Thanks to Button Shy Games for providing the reviews copies for this post.
I’m a fan of small games. Don’t get me wrong, I do really like big games with lots of stuff and heavy complexity as well. But I do like seeing how much game can be stuffed into a minimal amount of components. Some call them microgames, I tend to refer them as pocket games, and the folks at Button Shy Games like to call them Wallet Games. They recently sent me a few of their titles to take a look at, so let’s do that now.
We’ll start with Smoke & Mirrors, which is currently funding on Kickstarter. This 3-5 player game was designed by Chip Beauvais. Players are magicians trying to create the best magic acts. However, everyone only has a minimal amount of tricks at their disposal, and so they must bluff in order to create the illusion of having what they need. The game comes with 18 cards, 6 cards in each deck. The Stars Deck has five cards numbered 1 and one Mirror. The Spiral Deck has cards numbered 1-2-3-4-5 and one Mirror. The Skulls deck has five cards numbered 5 and one Mirror. Each deck is shuffled, then each player takes one card from each deck to create a hand of three.
On your turn, you start a magic act by playing 1-3 cards from your hand face down. The first player must play a magic act of value 1, the second player has to have a value of 2, and so on – each successive trick must be valued one higher than the trick before it. If you ever think the player before you was lying, you may challenge, then look at their cards. If they were lying, they are out. If they were telling the truth, you are out. In either case, the winning magician may look at the other’s hand and trade one card of the same color with it. The losing cards are then removed from the game.
There are a couple of twists in the game. If you have a Mirror, you may play it with another card (or pair of cards), and it becomes that card (or pair of cards). So if you play with a 2, it becomes a 2 and your total is 4. Also, each player is allowed one Break per round – just skip your turn. The round is won when there is only one magician left standing. You then play again, and the first magician to win four rounds is the winner.
COMPONENTS: I can’t speak to the final quality, as I was sent a prototype copy. However, you can check out the art over at the Kickstarter campaign. In the end, it’s only an 18-card game, but those cards will get shuffled a bunch from game to game, so you probably want sleeves.
THEME: This is a game about competing magicians. And it works. When you boil it down to its essential elements, this game is about numbers and nothing more, but having the frame that you only know three magic tricks gives you a reason for playing the way you do. You’re trying to create the illusion that you know what you’re doing, and you’re hoping the other magicians won’t catch on. Kudos for attaching a pretty decent theme to a bunch of numbers.
MECHANICS: Mechanically, there’s not a whole lot going on. It’s a hand management game where you have to work with the cards you were given, and try to decide when your opponents are not telling the truth. Card play is very simple – you play any number of cards from your hand, and when it’s your turn again, you pick them up and try again. Calling your opponents on a lie means that you will either lose now or continue to play. It’s nice that your reward for catching a lie is that you get to trade a card with their hand, maybe buffing yourself up for a future turn. Also, there is the ability to pass once per round, which can be important. There is player elimination in the game, but it’s a non-issue because the game is so quick and you can play several rounds.
STRATEGY: The only real strategy here is in reading your opponents and trying to decide when they are bluffing. When you look at your hand, you know exactly what numbers you can make, and what numbers you cannot make. Putting them together takes no skill, but as in poker, it’s all about the bluff. Personally, I’m terrible at bluffing games, so you can imagine that I’m not good here.
ACCESSIBILITY: Because this is an 18-card game, it’s not that tough to pick up. It does take a minute to get your head around what is going on, but it all boils down to numbers and trying to figure out who is bluffing whom.
SCALABILITY: The game plays with 3-5 people, and it seems to be slightly more chaotic the more players you have. And since there is player elimination, you may be waiting longer with more players, but it’s a very quick game so that’s not much of a problem.
REPLAYABILITY: This is probably not a game you’ll want to trot out every time there is a game night. However, there’s enough variability in the game (and in the way people play) that you should enjoy a different experience every time. The suggestion is to play until someone has four wins, but you can play as many or as few rounds as you like.
FOOTPRINT: This is a game you don’t really need any table space for. It’s 18 cards, and you could just play it sitting around anywhere.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I think this is a pretty solid pocket game, with enough intrigue to keep you invested throughout. Do go and check it out on Kickstarter, which has already funded. Smoke & Mirrors is funding with two other games in the Wallet Series – Kenneth Thompson’s Fever Chill and JR Honeycutt’s North-South-East-Quest. You can get one for $8, two for $15, or all three for $21.
But wait, there’s more! Button Shy sent me two other already printed Wallet Games, so here’s a quick look at them.
Cunning Folk was designed by Jay Treat. It’s a 2-4 player deduction game about a witch hunt. There are 18 cards included with the game, including nine roles, five bonus roles, and four Suspected/Ostracized cards. In the beginning, the nine roles are laid out face down in a 3×3 grid.
On your turn, you look at one of the cards. You then have three options. You could do nothing. You could use the card’s ability. Or you could lie and use a different ability. If you get caught in a lie, you get a Suspected card. If you already have a Suspected card, you are Ostracized and out of the game. If you were telling the truth, the player who challenged you gets a Suspected card.
The roles are as follows:
- Villager: No effect.
- Good Witch: Go again.
- Evil Witch: Swap the positions of any two cards.
- Good Elder: If you correctly identify all Evil roles, you win.
- Evil Elder: If you correctly identify all Good roles, you win.
The bonus roles can be substituted in for the Villagers, and I highly suggest it.
- Liar: You must declare a role to take.
- Pirate: The Pirate opposes everyone, and must be identified by the Good or Evil Elder.
- Cat: Meow.
- Vagrant: Trade the position of this card with another.
- Good Witch: This is just another Good Witch to make it tougher for the Evil Elder.
When one player successfully uses the Good or Evil Elder, or if all but one player has been Ostracized, the game ends.
COMPONENTS: The cards are pretty nice quality, and the art is good. The cards are laid out very well so it’s very clear what each power is. Also, the game comes in a nice wallet, which is standard for games in this series.
THEME: This game is about a witch hunt, and that makes sense for the type of game it is. There’s a little disconnect with the theme as players are not actually taking on roles, they’re just using special powers and don’t really care which side “wins” in the battle between Good and Evil.
MECHANICS: This game has special powers, and has an element of bluffing that is similar to Coup. Here, you are trying to find different roles to use, but if you can’t find a role you need, you’re welcome to lie about it (as in Coup). Of course, that puts you in danger of being Suspected or Ostracized, so you have to be careful. The different powers are fairly simple to grasp, and there are not a lot of them. This game features player elimination, though it’s not something that WILL happen every game, it just might if you’re a bad liar.
STRATEGY: The strategy here comes mostly in observing what claims other players are making, then using that to deduce what’s going on. Knowing how to use the powers is essential to success and hopefully thwarting other players.
ACCESSIBILITY: This is not a difficult game, and people who are familiar with social deduction games will have no trouble picking it up. The simple powers make it not too difficult. You can scale up the difficulty by adding new roles in place of the Villagers, which is a nice touch.
SCALABILITY: This is a 2-4 player game. I feel that the sweet spot may be three players – with two, there’s not much push and pull, and with four, there feels like there’s a little too much once the Evil Witches have been found and start being used to swap cards. Still, it plays fine with 2 and 4, and remains a fairly quick game.
REPLYABILITY: In its current form, I think this game might have limited replayability. With so few roles, it can get a bit redundant. I highly recommend using the extra roles when you’ve got a game or two under your belt as it increases the replayability and the challenge of the game. My biggest wish is that there were more extra roles available – there are only five, one of which does nothing and one of which is a repeat of a regular role.
FOOTPRINT: This is a game that does require a small bit of table space, enough for the 3×3 grid.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I think so. I definitely like it better than Coup. I feel that there’s more control, and you’re not as prone to being killed by the luck of the draw in the first turn. If you like that type of social deduction game, I’d check this one out.
Wild Cats was designed by Jason Tagmire. It’s a game for exactly three players, and consists of three cards – a Good Cat, a Bad Cat, and a Wild Cat. The restrictions are these:
- The Good Cat must always tell the truth.
- The Bad Cat must always lie.
- The Wild Cat may tell the truth OR lie.
The winning conditions are these:
- The Good Cat wants the Bad Cat eliminated.
- The Bad Cat wants the Good Cat eliminated.
- The Wild Cat wants himself eliminated, or for there to be a three-way tie.
Once everyone gets their role, you have a round of
discussion spirited debate screaming at each other. The rules suggest a minute, and I think that’s a great idea. Once the debate is over, you vote on who should be eliminated, and this determines the winner. Play to four wins.
COMPONENTS: It’s three cards. Sleeves probably would be appropriate since it’s such a small set. There is a deluxe set with more roles, but I just have the basic set. The art is appropriately cute, and the instructions for each cat are spelled out nicely.
THEME: There’s not much of a theme. The cats are just a framework for the shouting.
MECHANICS: There’s not a whole lot going on mechanically. At its core, this is a social deduction game, and you are making wild accusations with no basis. The difference here is that you have a 50/50 shot of guessing what someone else is. I’m usually wrong. Like Shadow Hunters, there are three factions, which makes it a more interesting game. Win conditions and restrictions are pretty clear. You are allowed to argue as long as you want, but the rules suggest limiting it to a minute, and I wholeheartedly endorse that.
STRATEGY: There’s no strategy here. You may be able to use some logic to figure out who is who, but my games have always devolved into people shouting at each other, insisting they are the Good Cat, and making unfounded assertions about the other players.
ACCESSIBILITY: This is a very easy game to learn. I think anyone will be able to understand this one.
SCALABILITY: This is a game for exactly three players. There’s a deluxe edition with extra roles that can bring it up to six players.
REPLAYABILITY: Because this a three card game, there’s not a ton of replayability. It’s pretty much going to play out the same way every time – scream at each other for a minute, vote, someone wins. The Good Cat has never won a game I’ve played. However, if you have a few minutes to kill during a game session, and have three people sitting around, this will be fun.
FOOTPRINT: This is a game that truly can be played anywhere. Except maybe somewhere you should be silent.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I like it. As a three card game, it’s better than Win Lose or Banana, and it’s quick and silly enough to be generally pretty harmless.
So that’s a quick look at some Wallet Games from Button Shy. Based on the three I’ve played, this is a really good series that I encourage you to check out. Check out the Kickstarter if interested, and find out more about the other games in the series at the Button Shy website. Thanks for reading!