The board game industry is driven by a phenomenon known as the cult of the new: serious hobbyists compelled to back every Kickstarter game they see, to pre-order games that get hyped by slick marketing or by internet game reviewers. This cult pushes publishers to pump out more and more games every year (more games than anyone could realistically keep up with), instead of focusing on releasing a smaller number of well developed, well produced games that are sure to become big hits.
The industry can’t know which games will be successful, so they pump out game after game, hoping something will find traction in a ever more crowded marketplace. Thousands of new titles have been released every year since 2011, and the more games there are, the harder it becomes for any one title to find its audience. You would have to play ten new games a day, every day, all year long, to try every game released in a year! Can you do that? Games are my job and I can’t do that.
From a gamer point of view, the problem with the cult of the new is that games, great games, get missed by a lot of people who would love them. So with that in mind, I present this new column, the Cult of the Old, where I revisit older games that you may never have heard of, or maybe you heard of them when they were released, but they dropped off your radar before you got a chance to try them out. Some of these games are still available in hobby stores, but some will be out of print, and you will have to search them out at your local board game cafe or on reseller websites like eBay. Some companies, such as Restoration Games, or Osprey Games, are going out of the way to find older games and resurrect them with shiny new editions.
For our inaugural edition of Cult of the Old I would like to introduce you to Thorsten Gimmler’s No Thanks!, currently published by Mayfair Games. No Thanks is a rummy-style game with golf-like scoring and a reverse auction mechanic thrown in.
Rummy-style: players collect cards in an attempt to get cards of consecutive values. The longer the runs, the better. The catch is that nine cards are removed at the start of the game and no one gets to see which numbers are missing.
Golf-like: players want to score as low as possible. Cards are worth the value printed on them, but if you collect runs, you only score the lowest card in the run. That’s good.
Reverse Auction: Players start the game with a bunch of chips which are used to avoid taking unwanted cards. By putting a chip on a card, you make it the next player’s problem. If you take a card, you also take all the chips that players have played to avoid taking it. In addition, each chip you have at the game’s end lowers your final score by one point.
The top card of the deck is revealed and the start player (whoever took the last card) decides if they want to take the card, or put a chip on it making the next player have to choose between taking the card or paying a chip. On it goes until someone either voluntarily takes the card, or is forced to take it because they have no more chips. Then the next card is revealed and the process repeats until all the cards have been collected.
When people first play the game, they are either too cautious about taking cards and blow through their chips too quickly, or they are too casual about taking cards and collect way too many, ensuring too a high score. Another “mistake” people make is the spite play. Taking a card just because someone else wants it. Sometimes this is the right thing to do, but most often it will end up hurting you as much if not more than it hurts your opponent.
One of my favourite plays is when there’s a card that nobody wants but me. Say I have the 27, 28, 29, 31, and the 30 comes up. No one else wants it, but it will save me 31 points if I take it. I could take it the moment it becomes available to me… or I could put a chip on it and let it go around again. And maybe again. And again? The more times I let it go, the more chips will be on it when I finally take it. But if I get too greedy, I risk someone else taking it out of spite, or taking it because they had to.
Who is No Thanks! for?No Thanks has broad appeal. For hardcore gamers, it makes an excellent filler game that you can play once while you wait for one of your players to get back from the convenience store, or a few times while you wait for your sixth Twilight Imperium player to arrive. For beginner gamers, it makes a great gateway game because it has simple to grasp rules and some basic strategies they can experiment with by their second or third play. With nothing but a deck of cards and a handful of chips as components, No Thanks is a great game to show people only accustomed to traditional card games like poker, rummy, euchre, hearts, cribbage, etc.
More Cult of the Old to come. Thanks for reading.