Base price: $25.
2 – 5 players.
Play time: 10 – 30 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Logged plays: 3
Full disclosure: A review copy of Pumafiosi was provided by Bitewing Games.
So I got a Steam Deck the other day and it’s unfortunately made me a bit useless. I’ve fallen behind on writing, photography, and et cetera, so I’m taking a break from video games to get back in front of my review queue. That said, if you have any Steam Deck game recommendations, add them to the comments? I’ve mostly been trying to play cozy games and also some AAA titles I’ve missed this year, like Midnight Suns and Hitman or that sort of thing. I’m a low-on-violence, high-on-puzzles kind of guy. I guess that doesn’t make sense, given the premise of Midnight Suns and Hitman, but that’s kind of beside the point. We’ve got some Bitewing Games around the house, and I should tell y’all more about them! First up is Pumafiosi!
In Pumafiosi, your goal is to rise to the top of the family’s hierarchy. The challenge is, making too much noise tends to get you noticed, and given the, let’s say delicate? nature of your work, you don’t want to necessarily be front and center with some of these people. They have a way of dealing with things that they notice, and that’s not always the most pleasant. Being … second is probably safer. Not the safest, mind you, but nothing in this family ever is. Will you be able to rise to the top of the family? Or will you end up underground?
First, shuffle the Hierarchy Cards, placing them in a column:
Then, shuffle the various Pumafiosi Cards:
Give each player a set of Wealth and Penalty Point Cards:
And give them a set of Family Tokens as well:
Set the point tokens aside:
You can set the Item Tokens aside, unless you’re planning to use them:
Deal each player a deck of ten cards; have them draw three from the deck. You should be ready to start!
You’re trying to work your way up in the Pumafia hierarchy! Just don’t make too much noise or you might end up dead. Here, your goal is always to be just behind the person in front.
How you do this is, each hand, all players play a card face-up in clockwise order. The player with the second-highest value wins the trick, taking the cards and setting them aside. They take the card they played and add it to any spot on the hierarchy that they choose. If there’s already a card there, the lower value of the two cards is bumped down to the next available spot. The player who owns the bumped card takes a point token and places it on their Penalty Card every time their card is bumped. Note that the bottom location (the -3) has room for an infinite number of cards; nothing is ever bumped off the hierarchy. After the cards have settled into place, place a Family Token belonging to the player whose card was added to the hierarchy this round on their card.
Each player draws a new card and play continues until all ten cards have been played for each player. Once that happens, total scores! Each card on the hierarchy is worth the number of points indicated by its rank. If a player has no cards on the hierarchy this round, they gain -10 penalty points! That’s bad. Simplify positive and penalty points (they cancel out 1:1) and the player with the most points wins the round and starts the next one! Scores stay as they are.
After three rounds, the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Pumafiosi changes quite a bit from game to game as you adjust the player count. This is mostly because only the second-highest card will win the trick and make its way to the hierarchy, so with fewer players you’d expect to be on there more, and with more players you’d expect to be on their less. At five, this is really where you need to worry about the -10 point penalty for not making it on the hierarchy whatsoever. Extremely not ideal. At two, you have a dummy third player who mostly exists to take up space on the hierarchy, which adds a nice element of randomness to the whole thing. I prefer the higher scores and the additional control at the lower player counts, so that’s generally where I’d play Pumafiosi, as well. That said, if you want more chaos and a tighter game, try the five-player version!
- Going after the top spot usually means you’re going to take a lot of negative points or you’ve got a high card. There’s not really a good reason to place a low-value card in the highest possible spot until fairly late in the round. Even then, you can fall pretty far if you’re not careful, and you take -1 point every time that happens. If you have a sufficiently high card, you should be in a pretty good spot, but getting a sufficiently high card to be the second-highest card in a trick is pretty challenging, on its own.
- That said, playing into the top spot later in the game may put you in a position where nobody can kick you out. Like I said, if you do this late enough, players may just not have the cards necessary to overcome a 29 in the top slot, even if there’s a 45 right below it. Keep an eye on what’s already been played and try to get a sense of what cards you can use to your advantage.
- Try not to push yourself down the hierarchy, if you can. Pushing your own cards down just nets you negative points without a ton of benefit, unless you’re pushing a bunch of your opponents’ cards down as well. If you can do that, it may make some sense, but it’s not necessarily your best move.
- If you get to decide who wins the trick, look at their points. Once other folks have played, you might be in a position to decide who ends up in the second-place spot. If you do, keep an eye on who has points and penalties and who might be inclined to place their card where. You may be able to help a player with fewer points or disadvantage the player in the lead. Or sometimes you might just want to take the second place yourself.
- The Tools are pretty useful, but also pretty limited. Play wisely. You can increase the value of cards or avoid penalty points or even score double points (among other things). That said, you only get one play of them for the entire game. If you spend them all in the first round, you’ll be largely on your own.
- Very high cards and very low cards aren’t going to get you too many places. They can’t really hit that second-place spot. I mean, if you manage to pull it off with a very high card, you’re sitting pretty, but a very low card is pretty much useless across the board. Unless you’re really gung-ho about losing points, that is.
- Getting rid of your low cards more generally may help you, just so you don’t end up at the bottom of the hierarchy. Dumping them quickly and early means that you won’t be forced to play them. One thing that you’re going to find towards the end of the round is that players might start forcing other players to take second in the trick so that they are forced to add low-value cards to the hierarchy, to their detriment.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I enjoy a good crime-themed game. It’s just silly and fun.
- Letting the second-highest card win the trick is interesting, as well. A nice spin on the standard trick-taking game, here.
- The Tools can add a bit of variety and player choice to the game, as well as more chaos, if you’re into that. I appreciate the simpler version of the game, personally, but I like that the Tools are there if you want to give players a bit more ability to directly influence the cards in their hands. There’s a fun bit of strategy to that, if that’s your thing. I find the game works fine either way.
- The push-your-luck element of the hierarchy and scoring is wonderful. This is one of my favorite parts. It’s not just about knowing what cards to play, it’s also about knowing where you want to slot them later. If you push your opponents down far enough, they can push you down with cards that are even higher later on. If you try to hedge your bets and start farther down in the hierarchy, you’re even closer to a bad spot if a player decides to just keep playing on your spot. Not ideal. There’s some planning, some strategy, and some luck that you’ll need to take into consideration if you want to pull off a win, here.
- There’s also some nice player interaction in this game, even if it is fairly mean. You’re very engaged in what other players are doing since they’re actively reducing your score by knocking your placed cards down in the hierarchy. You can even try to goad players into going after someone else that you’re both opposed to, if you want. There’s a lot of opportunity for player interaction; it just happens to be a bit spiteful.
- I like that there’s a severe penalty for not making it in the hierarchy at all. Keeps players engaged in participating, and also doesn’t allow for players who are already in the lead to just cool their heels and wait for the game to end. You need to always be in the game, otherwise you’ll end up losing a ton of points.
- I particularly like the limited hand size; I think that always does a nice job of making the game tighter, as even with more players, you don’t know what’s still in your opponents’ decks. It makes for some interesting tactical play, as you can’t necessarily guarantee what your opponent has or doesn’t have in their hand. Plus, you might be able to save cards, but you can’t save too many or for too long. It’s a different way to give players a variety of options, like how standard trick-taking games would have multiple suits of cards.
- The nicer clay tokens are very pleasant as well! They’ve got a good weight to them, despite their size. If you don’t have that version, there’s also a set of cardboard tokens that work as well, but the heftier tokens have a really nice weight to them.
- And the box has a magnetic clasp, which is nice. I wish it were a bit stronger, but I do love a magnetic box seal.
- I’m never too big of a fan of games that have three rounds just to kind of stretch out the game length and average out random outcomes; I usually just prefer to play one round and try again. Here, it’s not quite so bad since the three rounds are intended to average out the randomness of how cards are dealt and picked up in each round. I usually feel like this pads out the length of the game, but I can understand how this affects
- There are some extra penalties in the rulebook that seem to mostly punish new / inexperienced players for making mistakes? The one that catches my eye is players accidentally drawing too many cards. The rules say three; there’s no reason to assume that anyone would draw more, even on purpose. Seems like a weird penalty to formally enshrine for an accidental mistake.
- Watch out for jostling the box too much; the clasp isn’t always a particularly tight containment and cards can get everywhere, which can be an issue for a game like this. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I think the box clasp isn’t the strongest magnet in town. I’ve already had to refill the box when it exploded inside of one of my carrying cases a couple times. Not ideal, but I don’t think I lost any cards. I’ve bagged them a bit more aggressively this time.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I think Pumafiosi is solidly fun! I’m already a bit biased in its favor, since I enjoy interesting spins on trick-taking games, and having to think about what card will land you firmly in second place is always a bit of fun. I also like that you don’t ever have access to your entire hand of cards, and are instead drawing from a deck over the course of a given round. It adds some randomness, granted, but it also lets the game feel a bit more tactical, and I’m into that sort of thing. After all, there are three rounds, so the randomness from playing from a randomized deck should average out, to some degree. I’m still never entirely pleased when the game is three rounds for the sake of being three rounds, but here, at least, it feels like the rounds are designed to give the players a sense of fairness amid all the card shuffling. How much of that is just placating? Hard to say; that’s more of a probability and psychology question. Seems to work, in my experience, but it also makes the experience of the game itself drag, a little bit. Trade-offs. I could go either way on the art, in this one; it’s not my favorite, unfortunately, but it’s not poorly done, either. It’s just aesthetically kind of a miss, for me. I appreciate the craft, though. Otherwise, there’s a lot of care put into the physical production of this game, which scans; Bitewing has been trying to come out of the gates swinging as a new publisher, and they’ve made a lot of high-quality niceties available. The clay tokens are lovely, the box has a magnetic clasp (that could be a bit stronger; I’ve had half of this box dump out in my bag, unfortunately), and even the rulebook is pretty nice. The push-your-luck elements are a lot of fun, as well; they consistently keep me on my toes and allow for a nice additional layer of player interaction. Do you place your card high up in the hierarchy and risk getting knocked pretty far down? Do you place it lower and risk getting stuck at the bottom? Or do you just place it right on the same space as an opponent so, no matter what, you cost them points? These are all fun questions you can ask yourself. If you’re a fan of trick-taking or push-your-luck, you want to start your own criminal empire, or you just want to try a crime-themed game, you might enjoy Pumafiosi! I’ve found it fun.
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