TSCHAK!

By: Paul Millen

Published: March 7, 2012 Posted in: Board Games

Hello.  A little late this month, I’m afraid.  I hope I haven’t worried you..?  Didn’t notice at all.  Right, OK.  Well, fortunately I come bearing more than this apology and the lint from my pockets.  There’s something really quite special for you, and only you.  (If you could just tilt your head left a little please) It’s…

TSCHAK! is a cheery, yipping little game from Game Works and Dominique Erhard.  Essentially it’s the opposite of how he looks in this picture.   It’s a trick-taking card game based upon adventuring parties of wizards, warriors and dwarfs raiding Keeps for monster killin’, gold and glory.  You’ll start with a ten card hand – three wizards, three warriors, three dwarfs and an enchantment card.  You’ll see (and if you’d go ahead and tilt your head right a bit) this Keep thing in the middle of the table…

Keeps have three floors and on each floor there’s a monster and a treasure.  On the first floor, all the players build a party of three cards – one wizard, warrior and dwarf (or any two of these three plus your enchantment which doubles the value of the lowest card – but don’t worry too much about that).  The hands will contain cards of differing values determined by the draw at the start of the game.  You all reveal your choices and if your three card party has the highest value, you get the treasure card for that floor; if they have the lowest value, you get the monster card.  You all do the same for the second and third floor of the Keep.  When this is done, you’ll all have one card left over, and its value determines if and how many bonus treasure counters you get now you’re done exploring the Keep.

Pretty simple.  Get the most treasure and you win at the end of the game; monster cards reduce the treasure score.  BUT.  Sometimes, the treasure is cursed which also eats away your score come the end of the game.  So actually, maybe you don’t want to produce the highest value three card team for that floor – you might want to lose and get the less damaging monster card, or better yet don’t score highest or lowest and get nothing at all.  As you can see what’s coming up on the subsequent floors there’s a lovely strategic element here – balancing your selection so you don’t have a load of ropy weaklings come the big, point zapping monster, or a hardy crack squad that’ll inevitably ‘win’ and get some nasty cursed treasure all up in the face.

That’s not all though.  The thing that makes TSCHAK! all the more interesting, and moves it some distance from your typical trick-taking game, is this.  The game lasts the duration of four Keeps.  After each keep the adventuring parties march around the table, which is to say that the hands of cards are recompiled and rotate to the player on your left.  In TSCHAK! everyone will eventually play with all of the same hands of cards: the hands don’t belong to anyone and they don’t change.  If you have a crappy hand, your opponents will end up with it at some point too – but will they do a better job of choosing the right three cards for each floor than you did?

TSCHAK! would be an entertaining title if that little premise was all there was to it.  But it’s so very, very not.  There are a number of mechanics that upset the typical trick-taking formula.  There are Rings of Power treasure cards that offer exponentially more points, the more you posses.  And Troglodyte monster cards that do the reverse.  There are Chameleon wizards that copy the power value of the highest wizard played by another player that round and one or two other treasures that switch things about when it comes to totalling up the points.  These are aspects too simple and easy to remember to confuse the game while managing to add variety and tactical nuance to proceedings.

And fundamentally, Game Works have done a stand-up job putting this thing together.  The artwork courtesy of  the revoltingly talented Vincent Dutrait is gorgeous, cartoonish and witty while still somehow remaining utterly beautiful.  And it’s the little things that make you feel the designers are really looking out for you, that they want you to have the best experience with their game as possible.  Those ‘en route’ tiles, for example, that you can see above, mark the progress of the cards as they move around the table if there are fewer than four players to hold them – totally unnecessary – but a joyous inclusion that quietly and charmingly bolster the game’s theme.  Even the box insert is a work of art:

I can’t describe to you how pleasing it is when a game bursts out of a little box with loads of cards, tiles and tokens, and then fits easily and snugly back inside when it’s finished with.

There’s really nothing I can say against TSCHAK!  You’d be churlish to complain that it’s merely a trick-taker when it does so much to subvert the genre while looking this good.  It’s a real gem, you should totally get it.

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Paul Millen