Review: Gargon: The Amulet of Power
Gargon is a unique card game for 3-5 players from Rüdiger Dorn. Players assume the role of wizards dueling with six different types of fantasy creatures in an effort to win magical gems. In reality, the theme is a bit of a stretch for what otherwise is a relatively interesting and unique, if a bit luck intensive, game.
Players are dealt a hand of ten cards. Cards are distributed across six suits, each representing a different fantasy creature. Each suit has cards ranked from 0 to 15. The cards are very nicely illustrated, although the art for each card within a suit is basically the same. The twist here is that not only are the fronts of the cards different for each suit; so are the backs. The backs are colored to match the suit so that whenever your hand is fanned out (which it must be throughout the game) your opponents can always see exactly what suits you have. The only information you get to keep to yourself is the cards' ranks.
The remaining cards are split into two draw piles which are fanned out face down in the center of the table, thus revealing to all which suits are due up next in each. Whenever you draw a card, you get to pick which draw pile you pick from, so you have some choice about which suits to use to fill out your hand. The draw piles also act as a timer: as soon as one is gone, the game ends.
The game is played over a number of rounds. On each round, whoever has the lead (which rotates with each round) chooses from one to three cards from her hand to play face-down in front of her, the only restriction being that she must not play three cards from the same suit. The player to her left may now choose to play cards or draw. If he chooses to play cards, he must match the same distribution (but not necessarily the same suits) as the first player. For instance, if she has played two reds and one blue, then he may play two yellows and one green, or two blues and one orange, or any other combination of two and one.
Each player in turn either plays or passes (drawing cards). Then the cards are revealed and matched up. Each suit is resolved in turn. Each player's highest card in a given suit is matched up against every other player's highest card in that suit. Whichever card is the highest (or any card that is unopposed) wins and is captured by the player who played it. The other cards are losers and are discarded. If any player had played a second card in that suit then the process is now repeated, so it's possible that a player may win with a very low card simply because she was the only player to play two cards in that suit (or the only player to play in that suit at all).
The goal is to win as many of these battles as possible with the lowest ranked cards. Each card has a number of gems (or none at all). The highest ranked cards have no gems and the number of gems increases as the cards' ranks approach one. The zero-ranked cards are the most valuable of all because, while they have no gems, they have the "Gargon Amulet of Power" which doubles the value of all gems taken in that suit.
At the end of the game, players score one point for each gem taken. Players are also awarded ten bonus points (or five in the case of a tie) for having the most cards in a given suit. And of course the amulets (zero cards) score double points for each gem taken in that suit.
The components in Gargon are quite nice. The cards are the standard sturdy coated cardstock that we've come to expect from a game by AMIGO Spiel. The artwork is very attractive, albeit a bit repetitive within each suit. Colors are vivid and suits are easily distinguishable. This is an attractive game.
Gargon has some interesting concepts that seem really good on the surface but just don't quite work as well as I had hoped. The blind play aspect would be extremely luck heavy if you couldn't tell what suits your opponents have in their hands. The fact that you CAN tell what suits they are holding is a great idea which dictates the major strategy of the game: try and be the only player to play in a given suit. But here again, it largely falls back to luck. It's almost always in the other players' interest to choose to play different colors from you and if they do then everyone just keeps all the cards they've played. This, of course, means that everyone will tend to score based on what cards they were lucky enough to draw. There is a rule that says that if the last player in a round plays cards, he must choose among suits already played in that round. This is intended to ensure that there will be at least some card match-ups in each round, and it generally does, but of course all the other players know this rule and so they'll try and play suits that the final player doesn't have in hand, forcing him to draw that round instead of play.
Any card game, by its very nature, is going to involve some luck, but Gargon seems to suffer from it a bit more than most. And for this reason, I don't know that I will be wanting to play it all that often. I prefer my card games to be a bit more strategy intensive. Still, there is definitely some strategy here and I'm sure that there will be some who will enjoy this game immensely. This game works quite nicely as a light filler game. Younger kids may enjoy the bright colors and the fantasy artwork and the game is certainly simple enough for it's ten and up age rating. It's an attractive, inventive and unique game but ultimately for me it fell just a bit short.