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Subject: Balls! rss

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chris carleton
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bon accord
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I have to credit mkgray with the suggestion that this game could be retitled Balls! rather than the pseudo-Latin Rotundo. Indeed, I thought the game was about marble collecting, but it is about round objects of all kinds, even the most improbable: leather, cloth, fur, and platinum wire.

My wife and I like rummy based games, and this one turns rummy completely on its head: going out or getting close to it, no matter how many points you have, can be disasterous unless it is quite late in the game; you can either take from the draw pile to meld, or bid to keep it in your hand but not meld; discards are highly sought after, and come from cards that you have already melded.

This is a very different kind of card game, and if you're looking for an odd kind of game, you might just like this one.

Bits:

Being an Adlung Spiele game, it is a card game. There are 60 cards in total, divided into three suits of 24, 18 and 18. The suits are represented by bags (beige, brown and blue). The blue suit contains the more valuable balls: copper, platinum wire, and gold; the brown contains wooden, clay, stone and glass balls; and the beige contains clothe, leather, and fur balls.

The artwork is detailed and precise, and the cards of good quality. Each card also depcits a number on the sack icon, and a value beneath it, in each top corner where it is easy to read. You only need to refer to these icons and numbers during play.


Set up:


Each player receives seven cards and you are ready to play. You'll have to do some addition and subtraction at the end of the game, so you may want a pen and paper.

Play/Rules:

As in rummy, you want to lay down the most sets, or the most valuable sets, that you can. In order to meld, however, your set has to meet two conditions. The first is that the three cards must depict either three sacks of the same colour or sacks of all three different colours. Each sack is numbered from 1-4, so the second condtion is that all three cards must depict either the same numbers or consecutive numbers. Two types of balls may not be collected as three of a kind: platinum wire and stone.

Having to meet those conditions takes a little getting used to, but the mechanic for melding is also quite different.

On your turn you flip a card face up from the draw pile. If you pick up the card, you must immediately be able to meld it using the conditions described above. If you don't pick it up, you can pass and then the next player has the same option. If no one picks the card to meld immediately, it goes into the discard pile.

If you want to put the card into your hand and not meld, you have to bid on it, with the card going to the highest bidder. The only cards you can use for bidding are cards from your melds. So when you have melded a set of three, keeping them together is no longer relevant, only their printed value matters. The printed value on the cards is also their value for bidding purposes. The values range from 10 to 70 points and no change can be made, so you may have to give up more points than you actual bid.

Any cards used for bidding go into the discard pile. It's good to have discards because you can take up to the top three when you meld. The importance of discards is crucial because every time you meld by picking up a single card from the draw pile, you take two out of your hand to make the meld, so your hand is diminishing unless you can get discards.

Bidding for cards adds cards to your hand, but takes some out of your already melded cards; however, you can bid quite highly for them. If I spend 60 points and give up two cards that will hopefully allow me to meld a set worth 150 points, I am ahead; however, you have to keep in mind that you will not be melding anything if you don't get a chance at the card you need when it is drawn from the draw pile, so more cards is always good because it means more possibilities.

Players continue, the next player always beginning his turn by flipping over the next card in the draw pile and either passing, picking it up and melding, or bidding on it.

Play continues until either no cards are left in the draw pile (always the condition with two players), or until only one player has cards left in his hand.

When the game is over you add up all your melded points, and subtract the points in you hand. The winner is player with the most points.

Strategy/Tactics:

You really have to rethink how you would play a typical rummy based game when you play Rotundo.

At the beginning of the game when you have seven cards in your hand, you're likely going to be able to meld pretty quickly: that is, the card that turns up from the draw pile will likely match some combination in your hand. However, getting low on cards is not desirable early in the game because you can only replenish through bidding, or having discards available when you meld. So you want to keep your hand full until the end is nigh. This can be a difficult decision to make as melds are not always to easy to come by either.

If you get down to three or fewer cards anywhere before the last quarter of the game, it can be very difficult to get your hand back in shape.

Bidding will get you a card at the expense of cards you have already melded, and here is where some strategy comes in. Bidding means discards, and that means that whoever goes next has the potential to pick three of them up. If you are the person to go next, you probably want to boost the bidding up, or bid with abandon if you have a full hand: you are going to get all the cards you bid right back in your hand if you can meld off the next card from the draw pile.

Of course if the game is coming to an end, you don't want more cards in your hand and you simply opt not to take them.

The bidding follows the kind of trajectory you find in any collecting frenzy. At first the bidding is fairly low and you can get some great deals (no one has much to spend); then it gets higher and higher until the bids are crazy (people have the points to spend and the need for cards is extremely high as people try to complete valuable sets); then interest gradually declines as the game nears the end (people want to conserve their points and don't need more cards).

Melding early allows you to bid in the early phase, but if you are unable to meld, you can't bid. Bidding in the frenzy can be very profitable too though (unlike actual collecting). You can make some huge upgrades because you need to think about the potential value of the sets you can make, which can be over 150 points. So bidding high is fine as long as you are able to meld a higher set. You also have to remember that there is no added value in keeping sets together.

With this in mind though, it is good to collect some of the cheap sets, so you can bid in smaller increments to increase your profit.

Also, sometimes it is better to pass on a card rather than bid on it. Passing ensures that at best, only the drawn card will be added to the discard pile for anyone else to take. If your opponents don't have many cards, this is a way to further starve them out.

Conclusion:

This is a very different kind of game, and you're likely not going to take to it immedately. However, when you get used to its counterintuitiveness, you may enjoy it when you want to play something different.

We have played this game with 2, 4, and 5 players. With two it can be very good, although there can be a runaway leader. With five, we felt like we just didn't get enough turns in. The sweet spot was with 4, although 3 would also likely be just as good.

So if you want someting a little different, to jar you out of your usual way of thinking, you might like this game. It's not one we will be playing avidly every week, but it will certainly come out when we want something out of the usual routine.

I give this game a 6.
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Guy Riessen
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ccarlet1 wrote:
Also, sometimes it is better to pass on a card rather than bid on it. Passing ensures that at best, only the drawn card will be added to the discard pile for anyone else to take. If your opponents don't have many cards, this is a way to further starve them out.



Actually it doesn't ensure that at all, the card remains face-up and is the play-card for the next player (the next player doesn't get to turn over a new card)...all players must pass for the card to go into the discard pile. The next player might auction that card, or they may meld to it. Passing gives up your ability to control the action for a particular card, but it doesn't simply move it into the discard pile. It's actually a valuable but tricky device to use and carries a fair amount of risk.

Don't forget too, that the play doesn't simply revolve aruond the table either. The player to the left of the player who uses the card, whether it's melded to or acquired via auction, it the next player to flip a card, and make one of the three choices in the turn.

This a great game, which is often misunderstood probably because of the translated nature of the rules.
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