Sunday, October 16, 2005

Review: Poison

Poison is a card game by Reiner Knizia. Published by Playroom Entertainment, this game is a clever and simple filler that works well with kids as well as adults.

If you're looking for lots of pretty components in this 8 by 11 inch box you may be in for a bit of a disappointment. In what has to be one of the more blatant examples of superfluous production, the box contains one very nice full-color rule book, one deck of 50 standard-sized playing cards, and three cauldron shaped playing mats whose only purpose is to provide a place to play three piles of cards. The cauldrons are completely unnecessary and this game could have very easily been packaged in a standard-sized card box. Clearly someone was looking for some shelf space when they designed this box. But the cards are very pretty and very sturdy and the instructions are nicely illustrated and very clear. Also, the game is pretty good so I guess I'll forgive them for including so much air along with it.

The game itself is very simple. The deck contains fifty cards divided into three suits: red, purple and blue. Each card has a rank of 1, 2, 4, 6 or 7. Also, included in the deck are eight green poison cards which bear a rank of 4. The deck is shuffled and all the cards are dealt to all the players. On your turn you choose a card from your hand and play it on one of three piles. Red, blue and purple cards must be played on a pile with cards of the same color. Green poison cards can be played on any pile. If your card brings the sum of all the card values in that pile above thirteen, then you leave your card behind and take all the other cards in that pile. If your card brings the total sum to thirteen or less then it stays in the pile. It's that simple.

The object of the game is to take the least amount of points, which generally means taking the fewest cards. At the end of the game, each regular card is worth one point; each poison card is worth two. However, if you have taken more cards in a given suit than any other player (a plurality) then none of the cards in that suit score points for you. So it's better to take no cards, but it's also OK to take a whole lot of cards of a single color.

As a filler game, poison works very well. It's simple to teach, there is just enough strategy to keep the game interesting, and a game plays so quickly (easily under fifteen minutes) that you'll likely want to play several games and keep a running score. The game also scales very well from three to six players, making it a great opener. I've played it several times now and I'm quite happy to play it several more. This is a fine game that I'm quite happy to recommend.


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