I’m a big fan of trick taking games, but with so many out there it’s tough to come up with a truly new twist. Pi Mal Pflaumen manages to introduce a pretty cool new approach to the mechanic while incorporating a beautiful theme. Matthias Cramer has taken a proven style of game and made it fresh again.
Pi Mal Pflaumen is a play on the phrase “rule of thumb.” It is played over three rounds with a unique deck for each round. Six cards dealt to each player at the start of every round from a deck numbered 1-25. The cards are beautifully illustrated fruits and berries in the style of Maria Sibylla Merian, a 17th century naturalist, explorer and artist. Each one looks like it might have been taken from a early science textbook and they’re truly beautiful to behold. Dennis Lohausen handled the art for Pflaumen, it’s not hyperbolic to say that you’ll really have to concentrate on your strategy and not get too drawn in by your hand of illustrations.
Not only are players trying to win tricks, they also are going to build tableaus in front of them and collect different sets of cards to score points.
There are no suits per se; the cards all have a number value to them, a fruit, and some have a special power. In the first round a start player is chosen to lead and everyone follows, playing one card from hand. Whoever has played the highest card wins the trick – but here’s where it gets really interesting. Based on how high you played in the trick you’ll get assigned a number card. The winner gets number one, the next player gets number two and so on. The last place player gets a free plum from the supply to add to their tableau. Then the winner is going to get to choose one of the played cards to add to their own tableau, and each other player in order of their number will then take a card.
The choice of card has nothing really to do with the number played. It’s more about the type of fruit depicted on the card or the special ability taking it will unlock. Many card will allow you to do something as soon as you claim them. Some allow you to steal a card from another player’s tableau, others give you the trusty dog card which defends your cards from theft. The dog is yours until someone else claims another dog card. The cards with the pi symbol are pretty neat. They give you three Pi cards, which are of course worth 3.14. At a later time during the game you can add a Pi card to your played card raising its value. A 14 suddenly becomes a 17.14. You can even add multiple Pi cards, each one raising the value by 3.14. This can come in pretty handy late in rounds.
Finally there are cards with a scoring value to them. Scoring cards require you to collect sets of fruit to cash them in. They’ll give you a requirement, like AAA or AABBCC (meaning three fruits the same or three pairs respectively) and a value of points for completing that set. Completing sets is the only way to actually make points in Pflaumen.
Winning a trick is great. It gives you first pick of the cards, but choosing the right one of the played cards is pretty important. You could win all the tricks and not walk away with any points if you don’t spend time collecting and completing sets. Not only that, but you have to take a look at what the other players will have the opportunity to grab. If there’s a steal card out there, you might want to take it or the dog card to defend against would-be thieves. It’s really interesting how Cramer has made the trick taking part only half the battle.
After three rounds of six tricks each the game is over and players get points for the sets they’ve been able to complete.
In short, Pi Mal Pflaumen is a very fun, well executed and beautiful trick taking game. It adds another level to one of my favourite mechanics and delivers it all in a really lovely package. If you’re a fan of this style of game or you’ve got a hole in your collection Pflaumen would be a pretty good fit. If you’re dreading having to say Pi Mal Pflaumen every time you want to play, look for a North American version by Crash of Games called Plums hitting the shelf before too long. Luckily the fantastic art of Lohausen will be kept in tact for the English version.