One of the best things about a mechanically simple card game is the opportunity it presents to the designers. Like a canvas, when the core of the game is easy to understand, it gives room for interesting ideas to flourish and cool art to blossom. Of course it’s a gamble. Without the big and showy components a small game has to compete with an already bloated market. This is especially true when it comes to trick taking games. They’ve long since been recognized for drumming up fun, but now we have a market that’s flooded with so much variety it takes something truly special to stand out. Which is precisely what Ninja Star Games hopes to accomplish with their upcoming title Yokai Septet.
Yokai Septet is a 3-4 player trick taking game in which players race to be the first to score two points. With 4 players the game is played in teams of two, but in a 3 player game it’s a free for all. The rules play similar to just about every other trick taking game, with a few added twists. The deck is dealt out to all players, with the last card being flipped up to indicate the trump suit for the round. The players must choose cards from their hand to give to another player. On a players turn, they play a card from their hand. In clockwise order the other players must play a card of the same suit if they can. The player that plays the highest card in the correct suit wins. That is, unless a card from the trump suit is played, or the A card is played, in which case those would take precedence. The card play, however, starts to get interesting because in order to win the round you have to take the most “Boss” cards; that is 7 cards. It isn’t simply about winning as many tricks as you can. On the contrary, winning too many tricks nets you a loss for the entire round. Once a player or team wins the correct number of 7s, that can end the round as well. The winner(s) of the round then earn a point and play continues until 2 points have been scored. I should note there is an alternate “advanced scoring” in the rules that will make the game a bit more intriguing, giving a point value to each of the specific bosses.
The fact that Yokai Septet is a trick taking game is going to clue a large number of people in as to whether or not they’ll enjoy this game. There isn’t anything in here that’s going to wow anyone that has disliked these types of games in the past. Plain and simple, if you enjoy most trick taking games, you’re going to enjoy this. If you’re not sure? Well there are some things to consider. First is the restricting player count. 3-4 players means you have to have a very narrow amount of people around for this to get to the table. That’s fine for some people, but as I stated above, there are a lot of these types of games on the market, and while not all of them have the same pizzazz as Yokai Septet, they’ll have a more flexible player count. In conjunction with this is the fact that the rules for 3 players is different enough from 4 players to be annoying. Trick taking is the same, but suddenly switching to teams with different things to keep track of is confusing, primarily because of the way it reads in the rule book. One of the last things I want a filler game to be is finicky to figure out. It’s not cripplingly frustrating, but it did give me pause.
Now, if you get through that you’ll notice that the deck itself isn’t an ordinary deck of cards. For starters there’s 6 suites all with a different theme and different dispersion of numbers. This changes the game big time without having any effect on components. On the surface it’s a simple card game, but when you realize what a balancing act dealing with all of these suites is, you’re in for a real treat. Making the 7s the only cards that are truly valuable gives a really interesting dynamic. It’s not only pointless to win tricks without 7s, it could cost you the round if you win too many. The idea of taking in too many victories and it being a bad thing is reminiscent of The Fox in the Forest, a 2 player trick taking game that I really love. As with any game like this, the joy of reading your opponent and managing your hand is thinky and fun.
Then there’s the art, which is the highlight for me. The beautiful illustrations depicting Japanese mythological beings is minimalist in its design but gorgeous in the details. As contradictory as that sounds, I highly recommend checking out some of the images from this game. It has the necessary pieces to pop. With any Kickstarter, there are things to consider, but this is one that should definitely be given a look. Check out the Yokai Septet Kickstarter page now!