Full disclosure: A review copy of An Otter Won was provided by Button Shy.
ROVE, Death Valley, Moving Pictures; you certainly didn’t think that was all the Button Shy we had for you, did you? I noticed at PAX Unplugged that a lot of folks I had talked to or hung out with simply hadn’t heard of some of Button Shy’s myriad titles, beyond like, Sprawlopolis, Circle the Wagons, and Tussie Mussie. That just won’t do, for me, so I’m gonna try and see what I can do with some of their more recent stuff. I’ve got a whole stack of them, so … here we go. Let’s start off with An Otter Won, a two-player trick-taking game!
An Otter Won! Or, at least, your goal is to win. Here, you’re recruiting cool otters to have an incredible otter party, and you need to do your absolute best to throw an off-the-chain shindig. Recruit, corral, whatever you gotta do to get these otters into your Den for the best possible party. Will you be able to throw the ultimate otter celebration? Or otter you call it off?
Almost none, which is common for a Button Shy game but still very much appreciated. First, shuffle the 18 cards:
Then, remove one from the game. Deal each player three cards, and place one card face-up to form the River. You should be ready to start!
Over the course of four rounds, you’ll be recruiting otters to your otter party, which, you know, goals. How you do that is pretty simple! Each round plays roughly the same way.
To start a round, reveal the top card from the deck. This card is the neutral card, in play for this round only. Then, each player chooses a card from their hand. When both players have chosen, reveal the cards. Of the now-three cards in the center:
- If two cards in play have an orange circle / up arrow on them, the highest card played (other than the neutral card) wins this round.
- If two cards in play have a purple triangle / down arrow on them, the lowest card played (other than the neutral card) wins this round.
The neutral card can never win the round. Once a winner is determined, they get to choose where the three cards end up! One card ends up in one player’s Den, the other card ends up in the other player’s Den, and the third card ends up in the River. Each player draws a new card and you begin a new round.
After four rounds, there will be no cards left in the deck and only two cards left in players’ hands. At that point, the players do one last thing. Each player plays one card face-down to their Den and the other card face-down to the River.
Once all cards have been played, each player scores the cards in the River following the criteria of the cards in their Den. This means if a card in your Den gives you 4 points for “Most Even”, you get 4 points if most of the cards in the River are even (and 2 points otherwise). Not the other way around. If there’s a tie for most (this can happen with Otter colors), you still get the higher point value.
The player with more points wins!
Player Count Differences
None! Exclusively a two-player game.
- Look for how you can win tricks, but losing isn’t always the worst. It’s … unlikely? that you’ll be able to win every trick, so don’t try to hold out for that. There aren’t really enough cards for you to come up with an end-to-end concrete plan. You’ll have to play somewhat tactically.
- If you can’t win a trick, try to give your opponent bad options. Generally, if you’re not going to win the trick, your opponent is going to likely try to play a high-value card for themselves. This may seem a bit unintuitive, but if you also play a high-value card, you might leave your opponent in a situation where they get a useful card, but … you do too. This isn’t quite as cut-and-dry as “winning good, losing bad”; there’s an element of tableau-building that comes along with this game that’s just as important as the trick-taking elements, if not more.
- If you are consistently winning tricks, give your opponent an absolute mess of cards. Just give them a whole Den of cards that don’t make sense. If you can make sure their scoring conditions don’t match up with the River, well, then you keep them from scoring points. If you score more points than they do, you win. I understand this isn’t insightful, but, figuring out how to give your opponent the biggest set of garbage possible is really the dream.
- If you look at what your opponent chooses to place in their Den, you might be able to get a sense of what cards they’re trying to win. There are a number of combos you can set up around Otter type, even / odd cards, or high / low cards. If you see your opponent hoarding cards of a specific type, they’re probably working on a combo of some kind.
- If your opponent gets their Den in order, the best you can do is just disrupt the River. Are they looking for a bunch of odd cards? Start trying to win tricks and dump even cards in there. The key aspect of winning tricks is that you get to choose not just the card in your Den but also the card that goes in the River. River control is going to be what wins or loses you the game, not just getting “good” cards in your Den.
- Going against the grain of the neutral card is risky, but sometimes that’s all you can do. Your ideal outcome is just playing a high or low card that matches the neutral card’s direction, but that’s obviously not always workable. The 18 is a down arrow, for instance, just to mess with you. If you can match the neutral card, then you can usually do pretty well for yourself, but sometimes you have to bet on matching your opponent instead. Honestly, that’s kind of the fun part, for me; the risk.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The name of this game rules. I just love puns. That’s all.
- I really like the blue of the game’s wallet. It’s a very bright and inviting color; much more so than I’ve seen from other Button Shy titles (other than Tussie Mussie’s yellow, but I don’t have that wallet, just the cards). Fun wallet color for a fun game, I suppose.
- For some reason, the otter with the cowboy hat is very compelling. What’s his deal? I just feel like I should know more about him. He’s mysterious.
- This is a surprisingly brilliant two-player spin on trick-taking. I think that the nice thing here is that it’s only sort-of trick-taking. No suits, and you only have a slight level of control over the ultimate outcome of each of the tricks. Between that, the limited number of cards, and the tableau-building, you’ve got yourself some exciting motions. I was really impressed at how it turned out.
- I really like the tension and elements of player-reading required to do well, here. It’s very fun to try and figure out whether or not you can win the trick based on what the neutral card is. That said, I still enjoy losing tricks as well; a mark of a fun game for me is that I enjoy even getting it wrong.
- I respect how the one card left out every game adds just enough uncertainty that it’s exciting.
- Plays quickly. Once you’ve got a good sense of it, it really is only four rounds. Some light shuffling, and you’re moving quickly. I think this will play faster than some of the other, more spatially-focused titles, just because there’s less of that element to mess with players.
- The game is very portable, as well. I’m kind of intrigued by the notion of a non-portable Button Shy game, but I think that’s just my slight natural inclination towards contrarianism. But I ended up with like 12 Button Shy games after PAX Unplugged with no meaningful increase to the size of my game library. A chunk of them are still in my backpack or other bags, awaiting travel to the next destination. I just … pull them out of the bags when it’s time to play.
- I do kind of wish the otters had names or something. I just want to know more about the otters! I feel entitled to the worldbuilding.
- In your first few games, players are going to have a bit of trouble distinguishing between the Den (provides cards with scoring conditions based on the River) and the River (provides cards that are scored based on conditions in the Den). Just something I noticed in my first few games. Players want to score their Den Cards with their own Den criteria (or River with River or River with Den). Some scoring examples will help make sure your first few games run smoothly.
- The flip side of the player-reading element is that the game can feel pretty bad if you’re not winning any tricks. I’m not one hundred percent sure it’s possible to win the game and take zero tricks unless your opponent fundamentally misunderstands the rules, but there’s a natural Player Frustration Point where players aren’t correctly getting the high-low aspect of the game to work for them. It’s not necessarily something I think is Poor Design or something like that, but rather, it’s a gameplay element that you should watch out for.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I was kind of dazzled by An Otter Won? I mean, I think I kind of underestimated the game, to a certain degree. Not that you could blame me. Two player trick-taking? 18 cards? That sounds like a potential disaster. Don’t get me wrong, I heard Why I Otter was pretty fun, so I supposed that the follow-up could be fun as well, but this is great. The theme is delightful, from the puns to the colors to the strangely compelling cowboy otter. Big fan of this across the board. It doesn’t quite feel like trick-taking, since you lack the leading and following ebb-and-flow of a classic trick-taking game, but what it loses in classic trick-taking it gains in a really interesting set of tableau-building tricks. I actually like that quite a bit! It ends up playing like a simpler Honshu (which, throwback, at this point). There’s a simple elegance to trying to outwit your opponent (or, failing that, trying to give them weird tableau-building options). Getting to guess and fail and go again makes for a great game, and the game obviously doesn’t overstay its welcome given that it’s only four rounds. An Otter Won is rapidly moving up my list of Favorite Button Shy titles, and if you’re looking for a quick and cutthroat little two-player game, I’d certainly recommend playing this one!
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