18-card games are all the rage these days, and I personally marvel at the way game designers are able to create layered strategy games within that construct, but the designers of these games have done exactly that.
Capital Vices by Corey Andalora and Donnie Coleman, published by Concept Medley LLC
For fans of Epic Duels, Corey is known as Corey RIT, and he’s the one who developed the invaluable Deck Designer software. Where would our deck-making be without that? He and Concept Medley are first time publishers.
Capital Vices is a 20-30 minute game for 1-4 players. The game gets the most out of its 18 (well, 20) cards:
- 4 player cards
- 7 cards are sin/virtue cards. The sin is the key thing. On the reverse side of those sin/virtue cards are the action cards that drive the game. You basically lay out 7 actions in random order each turn, then flip the card over to the sin/virtue side. The first card’s sin is the one that governs the scoring round.
- 8 goods cards, 2 each in 4 different colors, all are Food on one side and Money on the other.
- Plus a reference card. So that’s 20 cards in total, and I think there might be a promo card thrown in there.
There’s a solid theme of seven deadly sins, sin and virtue packed into this small box. The game is about trying to avoid sin, but it would extremely difficult to do for an entire game. In solo mode, which is how I experienced it, you’re trying to balance the 3 players, a challenge and puzzle onto itself.
Generally, you want to get rid of all of your Food and Money cards. There’s a series of 7 actions that will play out one at a time, that will move the Food and Money cards around the board. The first action also represents the Sin of the round, which can exclude players from any scoring, though there is a “Patience” option around that. Some of the choices made in the series of cards will force later actions to go a certain way, so when you do have a choice, you puzzle over it for a while.
This is followed by the scoring round, where you will gain 0, 1 or 2 VP. To win the game, you need to reach exactly 7 VP. Each round has a lot of different motions you go through with the different Virtues. You mostly just want to be the one with the fewest cards, and keep your Vice Score down as much as possible. Those with the lowest Vice Score will gain an extra VP. Everyone who doesn’t commit the Sin of the round will also gain 1 VP. Finally, those who achieve “patience” by collecting all the cards of different colors, plus checking the boxes for both Money and Food, gain 1 VP. It’s possible, though rare, that you could do this and still not Sin, and gain 2 total VP.
Ultimately, you’re trying to be the first to get to 7 points, and you generally get there by avoiding sin and having the lowest vice score. Trick is, you have to land on exactly 7, or you stay where you are.
In a solo game, you’re basically controlling 3 players, and moving goods around them. You’re trying to get all 3 players to end with exactly 7 on the same round. I actually pulled this off, almost by accident. Entering the round, one player had 6 points while the others had 5 each. As the last action played out, the player with 6 points piled up almost all of the cards, assuring himself exactly 1 VP through patience. The other 2 players each ended with exactly 1 card, avoided sin for one point, and both had the fewest Vice Tally, bringing their scores to 7, along with the 3rd player. I won!
Overall Capital Vices packs a lot into a small box. It’s a complete game with a strong, ever-present theme. The actions are fun, and you have to look out ahead to see what actions may cascade from actions taken earlier in the round. That’s the key to the game — and the actions are layered and dynamic enough that you’ll puzzle over it.
Squire for Hire by Jon Merchant and published by Letiman Games
Squire for Hire is a 15-25 minute game for 1-2 players, and plays especially well as a solo game. This game actually gets even more out of its 18 (well, 19) cards by further dividing those cards into 4 x 8 grids containing various items, and the whole game is fitting items from new cards into spaces on the already existing cards:
- 14 inventory cards, that are encounter cards on the reverse side.
- 5 character cards
What really stands out about Squire for Hire is Jon Merchant’s art. I really like that he went for squires instead of knights. It’s a little off the beaten path, but it lends itself to cute critters acting as squires, whereas I don’t know that I’d ever take cute critters seriously as knights. Plus, being off the beaten path is a good thing when it comes to games.
So you’re this cute little critter, trying to be a medieval knight (or mage, or paladin, etc.) and to get there, you need to squeeze as much stuff into your bag as you can. Within the constraints of this game, the mechanics of fitting your cards in to gain as many points as possible from it is clever and fun, though a tad fiddly at times. The medieval theme, of squeezing in swords and bows and coats of armor with potions and other magic items, plus valuable chests and coins and such, all works really well and gives this small game some heft.
The core mechanic of the game is, you just have to fit one item from a new loot card somewhere in your “bag,” or your collection of cards. You can cover as little or as much of other cards as you want, as long as you’re fitting at least one item, and you’re not covering anything up. Each round you’re going to take on the obstacle, then choose a loot card. Many obstacle cards have a choice, with one requiring a certain level of something, e.g. at least 2 weapons, while the other typically requires you to cover up a type of item, e.g. 1 valuable item. Some encounters simply require you to cover up an item. So when fitting your new loot card into your bag, you have to cover up a certain type of item AND you still need to get a new item in the bag. This generally isn’t too hard, but the trick is figuring out which way of adding your new card maximizes points.
You’re trying to balance getting good items that can help you complete quests for loot, while also getting bonus points for adjacent items, as well as your character bonuses. Finally, you’re trying to not carry too much junk and get a negative score. All of that is a lot to balance, resulting in a pleasing puzzle. You’ll find yourself spinning your card around a few times before finally deciding where to place it. That’s what you want out of a game.
Squire For Hire is a nifty little game. It only takes about 15 minutes to play, but the art is pretty immersive, and you’ll get immersed in trying to put the best possible bag together. It’s totally replayable, even in solo mode. And, you do something: You build out a cool squire bag full of neat items and hopefully, get hired!