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SCANDAROON

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 player.

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.


 

Bloody Legacy / Confucius / Coppertwaddle / Fzzzt! / Guilds of London / Ivor the Engine / On The Cards / Paperclip Railways / Scandaroon / Snowdonia / Tara, Seat of Kings / Totemo

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Carrier Strike / Mission Command / The Cousins' War

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