Romi Rami

Romi Rami

D: Antoine Lefebvre
A: Fanny Saulnier
P: Randolph, Hachette Boardgames USA | BGG
2-4 players 30 min ages 8+ MSRP $15
Time to Teach/Learn: 3-4 min

Romi Rami is a new game with an old soul. It has some famous card game cousins. You may have met them, Rummy and Contract Bridge, or its crazy board game uncle, Ticket to Ride. You’ll collect set of cards from one market in hopes of filling contracts from another. Keep your eyes peeled for the bonus suits and trophies, too. They can really boost your score.

There are 128 cards in Romi Rami. The main deck has 92 cards in four different semi-traditional suits (hearts, diamonds, cherries, and clover). The cards are numbered 1-2-3-4-5 in each suit . There are four cards at the high and low end of each suit (Four 1 cards and four 5 cards). There are five cards for each number in the middle (Five 2s, 3s, and 4s).

The contract deck has 36 cards. These cards have four different elements.

In the center is a recipe of cards you will need in order to fill the contract. The recipe could show a set of like numbered cards (a pair, three, four or five of a kind) OR the recipe could show a sequence of consecutive numbered cards, a run (a three, four or five card run). Every contract will show at least one recipe or as many as three.

Below the recipe on each contract card is a bonus suit, a large icon matching one of the suits in the game: heart, diamond, cherry, or clover.

The top edge of each contract also has important information.

The top right corner of the card shows the number of points you will score for filling the contract.

The rest of the top of the card is the scoring zone: this area mirrors details about the contract so the cards can be stacked in columns and overlapped, solitaire style as you collect them. This way you dont have to see the whole card, just the scoring zone, once you collect it.

The scoring zone shows the bonus suit and a number of card combo icons that mirror the recipe(s) shown on the contract. So, for example, if a contract had two recipes – a pair and a 3 card run – and the bonus suit was clover, the scoring zone of that contract card would show a clover and two card combination icons: a 2 card combo and a 3 card combo.

There are 4 cardboard crowns which serve as trophies in the game. The crowns display a number of points and a different scoring requirement on each side.

There are four cardboard Joker tokens (stars). Each player gets one and has the option to use it once in the game.

To set up for a game of Romi Rami, shuffle the main deck and deal a three card hand to each player. Then use the main deck to create the number market in the center of the play area by dealing 6 cards face up (2 rows of three cards). Shuffle the contract deck and deal four contract cards face up to the play area just above the number market. Keep both main and contract decks handy as you’ll be dealing or drawing from them frequently during the game. Last but not least, toss the four trophy tokens in the air The trophy sides that land face up set the trophy scoring opportunities for the game. Grab a joker token, pick a start player and we’re ready to go.

The goal of Romi Rami is to score the most points. Each turn a player will perform three steps, then the next player in clockwise order will do the same and so on until a target number of contracts is filled based on the number of players. When this target is reached, finish the current game round so everyone has had an even number of turns, then count up your points and high score wins the game.

So here are the three steps to your turn in Romi Rami.

Step One: you MUST collect cards from the number market. You can collect up to three cards, never more than three! There are two rules to follow when you collect. All the cards you collect must be the same suit OR all the cards you collect must be the same number. You can always collect a single card of any suit or number. If you collect more than one card you have to follow these rules: all the same suit or all the same number.

Step Two: You MAY fill a contract (or contracts) from the market provided you have cards in your hand to fill the recipe or recipes listed on the contract. Fill one contract at a time and either discard or bank the cards used to fill the contract. We will get to banking cards in just a minute. Once you start filling contracts, stack them in a column solitaire style so the scoring zones for each contract are visible.

At any point you can use your Joker token as a wild card for any one missing card you need to fill a contract.

Step Three: Refill both markets so the number market has 6 cards and the contract market has four cards. Then, check the number of cards in your hand. If you have more than 10 cards, you must discard down to 10 cards. If you have less than 3 cards, draw cards from the main deck until you have 3.

So, you MUST collect cards from the number market (either matching suit or matching number) never more than 3 cards. Then you MAY fill contracts if you have the right combination of cards from your hand – discard or bank those cards. Last of all, refill the markets (number market should have 6 cards, contract should have 4). Check your hand size 10 is too many. Less than three refill your hand up to 3.

From there Romi Rami is lather rinse and repeat round after round until someone fills the target number of contracts (5 contracts for 4 players, 6 contracts for 3 players, 7 contracts for 2 players). When the game is over you will score the points listed for each contract you filled. You will get 1 bonus point if you didn’t use your Joker. And then you’ll score two additional ways: your banked bonus cards and trophies. These two methods are…

The suit bonus and trophy points make each decision of which cards to collect and which contracts to fill more involved and challenging.

Every contract has a suit bonus listed at the bottom of the card. To fill a contract you have to follow the recipe for the combinations listed in the middle of the card (sets of like number cards or runs of consecutive number cards). Suit never matters when filling contracts. Until it does! The suit bonus listed at the bottom of the card says this: for every card you use to fill this contract that matches the bonus suit, instead of discarding those cards when you fill the contract you get to BANK each of those matching suit cards into a score pile. At the end of the game, each card in your banked card pile is worth one point.

Suddenly the number market isnt just about numbers. You may choose collect cards of a certain suit from the market in hopes that you can fill a contract and bank the majority, maybe even ALL the cards you use because they match the suit bonus on the contract. And because all the contracts are public information, you need to keep an eye on not only what numbers others are collecting but what suits they take as well. You may have your heart set on a particular contract only to have it swept off the market by someone else because they could cash in on the suit bonus.

The trophy tokens list a point reward for the player who collects the most of something at the end of the game. It could be the most contracts with a certain suit; it could be the most 4 card combo shown in the scoring zone of your contracts. Suddenly each contract you fill could put you in competition with your neighbors for the most diamonds or the most pairs. In order to win the trophy there can be no tie. You have to have an outright majority. As the game charges closer and closer to the end (and the end will sneak up on you much faster than you think) you will want to keep close tabs on where you stand in the trophy race since it could easily influence which contract you choose to fill.

Romi Rami is a great example of a modern grandma game. I know this is an inherently silly term, but hear me out. A grandma game doesnt mean you can only play it with grandma. It means you can play it with everyone including grandma (or grandpa). It means it is a game with a timeless quality, a universal appeal, a game you can pull of the shelf and teach grandma or anyone younger than grandma (or grandpa) and they will be able to absorb the rules and have fun on a level playing field.

A grandma game is a triumph of accessibility. If grandma can play and enjoy Romi Rami, I think practically anyone can. It is HARD to create games that have this broad appeal that aren’t just retreads of older games. Familiarity with key concepts and rules are often what make a game accessible, but it can also make it boring. You can draw inspiration from your cousins, but you dont want to clone them! Romi Rami can trace its heritage back to set collecting and contract filling games. You can even see how filling and scoring tickets building your train routes card by card shares some DNA with this game. Romi Rami draws great inspiration from its heritage, but also stands apart with its own paths to challenge and enjoyment. This vaults Romi Rami into its own class of classic, major fun for all.

December 2023

Written by: Stephen Conway

Pocket Paragons

Release: 3/7/2022    | Download:  Enhanced  | MP3

Run Time: 38 min   | Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Pocket Paragons is a what-beats-what card dueling game. Select a card; play it’s ability and try to anticipate your opponent’s next move. Duel one on one or in teams of three characters.

From Mata the Paladin to Sadoh the Ocean Queen, this is a world of high fantasy and high stakes. Seven cards separate you from glory or defeat.

Pocket Paragons is a duel distilled down to its very essence. A long game might take ten minutes! But don’t be fooled into thinking speed means lack of strategy. There are fun and challenging decisions at the heart of every turn.

Listen in to explore the game and learn how the game earns BOTH our awards.

Pocket Paragons  Solis Game Studio  |  BGG  

Designer: Brian McKay   Artist: Megan Cheever

Publisher: Solis Game Studio

2 players  5-10 min.  ages 12+   MSRP $25

Time to teach/learn:  5 minutes

Time to teach and learn: 3-4 minutes

Music credits include:

Pocket Calculator  |  by Basscraft the song

Hand in My Pocket  |  by  Vitamin String Quartet the song

Cursed Court

Release: 4/16//2018    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 74 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Each year, a different group of nobles comes to court, hoping to curry favor with the royals. From Spring to Winter, you and your fellow players watch from the shadows and try to predict who will appear, hoping to increase your fortune and power in the realm.

Cursed Court is a clever and wonderfully accessible auction game that draws its inspiration from an unlikely source: stud poker.

Each season, you will place a bid on a noble or grouping of nobles based on hidden and public information.

You share two face down noble cards, one with each neighboring player. The rest of the nobles are revealed one at a time, face up to all.

The problem is, your knowledge is always incomplete. You must place a bid after each card is revealed.

Do you bid on a sure thing, bluff to keep others from claiming the best nobles on the board, or take a risk hoping for a big payout?

Bid wisely and you’ll gain power and influence at court. Bid poorly and you might be scrubbing pots!

Nearly anyone can enjoy this inventive and beautiful mashup. It’s quick, simple, engaging, and full of tense moments with each new noble revealed.

Listen in to explore the game. You don’t have to have a royal pedigree to discover why Cursed Court is Major Fun!

Cursed Court

Atlas Games  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Andrew Hanson   Artist: Lee Moyer

Publisher: Atlas Games

2-6 players  30 min   ages 10+   MSRP $50

For info on the Back Shelf Spotlight segment featured on the show, check out the show notes at The Spiel!

Music credits include:

Court of the Crimson King  by Cannata  |  the song

Birthday  by Mariachillout  |  the song

***

Pocket Ops

Pocket Ops   Grand Gamers Guild  |  BGG

Designer: Brandon Beran  Artist: Josh Cappel
Publisher: Grand Gamers Guild
2 players  15 min. ages 8+  MSRP $15

text-the concept

Cue the James Bond music….

In Pocket Ops, you are a spymaster, infiltrating a secret facility with a team of agents to steal a doomsday device. Unfortunately for you, a rival agency has sent their own spies on the very same mission. Using the tools and skills available, you must position your agents in key areas so you can grab the device before your opponent.

text-the components

Pocket Ops is a game that could almost fit in your pocket. They’d have to be big pockets, yes, but it’s worth noting this is a game you can take anywhere and play anywhere. The entire game fits in a box that is 4 inches square.

Inside this bite sized box, there’s a board, a set of blueprint cards and wooden agent tokens for each player. There’s also a cardboard key card plus the dreaded doomsday device and its 2 power crystals.

The board is a three by three grid depicting the secret base. Each grid space is lettered A through I.

The nine Blueprint cards match the lettered grid spaces on the board, so each player has a card lettered A-I.

The agent tokens come in two forms – regular spies and specialists. You have 7 regular spies and 8 specialists. The general spies look like ninjas and the specialists have an icon depicting their special skill.

And the doomsday device and its crystals are how you keep score. Collect the device and a crystal and you win!

To play, each player takes their cards and general spies. Flip your specialist tokens face down and mix them up. Draw two and secretly decide which one to keep. Reveal your selection to your opponent and you’re ready to play!

text-the mechanics

Pocket Ops draws its inspiration from a game almost everyone already knows: tic-tac-toe.

The goal remains exactly the same: arrange your pieces on the board in a row of 3, vertically horizontally or diagonally.

In the classic game you draw an X or an O to claim a space. In Pocket Ops, you’ll place a spy or a specialist.

How your spies and specialists get onto the board is a much more tricky proposition in this game!

Each turn, one player will try to place a piece and the other player will try to predict where that piece is being played. The player with the Keycard token will be the Placer in the first turn and his or her opponent will be the Predictor.

Each turn in the game has three parts and goes like this:

1. The Predictor selects one of the 9 Blueprint cards and places it face down. This letter card is the Prediction.

2. The Placer selects either a regular spy or a specialist token and places it on a grid space on the board.

3. The Prediction card is then revealed. If the Prediction was correct, the token is removed from the board. If the Prediction was wrong, the token remains on the board. If the token was the Specialist, that token’s ability kicks in.

So, as the Placer on any given turn you may not actually get to play a piece if the Predictor can get in your head!

When the turn ends, the Keycard passes to the other player and roles are now reversed. The new Predictor selects a card. The Placer selects a token and places it on the board and the Prediction card is revealed.

And the game continues back and forth – predicting and placing (or not!) – until one player maneuvers three tokens into a line on the board. The first win, you grab a power crystal, The second win, you grab the doomsday device and celebrate your victory. So it’s best 2 out of 3.

text-apart

The Specialist tokens really make Pocket Ops shine.

Each player has 8 of them and each one has a unique ability that will trigger if the token is played to the board.

Each Specialist’s ability changes the way you look at the board and the options available to win.
So let’s take a closer look at them.

Most are played to empty spaces on the board.

The Sniper eliminates a foe (an opponent’s token) from a space that is in a straight path (no diagonals).

The Mole allows you to switch two pieces adjacent to the Mole – one must be friendly and one a foe.

The Ninja eliminates an adjacent foe (including diagonals).

The Pusher travels into an adjacent space on the board and pushes other tokens into the next space or even off the board.

The Grappler swaps places with a foe in a straight line (no diagonals).

The Hacker allows you to play TWO prediction cards as the Predictor from now on until you make a correct Prediction.

There are two Specialists that are played to spaces already containing a token

The Courier is played to a space with your own spy. The Courier pushes that spy into an empty adjacent space (no diagonals).

Last but not least the Assassin is played to a space with an opponent’s spy. The opponent’s spy is eliminated.

These abilities, taken on all at once, might seem like a lot to keep track of, but keep in mind you will only ever have one Specialist in play during a round. Each ability is really quite easy to grok, so you only really have to keep track of one at a time (Even so, I created a simple quick reference sheet for the Specialists you can download here – it even fits in the tiny box).

The effect these Specialists have on the game is tremendous. From a seemingly straightforward game, the board becomes a very strategic battleground. No token is safe and no token can be guaranteed to stay put!

As the Predictor you have to think beyond the obvious 3 in a row tic-tac-toe strategies to see how and when and where your opponent might be tempted to use his or her Specialist. LIkewise, as the Placer you have to be cagy about when to use your Specialist. Select an obvious spot and you might not benefit from its ability at all!

There’s already plenty of cat and mouse in this game, move and countermove, trying to make the less obvious choice each round so you can just get a piece ANY piece on the board. Adding Specialists makes this game cat and mouse chased by a rhino through a hedge maze filled with angry porcupines.

text-final

If I started out this review by saying “I’ve got this great new take on tic-tac-toe” you might have clicked away or at the very least rolled your eyes a bit.

After all, tic-tac-toe, played amongst skilled players, is a game that cant be won. It’s a great discovery and lesson in life when we learn this. But it pretty much kills much of our interest in ever playing the game. The game isnt fun enough since the outcome is all but ordained.

It takes real moxie to look at a classic like this and say, I can make it relevant, strategic and fun to a modern game playing audience. But that’s just what designer Brandon Beran has done.

And even if the game comes to a draw, like the original, its not a draw. The player with the Keycard (the Placer) loses the round! Which adds another layer of thinking when the board begins to fill up.

What I love most about Pocket Ops is how it takes something so familiar and uses that foundation to do something interesting and challenging, while still preserving the essential simplicity and speed of the original. Despite all these extra layers, a typical game takes no more than 10 minutes to play.

When is a game more than just a variation? When does a game rise up out of the primordial soup to evolve into its own animal?

This might be a question for the ages but I’d argue that a game makes this leap when it finds a way to build something new atop the foundation of the old. Adding deduction and bluffing elements to the basic 3 in a row goal of the original allows Pocket Ops to make that leap.

This isn’t tic-tac-toe on steroids. It’s Pocket Ops. It can and does stand on its own two feet. You can see its family heritage but you shouldn’t be too quick to judge based on from which branch of the great game tree it grows.

If you’re looking for a quick game that you can take practically anywhere and teach to practically anyone – a game that’ll provide a challenge after hundreds of plays – and a game that’s just plan fun – stop looking. You’ve found it in Pocket Ops.

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