I’ve played a good number of the games featured in this week’s trick taking extravaganza – and the great thing is that it’s led me to understand that I actually really love trick taking games. I had felt pretty lukewarm on them because of my poor experiences with Tichu, a game that just never really clicked for me. 2017’s flourish of trick taking games has shown me that there’s a lot out there to love about this type of game, and how differently it can be approached – which is why I’ve been so delighted with Indulgence, coming out from Restoration Games.
Indulgence is a trick taking game that pits 3 or 4 players against each other to eke out small victories and rake in florins over a number of rounds to see who comes out on top. The Italian renaissance setting for this restored version has suits representing a number of powerful families of the time – the Medicis, Sforzas, Orsinis & Borgias – which really works nicely with the richness and intrigue of the game’s feel overall. This release is a restoration of the Dragonmaster iteration of this game, a reimagining of Coup d’Etat, which in turn was based on a much older and royalty-free game called Barbu (played with a regular deck of cards). I’d never played either of these, so all of the aspects of Indulgence were new to me, and thoroughly intriguing.
The game itself is 3 rounds long, and in each round there’ll be 3 or 4 turns, depending on the number of players, with each player taking a turn as leader. Every turn there are three face-up “edicts” to choose from, one being chosen by the leader, which then sets the rules for play and scoring for that turn. This is what got me most excited by the game to begin with – the fact you’ll get to play to a different goal each turn keeps things fresh and fun for me. A new hand, a new decision to make when you’re the leader picking an edict – and the next exciting part: are you going to sin? Sinning means shooting the moon, aiming to do everything the regular edict doesn’t want you to. You’ve got to take a look at the suits and values in your hand and see if you might be able to make that happen, because it’s so dang worth it – sinning pays up big if you’re able to do it.
Sometimes the hand you have could make sinning an absolute no-brainer – you could definitely take all those 6’s, or make sure you take the very last Medici, etc. – so you’ll end up with a good influx of florins from other players when you manage to pull it off. It’s an expensive mistake to sin & not be able to make it happen, because you then you’re paying the leader a large-ish sum directly. It’s a delicate balance and could go either way, which makes it a tough on the spot decision. One thing that makes sinning for a turn just a little easier is the “indulgence” token – a wonderful actual ring! This is a one-time token you can play out on a card to make it a value 10, ensuring your win for that particular trick. I love this little bit of flavour from the rules about the indulgence token, “during the Italian Renaissance, an indulgence offered a clear conscience for many a questionable deed committed in the name of power.” Ooh, how sweet to sin.
So, the inclusion of the aforementioned ring is a wonderful starting point to highlight the great look of this game. It’s not a real, expensive ring with a large ruby in it, it’s just a costume/toy piece – but it absolutely gets a chuckle out of all the players as they grab it during their sinning round to wear it. Raking in the florins from other players is also made to look great with chunky colourful plastic gems, and shiny cardboard coins (not quite the heft of metal, but they look great in a pile on your strongbox card!). The plastic gems are a slight nod to the Dragonmaster version of this game, in which the currency were plastic interlocking gems (for ease of playing by a campfire, no less!). The lovely large tarot-sized cards was also a feature kept from the previous version of the game, and the art & design of those is colourful, bold and gorgeous. Chelsea Harper did an amazing job on every different character portrayed in the 4 families, each given their own style and look within the suit. I also appreciated the note about historical accuracy in the rulebook regarding each family – that while the characters are inspired by those famous families, they’re all from different time periods and in the interest of having some more diversity in the art, there are some liberties taken in their representation. You can get a decent idea of how great the family suits look in the images accompanying this article.
With 3 or 4, I’ve enjoyed the play of this game – even with 4 it stays under the hour mark, it is a quick game to learn even for trick taking novices, and flows really well just a couple of turns in. The only thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve felt pretty hesitant in the games I’ve played so far to sin very much – only when I’m absolutely sure I can make it happen with my cards and the indulgence ring, and will get the payout that makes it worthwhile. Although, in a recent 4p game I played, one of the players at the table sinned every couple of rounds and overall it paid off for him as he demolished us with his pile of shiny florins and gems. This isn’t quite enough to make me worry about the balance of the game, but get back in and sin a little more! Once you’ve gotten into the swing of Indulgence, you can try for the advanced game – each player with the ability to play a “papal bull” card, meaning you are sure you can meet the requirements of all three edicts currently on display for the leader to choose. This sounds like utter madness to me, but I’d love to get to a point where I have a group of people familiar enough with the game to try this wild ride. Maybe even throw out the papal bull and sin for the lot of it all. Because it seems like in the world of Indulgence, sinners end up winners.
Indulgence is a trick taking game for 3 – 4 players and plays in approximately 40 – 60 minutes. The game was refreshed and restored by Rob Daviau and Justin D. Jacobson, with art by Chelsea Harper. Thanks to the Restoration Games team for providing a review copy of the game. Indulgence will be releasing next week at Gen Con and in stores shortly after.