Thanks to AEG for sending a review copy of this game.
One of my favorite games of 2019 was Point Salad. The same time has gotten together now to bring us
TEN is a 1-5 player card game from designers Molly Johnson, Shawn Stankewich, and Robert Melvin. In the game, players are trying to create sequences of cards from 1-9 in four different colors. This is done through a combination of drafting, push-your-luck, and auctions.
The game comes with a deck of 129 cards – 1-9 in the four colors, as well as various wild and currency cards. There are also white and black currency tokens. At the start of the game, each player gets 5 black currency tokens. Some cards are removed from the deck for a 2- or 3-player game, and the deck is shuffled. But really, that’s all the setup there is.
On your turn, you’ll flip over the top card of the deck and place it by the deck. It will either be a number card, a currency card, or a wild card. If it’s a number or currency card, you can either take it or draw again. If you choose to draw again, you’ll flip the next card. This continues until you finally take cards or you bust.
Let’s talk about number cards first. The goal of the game is to create sequences of numbers in the four colors, so you’ll want to take number cards. You can continue drawing cards as long as possible, but if the total of the number cards gets to higher than 10, you bust and all number cards go into a market. But if you decide to take the number cards before you bust, you take all of them that you’ve drawn this turn.
Currency cards show one to five black dots. If you draw one of these in the line, it has the added benefit of reducing the count from the number cards. So if you draw one with three dots, it will decrease the count from 7 to 4, or whatever it happens to be. However, be warned that if the total of currency cards exceeds 10, you also bust. Whenever you bust, you’ll always get a bust token, which is worth three currency. When you bust with currency, all number cards go to the market but nothing else happens. But if you bust with numbers and there are currency cards, all other players get up to the value of the currency cards (there is a limit you can have of ten currency).
If you choose to take the currency cards, you get the value of the currency (up to your ten limit), but the number cards go to the market. If you choose to take number cards and there are currency cards available, all other players get the currency value (up to their ten limit).
When you take currency cards, you turn is over. When you take number cards, you get a buy phase. This is where you look in the market and buy one card from those available. The cost is equal to its face value. You can use any combination of currency tokens, bust tokens (which again are worth three), and cards. Yes, you can discard cards you have previously collected to use their value in purchasing stuff. Cards and bust tokens do not count towards your limit of ten currency tokens, so keep that in mind when spending.
One more type of card that might come out as you’re drawing – the wild card. There are three types of wild cards – those that are a certain color but any number; those that are a certain number but any color; and one that is any color and any number. When one of these is drawn, the round stops and there is an auction. Beginning with the player to the left of the active player, each player can make ONE bid or pass. When it gets back to the active player, they can buy it for more than the highest bid, or pass, in which case the highest bid pays. Again, currency tokens, bust tokens, and cards can be used to pay for these.
The game ends when the last card has been drawn from the deck. At this point, each player gets one final buy phase, to purchase something they might need from the market. Then you score one point per card in the longest sequence you have in each color (scoring an extra point for having 1-9). The high score wins, with currency tokens and fewest cards breaking any ties.
The cards in TEN are all very nice. They’re well designed with different background patterns for people who may suffer from color blindness. The numbers are nice and big, and easy to read. The bust and currency are also nice and solid, and give a nice tactile representation of the money you have to work with. Really, the only complaint I have about the components is that two of my cards were miscut, leaving a small white line on the edge of what is otherwise a black background. I don’t think this is a common issue, but it is there in my copy.
This is a pretty abstract game – it’s just numbers, there’s no pretense at all of something else going on. Which is fine, there doesn’t need to be. But it does mean that the game lives and dies on its mechanics.
The main force driving this game is a push-your-luck card draft. You’re trying to be clever about which cards you take so that you a) add to your own sequences, b) prevent others from adding to theirs, and c) don’t bust. Plus you get the currency cards thrown in, which adds another kink to the process. You bust when you hit 11 numbers or 11 currency. But currency cards subtract from the numbers which can give you a false sense of security. It’s all very well put together.
And then there’s the auctions. I have been fairly vocal in the past about my distaste for auction mechanisms. I don’t really have an explanation for it, other than I’d just rather not have to make my own decisions about how much something is worth. The auctions here are…OK, I guess. You can’t just have the powerful wild cards going to anyone who happens to draw them, that would be too much luck. But they feel weird. The game stops dead so you can have this once-around auction, which I think is probably a step above blind bidding in my hierarchy of least favorite auction mechanisms. It’s probably a little more interesting in games with more than two players, which, full disclosure, I have not yet played.
But despite this pause in gameplay, there’s a lot about the game that I do like. I like the push-your-luck aspect. I like trying to figure out which cards I need to make sequences. I like being able to purchase cards from the market. I like how busting works. And I like that it feels different from other sequence building games.
I don’t find this to be an easy game to teach. For me, I feel like I need to stack the deck a little so I can show the different concepts. They’re not super complicated, but I think this is a game that needs a kinesthetic demonstration to really get it. All the busting rules kind of get muddled if you’re not careful.
That said, it is a very straightforward game. When I played with mom, she liked that it was a fairly easy game to follow. Everything is fairly intuitive – you want cards for your sequences, money for buying and bidding on cards, and to not waste your turn. But even a bust isn’t a complete waste because you get a $3 bust token that doesn’t count against your limit. The game has a very concrete goal for you to be shooting for, and that is very good when determining how you want to play.
TEN also has a solo mode. This involves having a dummy player, and plays almost exactly the way the regular game does. The dummy (named Jen) will bid on wild cards using a set formula, and will stop drawing when it reaches a preset number (4-10). Jen never busts. Basically, the goal of the solo game is to outscore Jen. I’ve only tried once and won pretty handily, though I did play it on the easiest mode. This is not the type of game that I think needed a solo mode, but those are pretty popular these days and it works fairly well.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Overall, I think TEN is a solid pattern building game with some clever mechanics and very straightforward gameplay. It’s a good challenge that gamers of all types will probably be able to find something to enjoy.
Thanks again to AEG for providing a review copy of TEN (and my humblest apologies for taking so long to do the review). Stay safe out there, and thanks for reading!