Cowabunga

Cowabunga is card game in the tradition of 99, which is also in the tradition of 98 and 100. In these “adder” games, every time a card is discarded, its value is added to the total value of cards on the deck. Some cards don’t count. Some cards can be added or subtracted. And some raise the value to 99. The objective is not to go over 99.

Designer Reinhard Staupe has taken that basic concept, and added, if I may use the term, some novel game play to it – novel enough to make it into a new, and significantly fun game in its very own right.

Cowabunga uses a surfing metaphor. As you play cards you build “waves.” As the value of the discard pile increases, the wave gets higher and higher. When the wave value reaches 30, it crests. Each new card now makes the wave decrease in height, until it is lower than 10. And then it once again builds. If you happen to be the one who makes the wave change direction, you get to pick an Obstacle Card. So, OK. So here’s the conceptual undertow. These Obstacle Cards have numbers on them. When someone plays a card that makes the wave height reach the number on one of your Obstacle Cards, you get to make that player pick up a Cow Pawn. Which could be a bad thing for that player. Hence, the delight, the agony, the ever-playworthy “screw-you factor.” As soon as any player has four Cow pawns (or when the last Obstacle Card is drawn), the game immediately ends and the player with the fewest Cow Pawns wins. Then, if there is a tie for the fewest Cow Pawns, the tied player with the most Obstacle Cards wins the tie-breaker.

About the Cow Pawns – they are what you most definitely would be tempted to call “cute” – little cows in red bathing trunks, each holding surfboard. Since the game is primarily for kids, these little Cow Pawns alone make it covet-worthy.

Everything in this sweet little half-hour card game for 2-5 players works well to build the surfing fantasy – the art, the rules, the cute little Cow Pawns. But please note: it comes in a box that’s at least three times wider than you need for the contents. I know, packaging has a strong influence on the marketability of a game. Stores stock games according to shelf-space needed. And Cowabunga is packaged to fit nicely in the board game section, and Playroom Entertainment has done a wonderful job on the art and manufacture of the cards and pieces. We spent at least three minutes looking for the board. But it’s a card game, with cows. Which led to some minor disappointment and wonderment, until we started playing the game, and discovered that the fun of it is indeed larger than the box.

Box-size-wise, Dan Rowen, president of Playroom Entertainment, explains: “I understand your point on the bigger box; but, with the 17 pawns and 80 cards it simply didn’t fit in our smaller ‘card game box.’ Also, having a decent presence on a retailer’s shelf is important to get the best exposure to the product. This has been doing really well for us in Hobby-Game stores, as well as Toy stores, gift shops and even some educational and school supply stores. So, we try to have a product that will cross over into numerous segments of the market.”

All in all, considering the size of the fun contained, a good value in any size box.

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