#998 – Cinderella’s Dance

Base price: $20.
2 players.
Play time: ~10 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy directly!
Logged plays: 3

Full disclosure: A review copy of Cinderella’s Dance was provided by Big Cat Games.

If there’s one type of review I always love writing, it’s a review of some of the doujin games that Ayako’s been sending me from the Big Cat Games camp. There are a ton of excellent games coming stateside and Ayako is doing a fantastic job on her end with translation and promotion and selling of it all. Plus, she’s just a fantastic person, so, that’s all great. I’ve got a lot of doujin games around the house that I’ve been meaning to get to, but they pose their own challenges for my game groups, so it’s a bit slow going. Expect to see more of them in the new year, however. I’m working on it. In the meantime, let’s talk about Cinderella’s Dance!

In Cinderella’s Dance, players perform a bit of a dance of their own. On one level, they’re dancing back and forth as they play cards, staying close but trying to consistently pull a bit farther away. On a more meta level, the game itself is dancing around the very concept of trick-taking. Does it count? Well, I find taxonomical arguments a bit irritating, so I’m going to say yes preemptively and just ignore any evidence to the contrary. It’s better for my skin. But, like any other dance, there can only be one winner. Will it be you?

Contents

Setup

Not a ton! Simply shuffle the cards:

Remove five from play. Deal eight to each player. If you’re playing with the multi-round mode, give each player a score tracker:

Either way, you should be ready to start!

Gameplay

Cinderella’s Dance is a game of gradual increases. Maybe it’s a trick-taking game? Hard to say. Taxonomies are a bit odd. You’ll play cards to try and win tricks, granted, but how you play and how you take tricks is interesting. Let’s dive in!

To start a trick, the lead player chooses a card from their hand and plays it. Their opponent can choose to play another card or pass. If they pass, the trick ends, and the lead player wins the trick (and takes it). They can pass if they cannot or do not want to play a card. If they want to play a card, they must play a card from their hand that is 1, 2, or 3 higher than the card played. Then, it’s the lead player’s turn to respond or pass. The player who wins the trick leads the next trick.

Once either player runs out of cards, the game ends. The player with more points wins! To balance the game out a bit, try playing until either player has won three games.

Player Count Differences

This is exclusively two-player, so, none.

Strategy

  • Keep track of what cards have been played. This is a game that you explicitly need to track cards in, just so you know whether or not your opponent can play on top of the card that you played previously. Plus, there are only 21 cards, so, you’re not exactly overexerting yourself to keep track of them, particularly because five are already out of play. The more you know, the easier it is to play cards that will force your opponent to pass.
  • If you want to win a few quick tricks, dump cards like the 20 or the 21 that are difficult for your opponent to respond to. If you have the 21, your opponent must pass when it’s played, meaning that you immediately get to play again (since you won the trick). This means that you can play the 21, then the 20, and so on (if you have the highest cards) to immediately win a few tricks. It’s not particularly polite, but, you gotta do what you gotta do in order to win.
  • Keep in mind that you should keep one high card; you’ll eventually have to play something your opponent can respond to, so you want to be able to beat that. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll get dealt the eight highest cards in play, so you may want to hold on to one so that you can retake control of the tricks, should you eventually be forced to play one of your lower cards. It’s essentially insurance.
  • Even low cards can be useful! If you know the three cards higher than your card have already been played or are out of play, you can play that card and force your opponent to pass. You can essentially replicate the high card trick with low cards, as long as you know the three cards above them have already been claimed or are out of play. If nobody can play the 5 / 6 / 7 and you play the 4, you’re guaranteed to win again. You can use that to claim even more tricks, provided some of the middle-value cards have already been taken.
  • If you’re already leading your opponent in tricks won, try playing a low card; you might be able to bait them into one very long trick, which still only counts as one trick towards winning the game. One big trick still counts for as many tricks won as many small tricks, which is pretty handy. If I win the 21, the 20, and the 19 as separate tricks, and you win 1 – 7 in a big trick, I have three tricks to your one, even though you’ve got twice as many cards. Very convenient, if you can successfully bait your opponent into a lengthy back-and-forth of a trick.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • It’s very interesting from the “is this a trick-taking game?” perspective. I like that it invites the question! Game taxonomies are an interesting thing to play around with. When does a game truly stop being a racing game? What makes a game indelibly a trick-taking game? When is a game even a game at all? (I think Oink Games’s VOID asks and answers that question nicely, for instance.) Having games that push the envelope, even if they fall a bit short, is ambitious, and I always enjoy an ambitious game. Where Cinderella’s Dance tries to push the envelope is by trying both a two-player trick-taking game (difficult to do well) and a game with few cards and even fewer suits. Where it ends up is very much a dance; it’s a game of matching your opponent’s moves while still trying to get ahead of them. I think it’s very interesting!
  • It’s probably a nice way to teach folks some basic trick-taking fundamentals pretty quickly. Even though it toes the line of “is this trick-taking?”, there are some useful fundamentals of trick-taking that the game can help players learn, like how cards are played and when a trick is “won”. Having no suits and having a very simple criteria for when cards can be played makes the game pretty easy to pick up and learn, though learning the strategy is a bit more challenging.
  • The art style is pretty pleasant. I like it! It’s muted but pleasant. I appreciate the storybook-esque nature of it all; it works quite nicely with the theme.
  • Pretty fast game. Even for a game with multiple rounds, the rounds themselves don’t take too long. It’s definitely a fast one.
  • Very portable! This game’s maybe 23 cards, total? You can throw it in a little bag and take it pretty much anywhere with you. No additional pieces, the score tracking is all cards; it all works wonderfully.

Mehs

  • This doesn’t really have any particular reason to be multiple rounds, beyond having multiple rounds in one game mitigates a bit of the impact luck has on any one round. It’s always a pet peeve of mine when games are just “first to win three rounds” for the sake of extending the game, but this somewhat mitigates that because the multiple rounds are to try and balance out the effect of luck on the hands dealt. The problem is that if the multiple rounds solely exist to mitigate the effect of luck on the game, that’s not particularly great, either. I don’t mind it a ton, particularly since the game is so short, but it’s worth mentioning.

Cons

  • A lot of each round is going to depend on what hand you get dealt. This is kind of the key issue that I have with the game. It’s very possible that you can get dealt a hand that, against a fairly-experienced player, is just a losing gambit. You can usually make a fair number of hands work, but it can be frustrating to end up in a spot where you have no shot of winning. This is usually where you want to play multiple rounds so that the whole game isn’t decided on a spot of luck.

Overall: 7 / 10

Overall, I think Cinderella’s Dance is quite interesting! That said, I think it’s also pretty fun. There’s a tendency among people I play games with to use “interesting” when they could use “fun”, leading me to believe that they’re politely saying interesting because they don’t find the game particularly fun, and that’s not the case here. Cinderella’s Dance might be more interesting than it is fun, but I think there’s still fun to be had in this tiny box. The interesting (and compelling) part of the game for me is how deftly it moves around the line of whether or not it qualifies as trick-taking. A lot of the strategies that I’d use for trick-taking, like keeping track of played cards and trying to guess what my opponent has and how they’d play still work here, and there are plenty of two-player trick-taking games, so I’d be inclined to say yes. The low complexity of the game and lack of suits works a bit against it, unfortunately, since a round / game can largely depend on what cards end up in your hand. For instance, if you have all the highest cards in play, well, there’s not much your opponent can do to stop you (though that’s largely true in other trick-taking games, as well). That can feel a bit dissatisfying in the context of a game, just because you end up getting pinned down and passing for an entire round. Doesn’t feel great. I think, were I to try and expand this concept out, I’d want to see something that can be done about that. Maybe cards with multiple values or other cards that can change their placement or something to keep me, the player, in the round for longer rather than just getting flexed by strategic card plays. But I think it’s a concept worth exploring, and Cinderella’s Dance is a very cool introduction to that concept. Plus, it’s a quick and portable little game that seems like it would be a very nice and simple way to teach another person the basic concepts of trick-taking or equivalent games, so, that’s worth looking into. It’s a bit of a curiosity, with some pleasant art that will probably stick around my collection due to its cute design and small footprint, but if you’re looking for an interesting two-player trick-taking game and you want to push the envelope of what “counts” as trick-taking, you might enjoy Cinderella’s Dance! I found it neat.


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