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Subject: Xactika Review rss

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Brief overview
Xactika is a trick taking game using a unique deck of cards. Suitable for 2 to 10 players, this fast moving game should last from 30 to 45 minutes.

What You Get
In the double width tuck box, you get 81 cards, the rules sheet, and some summary cards that show you the distribution of the various card values. Keep these summary cards handy -- you are likely to refer to them frequently.

The rules are well written and fairly short -- it's quite likely that this review will be longer than the rules themselves.

The cards have a number of symbols in four shapes -- spheres, cones, cubes and stars. There will be between 1 and 3 of each shape. The cards will also have a rank from between 4 and 12. The rank of each card will equal the total number of symbols on the card.

What Else You Need
You will need a way to keep score -- pen and paper work fine.

Game Play
The game is played over 8 hands. Each hand, the dealer gives each player 8 cards. Starting with the player to the left of the dealer, each player makes a bid on the exact number of tricks they will take this hand. The only restriction is on the dealer -- the dealer's bid cannot make the total number of bids equal 8. As you've probably figured out by now, that means at least one player is guaranteed to miss their bid.

After the score keeper makes note of the bids, the player to the left of the dealer plays the first card, and announces one of the combinations on it (eg, three spheres or two cubes). Going clockwise, each player must play a card that contains this combination, if possible. The highest ranked card with the designated combination wins the trick. If two or more cards with the same rank for that combination are played, the last card with that rank is considered the higher in value.

After all eight tricks are played and won, players score the hand. If the player made his bid, he gains a number of points equal to the bid. If the bid was missed, the player loses points equal to the difference between what was bid, and what was taken.

The deal then passes to the player on the left, and a new hand is played. The game ends when 8 hands are played, and the highest score wins!

Obviously, judging the strength of your hand is key to winning this game. In most cases, the cards with rank 12 and 11 are good for one trick, while the 10's and 9's are good about half the time. However, those will only take tricks if the suit is played. And given that there are effectively 12 suits, this is not always going to be the case. Being stuck with boss cards that you can't play is almost par for the course.

And then there's the times when the lowly 6 and 7 cards take the trick you don't expect. It's inevitable.

The summary cards will let you know how many cards can beat any given rank. These should be refered to often.

You also need to keep in mind the bids of the other players -- if the players that go after you don't want tricks, you are more likely to win with midling or even low ranked cards.

And while card counting with 12 suits and up to 80 cards will be quite tough, if you can keep track of the cards played that can beat those in your hand you're counting on for tricks, you will be better able to judge when to play the big guns.

There are two variants that are worth considering.

1 - Since the dealer frequently cannot make the bid he wants to, playing eight hands will usually mean that some players are stuck in the dealer's spot one time more than others. This is just a tad unfair. Playing a number of hands equal to the number of players balances things out, and has the added benefit of making the game a bit shorter. Since my group normally uses this for filler or night's end, we usually play this variant.

2 - To encourage aggressive bidding, score with the square of the bid instead of the bid itself. Suddenly the 3 and 4 bids (3's are uncommon and 4's rarely seen in my experience) are worth the risk.

This is a favourite game in my regular group for filler or at the end of the night. It plays fairly quickly, and doesn't require so much thought that you can't carry on a conversation while playing. We normally play with 5 or 6 players, so a fair number of cards are out of play each hand. Cards that otherwise have no business taking a trick will inevitably bite you.

This is an excellent card game to throw in for filler, but not exactly something that I would schedule a night around. It still gets a lot of play in my group. The only reason I don't play my copy is because at least two other members of my group picked this up as well.

It's inexpensive and has a high fun factor. I have no problems recommending this game to anyone -- even non-gamers.

Fun factor: high
Complexity: low
Luck: high
Screwage: moderate
Cost: low
Value: massive
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