The trick taking genre is one of the oldest and purest forms of modern “tabletop” gaming. Initially played with a standard deck of cards, this genre has grown and evolved right along with the board gaming golden age we currently find ourselves in. While the staples still exist and are enjoying just as much play as ever, game developers and designers have realized the potential for making custom decks of cards and components that can take these games to places that have been yet unexplored. Korea Board Games is publishing just such a game in The Bark Side; a trick taking game designed by Kotaro Kanda and featuring vibrant, canine themed art by Serene Wyatt.
The Bark Side is played over the course of a number of rounds. The deck consists of cards ranging in number from 1-10 with five cards of each number in the deck. The object of the game is to have the fewest cards in front of you at the end of the game. Over the course of a round, players widdle their hands down to a single card. With the final trick of the round, the player to put down the highest card receives three of the cards in the trick being placed in front of them. All cards, except those in front of a player are re-shuffled and 10 more cards are dealt out. This continues until the deck runs down to a certain number of cards or until one player has 7 different numbered cards in front of them. During the round, the leading player plays one card from their hand. After which the player to the left must play an equal numbered or higher card, which continues until each player has played a card from their hand. If a player is unable to or chooses not to play an equal or higher card, they MUST play the lowest card in their hand, keeping in mind that it is vital to have low numbered cards at the end of the round. Once a player does this (which is called a tail-tucking move) then the following rounds open up to players being able to start tricks with multiple cards being laid down. So a player could play three 2s, which would mean the next player would have to play three of the same cards higher than 2s. If they can’t, they must play their three lowest numbered cards. It’s all a bit confusing on paper, but once you get into the game things start to get into a rhythm. The most important thing to know is that by the time you have to play the final card of the round, you want to have gotten rid of all of your high cards.
Upon initially reading the rules, things all seemed a bit random. You have to play a 10 card round of trick taking but really all that matters is the final trick of the round. And therein lies the ingenuity. You can lose every single trick, but if you’ve played your cards in such a way as to maneuver the other players into getting rid of all their low cards, you’re going to do just fine. Like many of the best trick-taking games, the nuances and subtlety of the rules blossom over the course of play allowing different strategies to unfold along side the necessity to be able to read your opponents.
Now, The Bark Side offers little more than a modified deck of cards. Just numbers from 1-10 in a single suite. The artwork for each number is different, but ultimately if it weren’t there gameplay would be unaffected. This, naturally, means that any semblance of theme is absolutely just pasted on. Loosely players are dogs getting into the most trouble possible without actually getting caught. Once you’re in the midst of the game this is the last thing you’re thinking of. It’s just some funny pictures of dogs doing funny things, but you’re all too focused on your hand of cards and your opponents to notice any of that. But to me that’s the sign of a really great trick taking game.
I don’t adore clever number playing card games for their themes. I adore them for their ingenuity. Korea Board Games released Spoil Me Not last year which has a similarly pasted on theme but utilizes cards with numbers in a simple way that I hadn’t seen before. That’s what you’re getting with The Bark Side. Knowing when to play cards or when to play pairs of cards and how to read your opponent is tantalizingly painful a times, giving an emotional depth that’s rare for a “filler” game. As I said above, the rules seem a bit odd and disjointed at first, but give it a single round and things start to click. Giving players 9 cards to manipulate each other and start poising for the final single card hand of the round is brilliant. It’s tactics and luck and deduction all at the same time in a simple and beautiful little package. Sure the theme may be pasted on, but it’s masterfully done. The artwork is vibrant and attention getting, it turns a strictly numbers based game into something that looks nice both on the shelf and the table.
The filler market is becoming increasingly saturated, and with that saturation seems to be an influx of unnecessarily complex sets of mechanisms within games. The beauty with a game like this is that it still offers a spattering of strategic opportunity and emotions without the complex components, mass of cards or needless complications. It’s a simple deck of beautifully illustrated cards with a unique set of simple rules to follow. Stand back and what you get is a fun, unique filler that is a joy to play.
- Simple rules and components.
- Unique scoring mechanism and gameplay.
- Beautifully illustrated.
- Pasted on theme.
- Rules seem a little disjointed at first.