Two Black Strings)
  4. If not (1), (2), or (3), the players with the second-most points and the third-most points lose. (Ending: Between the Dream and the Dawn)

End of Game

Once any player has lost all of their life chips, the game ends and the player with the most life chips left wins!

Player Count Differences

This game’s pretty much entirely player count differences. Like, the game’s very different in terms of strategy, scoring, and gameplay depending on how many players you have. That said, I was particularly impressed by how they decided to make the two-player variant work. Keeping cards out of players’ reach effectively simulates another player, and it’s a pretty cool trick-taking variant that I haven’t seen as often in the space (though I believe The Fox in the Forest has a similar mechanic; it’s been a while). This means that you can still have a pretty interesting two-player trick-taking game, which is a huge rarity. You can’t necessarily know if your opponent is able to activate the Nightmare or not, and that tension is interesting. At three or four, there are also a lot of different end-of-round scoring conditions, which makes the game a bit tougher to learn or internalize. That said, they’re still relatively similar to each other (or at least similar to each other, relative to the two-player game). I actually don’t have a strong player count recommendation, for this one! I was impressed (and frankly pleased).

Strategy

  • You don’t need to win the round, necessarily; you just need to not lose. For instance, in a four-player game, trying to take all the points is pretty unnecessarily risky; you can do just fine trying to get the most points but keeping it below 86. This is a bit of a shift from other trick-taking games where you want to win; simply not losing the most by the end of the game will name you the winner. This means you may not want to take big swings if you think you can’t make them work.
  • Don’t play too fast and loose with the tricks. This is how you end up failing to take any tricks in a three-player game or you end up in the wrong scoring bucket in other player counts. Try to be strategic about which tricks you take and keep an eye on how other players are scoring. This will be the lever by which you make your way to a position where you don’t lose. That’s critical.
  • Similarly, if you can define the trump suit, you can potentially take a bunch of tricks, but make sure that you’re not taking too many points. Defining the trump suit as the suit you have the most cards of is a great way to take a bunch of points. If that’s your goal, cool! If that’s not your goal, then you probably shouldn’t make the Nightmare Suit the suit you have the most cards of. Especially watch out for this in a two-player game, as you can set yourself up such that all your remaining cards are the Nightmare Suit, which all but guarantees that you’ll take all those tricks. Sometimes, throwing off the Nightmare is good, because it lets the points be another player’s problem instead of yours.
  • At higher player counts, you can try to shoot the moon and take all the tricks or points. And that might work! It might work. I’m not entirely convinced it will at four, but it is your prerogative and your right to do so. Generally speaking, this means that you either have to have never defined the Nightmare Suit or you have to have lost a non-scoring trick. Both are painfully rare.
  • Always try to ensure you’ve taken at least one trick. It’s usually good to make sure you have scored some points, but in a four-player game you may want to try and score 0 points; it’s a great way to end up in last place. Just make sure you don’t activate any of the Black String Endings!
  • Keep an eye on points, both yours and your opponents. You really need to know where other players stand on points. It may result in you taking or avoiding a Black String Ending! So, unfortunately, you kind of have to keep track on your own or you have to ask. This is where a reference card would be useful! You could keep track on your own time rather than always asking other players. But if you know how many points everyone has, you know what you need to play in order to take more points, take no points, or shift the right number of points to another player so that they lose instead.
  • At two players, the momentum of the round can shift drastically based on what cards you draw at the end of each trick. Be careful! This can be particularly tricky, as you might draw high-value cards towards the end of the round or cards that will completely devastate your opponent inadvertently. That’s cool and all, but the same thing can happen to you, so be careful!
  • The 5 and 7 shift in value (and points!) when that suit is named as the trump suit, which may help you win more tricks (or cause you to lose them). It may be worth holding them until the Nightmare Suit is named or throwing them off early so that they end up being more valuable to whoever took them. Just keep in mind that a player holding those cards may be more or less incentivized to name that suit the Nightmare Suit, depending on their own points calculations.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Neat theme! It’s an interesting one, especially since trick-taking games can be basically any theme. I really enjoy sleep- and dream-themed games. There’s a lot of interesting stuff that can happen in those, and the art can be really esoteric and interesting (or terrifying, but I’m glad they decided not to go the terrifying route, here).
  • I like that there’s some strategy around establishing what the trump suit is going to be. It’s very cool that it’s established mid-trick and there’s some reason why you might want to establish one color or another as the Nightmare Suit beyond “I have the most of this suit and I would like to win tricks” or “I have the least of this suit and I would like to lose tricks”. The dynamic state of the game in terms of points is just … super interesting.
  • I also like that you use the box lid to indicate which suit is the trump suit. That’s a cute little thing that probably saved them having to add another card or display apparatus to the game, and I appreciate it! It’s clever, and I like that it works.
  • I was very pleasantly surprised by the two-player mode for this one! I think I wrote in Gudetama that I loosely don’t expect trick-taking games to have good two-player modes, because they’re very hard to do well. Somnia does well. I was impressed. This is also strictly good for me, because now I can take this to conventions and play it with another friend without having to get a whole group together, and lately it’s been … hard to get groups together. Hopefully conventions will follow soon!
  • The art is also very good. It’s subtly creepy but not overtly, so it’s very evocative of a child’s nightmare. I like how scratchy it is! It is reminiscent of sorta-spooky descriptions of nightmares, with just enough color to be mildly threatening. I’d call it a gently spooky game, which is great if you’re looking for more games that fit in with a Halloween / spooky theme.
  • Very portable. This one is so easy to throw in a Quiver that I’ve already done it. I’m working on making a trick-taking Quiver for travel, once I get a bit more ahead on reviews and want to start trick-taking when I travel in the future. Or work travel. I still need to get more work travel in.
  • If you’re looking for a more complex, heady trick-taking game, this is definitely that. I wouldn’t say this is the most complex one I’ve played (though, now that I think about it, I would be hard-pressed to figure out what was. Was it Rebel Nox? Something else? I’ll think on that on my time. Somnia is definitely a bit heavier, in terms of scoring and points tracking requiring more cognitive effort than other games that fit in a tiny box. I like that, though, a bit. It’s interesting.

Mehs

  • It’s a bit annoying to have to do infrequent score check during the various rounds to keep track of player scores. The scores are also particularly difficult to see on the other players’ cards, so you do kind of need to ask every so often “how many points does every player have”, since that pretty aggressively influences your strategy. You can also not do that, but you run the risk of messing yourself up for essentially no reason if you’re not keeping track of points.
  • A lot of these “you have three lives”-type games are essentially just playing the same game X times, where X is the number of rounds required for a player to run out of lives. Since there’s no meaningful difference in the game between rounds, it can make the game feel long where a shorter game may fare better. I tend to consider each “round” of this its own distinct game, just because I find that playing longer versions of this just leads to weird targeting where you try to prevent one player from losing the game so that you have a shot of winning. I understand why these longer “multi-life” variants exist, but I wouldn’t call them particularly essential to my enjoyment of the game.
  • The cards are mostly black, which is cool, but means if you want them to last without visible scuffs, you may want to sleeve them as soon as you get them. Black-backed cards pretty much always need sleeves, otherwise you’ll start being able to tell them apart. Hopefully that doesn’t lead to anyone trying to use scuffs on cards to figure out the value of the card, but it also just doesn’t look incredibly nice.

Cons

  • It would actually be nice if there were a reference card just noting which card values were worth which points. Especially since the card values can shift, having a reference card for each player that denotes the possible point values of cards would help me a lot (and not require a “points check”, since I could calculate it myself). This is a bit surreal, since I almost always hate reference cards (or, at best, find them useless). It’s a rarity to see me complaining that a reference card I want in a game isn’t there. What a world.
  • There are several different possible scoring outcomes for each possible player count, which is a lot to keep in your head while you play. This is probably my major gripe with the game, and I think that’s because it seems to be at least two different trick-taking games stitched together (MIttlere Jass and Molotov Jass). That’s neat and I kind of love it, but it means that the scoring has coherency issues for players. There’s no way to remember all the possible outcomes, even for just your player count, without a reference of some kind. This leads to slower teaches (as the game is harder to internalize) and slower rounds (as players need to check the rulebook to see how scoring works and determine which card they want to play for Strategy Reasons). That’s not amazing, but it’s also a consequence of how the game was designed. I like that they fit all the pieces together, but I wish the end result were polished a bit more to produce a coherent end-to-end game.

Overall: 7.75 / 10

Overall, though, I think Somnia is another great trick-taking title! It’s super interesting, honestly, both in its theme and art and also in how it was designed and the steps that were taken to kind of level out the gameplay across multiple different player counts. It’s, as I mentioned, a rarity, to see a trick-taking game for two players, but it’s even more rare to see a two-player trick-taking game that also works well at other player counts. And Somnia is that! Part of what makes Somnia compelling is that it’s challenging; the game isn’t as easy as other trick-taking games, and doing well isn’t always obvious or straightforward or even something that you can necessarily do on your own. Instead, you’re weaving a delicate web of scoring points and taking tricks or sometimes not scoring points and taking tricks or some other times even neither scoring points nor taking tricks. And I think that’s neat. I do wish the game were a bit more polished, in terms of streamlining the scoring explanations (having essentially a flow chart to determine the loser is hard to internalize) and in terms of having reference cards available for players so that they can figure out how many points their opponents have. As it currently stands, it’s very hard to read the points values on cards from any distance, so often players will ask for a points check during the round, which can slow everything down. But that doesn’t distract too much from what makes Somnia good, so, I’ve been enjoying my plays. From art to theme to mechanics, I think Somnia has a lot going for it, and if you’re looking for a fun and engaging trick-taking game, a mildly spooky game, or a new doujin game to try out, I’d recommend playing Somnia, if you can! I’ve definitely enjoyed playing it.


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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