Full disclosure: A review copy of Cursed Tricks was provided by Big Cat Games.
Speaking of things I haven’t been able to get to in a while, doujin games are also getting back into my review cycle! I’ve played a few, but again, it’s been tough, especially since so many of the ones I’ve been playing are trick-taking games, which just like Cursed Tricks, require 3 / 4 players, which has been really hard to do effectively. But, sometimes you get lucky, and I was in the right place to get Cursed Tricks played! Excited to tell you more about it.
In Cursed Tricks, your goal is to score big by taking as many cards as possible. There’s just one pesky thing: these cards are pretty cursed. Like, they’re extremely cursed. What will happen if you get stuck with a curse at the end of the round? Doesn’t bear thinking about? What about if you get cursed with three different curses at the same time? Probably too horrible to contemplate. With all the curses being thrown around, will you be able to survive four rounds?
Generally, pretty easy setup. If you’re playing with three players, remove one suit of cards. Regardless, shuffle the cards and remove four of them (three in a three-player game):
Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start!
Cursed Tricks is another trick-taking game! Let’s go into how it works.
The game’s played over four rounds. To kick a trick off, the lead player plays a card from their hand. This card has one of the four suits (red / purple / green / yellow). Each player must play a card of the same suit, if they can, and the highest-value card of the led suit wins the trick! There is one exception. If both the 14 and the 1 are played, the 1 wins the trick! Generally, when a player wins a trick, they add the cards they won to a face-down score pile to score at the end of the round.
A few things can happen during the trick. Namely, when a trick is won, curses can be created, transferred, broken, or renewed.
Creating a Curse
At the end of a trick, if a curse of the led suit’s color does not currently exist, it is created! The player who won the trick gets cursed, and must keep the highest card played in the lead suit’s color face-up in front of them, adding the other cards of that color to their face-down score pile.
Curses, as you might imagine, are bad. More on that later.
Transferring a Curse
Curses can also be transferred, depending on which suit was led in a trick. If a player wins a trick, the curse may transfer to them as long as the following is true:
- The curse for that color is currently in effect.
- The card they won the trick with is higher than the curse’s number.
If that happens, they keep the highest card played in the lead suit’s color face-up as the new curse, and the previously-cursed player returns their curse card face-down to their score pile.
Breaking a Curse
At the end of a trick, the player who played the lowest card of the led suit can break one of their curses, placing the curse card face-down on their score pile. This happens before the Creating a Curse step, though, so a player can break a curse, causing the player who won the trick to create a curse of the same color. Essentially, the curse is passed from one player to another. Note that you do not get to break a curse if you led the trick.
Renewing a Curse
A curse can also be renewed, which is essentially Transferring a curse to yourself. If you win a trick with a card that’s a higher value than the curse card’s number and you have that curse card, you replace the curse card with your winning card.
Getting Three Curses
If, at any point, a player has three curses in front of them, the round immediately ends. Move on to End of Round Scoring.
End of Round Scoring
After all the cards are played, the round ends! Players score differently depending on how many curses they have:
- 0 Curses: You score 1 point for every card in your score pile.
- 1 Curse: You score 1 point for every card in your score pile except cards in your curse’s color.
- 2 Curses: You score 0 points.
- 3 Curses: You lose 8 points! (6 points, in a three-player game.)
If you have no cards in your score pile and the round did not end due to a player taking three curses, you gain a Misery Bonus! That’s 10 points.
Reshuffle the cards, remove four (three in a three-player game) and deal them out to the players to start a new round!
End of Game
After four rounds, the game ends! The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I wouldn’t say there are a ton of player count differences with Cursed Tricks! The biggest thing to watch out for with more players is that you still only need three curses to bust and end the round, so, with four players and four suits in play, that third curse is much easier to hit without realizing it. Beyond that, there are more suits in play with more players, so proportionally, the game is pretty much the same with more players. I wouldn’t necessarily say that there are big changes beyond that, but I do enjoy the tight play of three players, so I would slightly recommend Cursed Tricks at three over four.
- There are a lot of ways to get a good score for the round. You can go for the Misery Bonus, granted, or you can just try and take a bunch of tricks and break your curses as needed to get away with things. Having a big pile of cards at the end of the round is great, provided you actually get to score them.
- Keeping low cards is a good way to get rid of curses, but you need to be able to lead with or follow with that low card if you want to actually cancel a curse. At some point, if you’re stuck with a curse, players might stop playing cards of that suit so that you’re not enabled to play a low card and break the curse. This can really mess things up for you, since there’s not always an even distribution of suits. This might mean that you end up forced to throw off your low cards towards the end of the round, and throwing off a low card doesn’t allow you to break a curse since it doesn’t match the led suit. It’s almost a bit of press-your-luck, but sometimes it’s better to break your curse while you’re ahead and you know you still can.
- Keep an eye out for when the 1 and 14 of each suit are played. Once the 1 is gone, you know that the 14 cannot be beaten. Once the 14 is gone, you know that the 1 will never win a trick. Both pieces of information are useful, since so much of Cursed Tricks is trick control and knowing when to win and when to lose.
- If you see a player with a curse trying to play a low card, consider undercutting them so that they can’t break a curse. It’s mean, but effective. Another reason to keep low-value cards in various suits is that you can throw them to do two things. One, you can “help” another player win a trick (and hopefully get cursed), and two, you can be the person that plays the lowest card of the led suit, meaning that you get to break a curse instead of another player. If you don’t have any curses? Well, more’s the pity, I suppose. If you can bait players into playing their low cards and then undercut them with lower ones, you make it much harder for them to break curses, which is good for you.
- It’s very difficult to give a player three curses, but it’s super helpful if you do. Super helpful unless you’re going for 0 tricks, granted, but if you can end the round and make them lose points, it might be worth doing that. It’s tough to force a situation where a player would take a third curse, but it can happen if they failed to transfer a curse to another player who won the trick and then that player sets them up for the third suit. If that happens, might as well take the shot.
- Going for 0 tricks isn’t as tough as you might think, but depending on how the round goes, it’s not necessarily that lucrative, either, points-wise. Think about it this way. In a given round, there are a fair number of cards. If you take none of them, that will get you 10 points, but that also means that there are now more cards available for the other players to take. This can lead to outcomes where players outscore you even if they have a curse because they simply got a lot of cards. Now, the ideal outcome would be if everyone else got nothing, but you really don’t want to be going for 0 tricks, only to have the round end because one player got three curses. That’s bad for you and for them.
- If a player has already gotten a high-value curse, try winning tricks with a lower value so that you don’t take the curse from them (but still get cards). This is easiest if the curse 14 is already in play for that color. Then, you can win tricks with the 13 / 12 / 11 and still not take the curse back from the player who has it. Just be careful! That player can play the lowest card in the led suit and break their curse, and if you win the trick then you get that curse back. Keep an eye out.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art style in this is really cool. I think the bright colors and busy card art helps convey pretty clearly that this is going to be a pretty hectic game with a lot going on, and as a result it makes the cards pretty nice to look at during the game, as well. I particularly like that the card art gets more busy and intense as the values increase.
- I like how 1 being able to beat 14 keeps players guessing. It offers a nice cycle to card strengths and gives players another thing that they need to think about within the contexts of playing a trick. It also gives the player with the 1 a lot of power, depending on where they play in the trick. They can always choose to just let the player with the 14 win (depending on which cards they have).
- The scoring is relatively simple, and the curses add enough wrinkles that it’s not always clear what the best move is. I really like that a lot. There’s a lot to think about during the rounds, and there are almost no completely useless cards. Middle-value cards become handy once the lower-value cards are played, and high-value cards are always useful. It’s a really engaging way to make all the cards count.
- I’m a big fan of how the curses pass or upgrade during play. I think that’s excellent. I like that you can make it harder to transfer your own curse to other players if you play cards in increasing order, but playing cards in decreasing order means that you start with a high-value curse from the get-go. It’s really interesting, especially when curses don’t pass or they get broken.
- The rounds play pretty fast, too. I think the trickiest thing is just figuring out how the curses resolve. The rules could be a bit clearer on that, but they do provide enough examples that we figured it out pretty quickly.
- Watching a player slowly realize they can no longer get rid of their curse is pretty fun, albeit cruel.
- Another very portable trick-taking game with no components. I like that there aren’t a lot of bits to keep track of. The bits can make the gameplay fun, but they also add an element of “oh no, I lost one of the tokens from my game and that’s going to make it less good in the future”. Having a trick-taking game that’s just cards is kind of nice, every now and then.
- I appreciate that there’s a simple condition for taking 0 tricks, and a bonus wrinkle to it. I was whining a bit ago about a trick-taking game that didn’t have anything for winning 0 tricks, so I was glad that this game does. I particularly like that you don’t get the bonus for winning 0 tricks if three curses get taken, so there’s a bit of risk to going for that.
- I also really like that the rulebook includes instructions for playing this with a basic deck of cards. It’s just a nice thing to have handy, since I don’t always remember to take every game with me everywhere. I usually have a deck of cards somewhere, though; just in case.
- There’s not really any particular added value to playing four rounds of the game, beyond padding the game length to 30 minutes. This is one of those “games as a product” versus “games as an experience” things. I played four rounds in my first game and largely found that the individual rounds had no bearing on each other beyond a player getting far enough behind that they didn’t feel like they could have won (ironically, if they had managed to avoid getting two curses, as they planned, in the final round, they would have won).
- The whole “playing the lowest card of the led suit lets you remove a curse” feels gently clunky. Part of it is just that the player playing the lowest card of the led suit can break a curse of any color, which then means that if they break their curse of the color of the led suit, then it effectively gets re-created for the person who just won the trick! That can get a little confusing. Plus, it’s something that players in their first few games tend to forget, since the flow isn’t quite as clean as the other ones.
- It’s a bit baffling that the numbers aren’t on the bottom of the card as well as the top; it means I have to make sure my hand is always oriented the same way. This was an odd graphic design choice. The numbers appear on the top-left and top-right of each card, but nowhere on the bottom, meaning that every card needs to be in the correct orientation in your hand for you to be able to see what values you have. You don’t see that often.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, Cursed Tricks is hectic, but it’s a lot of fun, too! This is one of the more frenetic trick-taking games I’ve played, as curses are popping up, moving around, and getting broken pretty much every trick, which keeps things really exciting. The thrill is partially because, honestly, getting cursed early is a pretty good idea, since it lets you take a few tricks with relative impunity. Then, the strategy comes in. When do you think you’ve gotten enough cards that you can transfer the curse or break it? Too few, and you miss out on points you should have gotten (or worse, take the curse back later). Too many, and you have no way to get rid of the curse! Finding that sweet spot makes the cards you play (and the cards you throw off) matter a lot. Every trick matters in Cursed Tricks, and sometimes the cards you keep are even more important! You can use them to mess your opponents’ plans up pretty aggressively, if you play your cards right. It’s a lot to track, granted, but it’s still all packaged in a not-too-complicated trick-taking game. I was particularly surprised by that. I think I could teach this one to a variety of different players, and that means it’s likely going to earn a spot in my coveted trick-taking Quiver that I keep saying I’m going to make once I start traveling again. Who knows. Either way, if you’re looking for a really cool trick-taking game or you’re just like “my trick-taking games aren’t hectic enough”, Cursed Tricks might be right up your alley!
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