Engagement is an essential element of Major Fun games. There are lots of games that I love—especially strategy games—that I can’t consider Major Fun because there is too much down time. One person is playing but the other two or three have to wait for their turn OR wait while some action resolves between two other players. Doesn’t make the game a bad game—just means the game can’t earn a Major Fun epaulet.
Cornucopia deftly avoids down time in two ways: first, by keeping the action moving and second, by incorporating a system of wagering into each round. Even though one player controls most of the action each turn, I never felt like I could disengage from the action because I had something at stake.
At its most basic, Cornucopia is about making runs and sets. There is a deck of “Goods Cards” that represent 6 different colored vegetables (yellow corn, orange pumpkins, red tomatoes, purple eggplants, green grapes, and wild-rainbow cornucopias). These Goods Cards are set out in five columns (at the start of the game, 2 cards per column). A player attempts to complete a column by adding cards that make a run (five different cards) or a set (five identical cards). If the player completes a run or set, that person earns points. If the player fails, the person loses points. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins, and the game ends when the deck of Goods is played through twice.
Things get interesting with the betting. On a player’s turn, he or she places a bet on how many cards will be needed to complete a column. The more cards the player chooses, the lower the final score. Once the player chooses, the opponents have 10 seconds to bet if the player will succeed. Each player has a double sided YES/NO card and some chips that they use to place the wager. Not only did this serve to keep everyone glued to the results, it also proved to be a major factor in winning the game. The bets are small but they add up over the course of a game.
There are several ways to score points but most can be boiled down to completing (or failing to complete) columns and the bets you make on said success or failure.
Another fun aspect of the game was the trash talk. Because betting is involved and the amount of points to be earned in a round is determined by how FEW cards you choose to play, the opportunities for baiting, teasing, and ridiculing are nigh boundless. I say this with a certain amount of shameful glee because I encouraged this behavior with my 10 year old daughter and two of her friends. We just could not help ourselves. It is just too much fun to encourage someone to try to complete a column with only 2 cards and then bet against that person. Or bet for them and feel the same rush of accomplishment when they succeed.
Gryphon produces some beautiful and engaging games and Cornucopia does not disappoint. The rules are concise, well organized, and clearly illustrated. The cards are colorful and sturdy-made for lots of wear and tear. My only nit-picky complaint arises from the flimsy chips used for betting and keeping score, but that hardly prevents me from recommending this game. As you build your collection of enduring, Major Fun games, find a spot for Cornucopia. And make sure it’s easy to reach. I think you’ll want it a lot.
Cornucopia by Carlo A. Rossi and Lorenzo Tarabini Castellani. Game theme, graphics, and development by Rick Soued and Carey Grayson. © 2010 FRED Distribution.