It’s taken four years but finally the two-player version of 2015’s The Game has been released in English here in North America by Pandasaurus Games, continuing their run of high-quality curated designs. The Game: Face To Face is competitive, unlike the original, with each player racing to be the first to run through their own deck of 60 cards.
The Game was designed by Steffen Benndorf, whose career took off in 2012 with one of the first modern roll’and’write classics Qwixx. Benndorf also designed 2019’s excellent Ohanami (which I wrote about back in September).
Interestingly, the job of transplanting the original into its new format turned into a two-person job, with Benndorf joined by veteran Reinhard Staupe, whose career began in 1995 with the still-in-print Blink and includes Basari, Havana, and Robots (the last of which was also published by Pandasaurus last fall). Staupe worked on versions of Qwixx as well as The Game: Extreme, so clearly Benndorf is comfortable handing things over to him.
Now that we’ve covered the back-story we can look at TG:FTF itself. As I said up top, each player has their own deck of 60 cards, uniquely numbered 1 through 60. The 1 and 60 start on the table as the foundations of two discard piles. Players alternate turns playing cards onto their foundations and then drawing new cards until one player has run through the deck and therefore won.
On your turn you must play at least two cards (or forfeit the game). Cards on the 1 pile must go up in value; cards on the 60 pile must go down. The exception is that you can go “backwards” on either pile if you can play a card exactly 10 in the opposite direction. So if your 1 (ascending) pile currently has 23 at the top you must play something 24 or higher or 13.
If this were all there was to it then TG: FTF would just be multiplayer solitaire. All it takes is one rule to open things up: once (and only once) per turn you can play a card onto one of your opponent’s piles. However, you must do so to make life easier for them: if their ascending pile has 23 at the top you could only play something lower than 23. It doesn’t have to be 10 lower.
Why would you do this? That’s the second part of the rule. At the end of your turn you may only replenish two cards unless you’ve played one card to make your opponent’s life easier, in which case you can draw until you have six cards in hand. This is the perfectly-balanced incentive the game needs. In fact, it’s the key to winning, because it allows you to run through your deck much more quickly.
TG:FTF is currently rated 7.1 on BGG, half a point higher than its ancestor. To me they represent opposite faces of the same coin, so this might be because BGG’s audience skews away from co-op games. You definitely don’t have to have played TG previously, but if you have there’s very little new to learn, which this edition acknowledges with a handy-dandy prelude in the rules which gets you playing in a couple of minutes after you’ve opened the box.
In many ways TG:FTF is very much a game well-suited to our current pandemilicious circumstances. Portable, easy to play, only needs two players. I’ve been able to teach this game to my 82-year-old mother (with whom I’m currently bubbling) with relative ease, and though it’s taking her time to absorb the rules she finds it very engaging and fun. If you’re looking for something new in this niche I think you will agree.
Thanks to Pandasaurus Game for providing a review copy of The Game: Face to Face.