Can You Beat ‘The Game’?

The Game
Don’t be scared off by the cover–the cards inside are just numbers. Okay, maybe that’s scarier.

In Germany, The Game plays YOU! At least, that’s the gist of the blurb on the back of the German edition I got. The Game is a cooperative card game that’s very easy to learn but maybe not so easy to beat.

At a glance: The Game is a cooperative game by Steffen Benndorf for 1 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 20 minutes to play. It retails for $20. I think the age rating is about right; you may be able to play with younger players but the limited communication rules can be tricky.

The Game components
The Game components: 4 Row cards, 98 number cards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Components

Kickstarter Alert: SwapBots Augmented Reality

Note that the copy I was sent is actually the German edition, but IDW is publishing the English edition, so exact details may change a little bit.

  • 4 Row cards
  • 98 Number cards

The cards are fairly simple: the Row cards just mark the four stacks of cards you’ll be playing, with a large “up” or “down” arrow (and the numbers “1 to 99” or “100 to 2” in case you forget). The rest of the cards just have the numbers from 2 to 99–a large number in the middle of the card and small index numbers in each corner–with, inexplicably, a creepy red skull in the background.

The Game box
The box holds all the cards nicely without a bunch of extra space. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The cards themselves are nice and shuffle well, but they feel thinner and floppier than most cards I’m used to. Also: the Row cards are double-sided, making them easy to find in case they get shuffled into the rest of the deck. The game comes in a small two-part box that fits the cards exactly (yay!).

How to Play

You can get a PDF of the English rules here.

The object of the game is to play as many cards as possible as a team. If you play all of the cards, you beat the game. Otherwise, you count up all of the cards that weren’t played (in the deck and in your hands); getting below 10 cards is considered “excellent.”

The Game
Just getting started. 2 and 99 were easy decisions. The other “Up” pile is already up to 26, though. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

To set up the game, set out the 4 Row cards in the center of the table. Shuffle the deck and deal 6 to 8 cards to each player–the exact number depends on the player count. Everyone looks at their own cards, and then as a team decide who will begin.

Note: during the game, you cannot give any information about the exact numbers in your hand, but other communication is allowed.

On your turn, you must play at least two cards onto piles. If you play on the “up” piles then you must play cards that are higher, and if you play on the “down” piles then you must play cards that are lower. The exception is that you can go in the reverse direction if your card is exactly 10 away from the number on the pile. For instance, if the “up” pile has a “32” on it and you have “22” in your hand, you can play it, bringing it back down.

You may play as many cards as you want. At the end of your turn, draw back up to your full hand size, and then it’s the next player’s turn.

The Game
The rest of my cards would be a big jump, so I’ll stop now. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

If the draw pile runs out, continue playing–now you are only required to play one card per turn. If a player runs out of cards, the rest of the team continues. If on any turn a player is not able to make their minimum number of plays, the game ends immediately.

Too easy? You can make it harder by increasing the number of cards you’re required to play each turn, or decreasing the number of cards everyone is dealt.

The Verdict

Just so you have it, here’s the link to The Game on BoardGameGeek, because searching for “The Game” on BoardGameGeek is not really helpful.

The weirdest thing about The Game (aside from the really hard-to-Google title) is the theme. It’s never really explained anywhere either in the rules or on the box, but apparently if you lose, YOU DIE. Or something. Oh, those wacky Germans.

The Game
Your DOOM approaches. I think. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Game was nominated for the Spiel Des Jahres (Game of the Year) this year, along with Machi Koro, but lost to Colt Express. It’s such a simple little card game, but despite the almost non-existent theme and the simple mechanics, it can still feel very stressful and intense. The rules are clever: just play in order, with this one exception. What you do with those rules is what makes it interesting.

 

Since you must play two cards on your turn, sometimes you’re stuck making a big jump somewhere. Do you bring down a “Down” pile by 20 points? Or raise an “Up” pile by 23 points? Which is worse for the team? Of course, what you don’t know is that your teammate has 4 cards that could be played on that “Up” pile if you leave it alone. And another teammate is waiting to make a reverse move on the “Down” pile, which would then help you play some of your other cards …

Even when you have cards that are in sequence, it might not be the best move to play them yet, if another player is able to make a reverse jump. My favorite move is when I have two cards that are 10 apart with some cards in between, and I can dump them all and then jump back.

So far, I’ve done fairly well–I’ve played with my kids, with some adult friends, and solo, and each time I’ve managed to stay under 10 cards by the end. But even so, it’s felt challenging during the gameplay and there have been moments when we thought it was all over. My two daughters had different reactions when we finished our first game together (with 5 cards left):

The Game kids
My two daughters reacted very differently to the end of the game: one was exhausted, and the other was giddy. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Overall, I’ve been enjoying The Game and it’s a fun way to kick off a game night or for a nice filler in between other games. I’ve played the solitaire mode but I think I prefer playing with at least one other player. Gamers who prefer a strong theme may find The Game a bit lacking, but if you like clever, easy-to-learn mechanics, it’s worth a shot.

The Game is available now from online retailers like Amazon, or check in at your local game store!

Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.

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Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, who loves to read, is always up for a board game, and has a bit of a Kickstarter habit.