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Surprised Stare Games
3-4 players, 60 minutes
designed by Tony Boydell
reviewed by Ben Baldanza
Tony Boydell has a knack for card games, and he is more of a traditionalist
than Uwe Rosenberg who is considered one of the same. Scandaroon is not
a traditional card game in any sense, but reading the rules somehow shows
that it seems to come from the mind of a keen card game player. The idea
is deceptively simple: lay out cards in front of you and those in front
at the rounds' end are added together for your score. But every time a
card is added it can affect other cards in play, and for this the game
includes (and needs) a two-sided player aid. Even seasoned Scandaroon
players will refer back to this at times.
Players start each of four rounds with a five card hand and one of the
four suits is randomly chosen to be trump. On each turn, a player can
place a new card into their display, use the ability of a card already
played, play their action piece, or pass. Placing a new card is simple:
add the card to the right of the other cards already played in front of
you. Some cards have a red border, and if one of these is played it ends
the ability to add more cards. Some cards can be played into other players'
displays as well. Cards played can affect the scoring of other cards in
the same display. The game conveniently includes wooden markers to easily
keep track of the current values for each card. The markers can be added
or taken away as needed each time the display changes.
Many cards have special abilities and these can be triggered on a turn
instead of adding a new card. The good news is that the actions are often
helpful, such as removing other players' cards, drawing new cards, changing
positions of cards in play (which can affect scoring significantly), and
even changing the trump suit. The bad news is that once the card's action
is used, the card is discarded from the display and thus won't directly
add to the point total.
When all players pass, the round ends and at this point scores are compared.
The card values, modified by other cards, are added and any cards in the
ending trump suit are worth double their base value. Victory points are
awarded at the end of each round based on relative position; first place
gets three points, second gets two, third gets one, and last place gets
zero. This is only one way in which Scandaroon is clearly best as a four
player game. (If you have three players and want a card game, Schnäppchen
Jagd is still the best bet.) The player with the highest value scoring
row removes their highest scoring single card and places it into a personal
scoring pile. The second high player puts their lowest value card into
such a pile, and other players reserve no cards. Again in great practicality
for actual play, the game includes a marker to designate these piles from
any others and this helps avoid mistakes.
In addition to this primary scoring, the game includes three other scoring
mechanisms. Each round the scoring piles are checked and the player with
the highest total in their scoring pile puts a marker into the ``three''
section of the score pile space on the scoring board. The second highest
score player places a marker on the ``one'' side of the space. Only one
marker stays in this box through the game; each round the markers are
updated to continually track the highest and second highest scoring piles.
Winning a round with no trump earns a player two victory points at the
game end, and this is tracked by another box on the scoring board. Lastly,
a track keeps note of the highest single score obtained by any player
and this is updated throughout the game. The player at game end who garnered
the highest individual score in a round gets a two victory point bonus.
Each player has an action piece that can be deployed just once in the
game. To use it, a player must discard a card from their display or their
hand, and the suit of the card they discard determines the effect of the
action piece. As you'd expect, these are all helpful actions and thus
limiting the piece to one use per game is important. With the action piece,
a player can immediately add four points to their scoring pile, replace
the cards in their hand with new cards, protect a card in play from potentially
damaging effects of other cards, or steal an unprotected card from another
The game plays smoothly and is highly tactical. Using the five hand cards
to the best effect is a function of timing and position within the scoring
display. The game is nicely interactive through the card play and the
scoring, as all scoring is obtained only on a relative basis. The ideas
are all well thought out and flow together nicely. Having four different
scores to worry about keeps everyone interested, and the relative nature
of the scoring makes absolute high scores not so important. Being able
to shake things up with an unexpected trump change or use of the action
piece can make any round variable up until the final pass.
Every time you play Scandaroon, you'll think of things that you could
have done differently and the game is likely to be played multiple times
in the same evening. The game name is intriguing, and on the Surprised
Stare website Tony Boydell gives a very interesting set of notes about
how the game was named. Although the game box loosely suggests a medieval
theme, the game is abstract but that doesn't detract from the excellent
game play. Scandaroon is one of the cleverest, most enjoyable, and well
designed new four-player card games in quite a while.