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Game Preview: Cahoots, or Colorful Combos Are in the Cards

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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While at the 2018 Origins Game Fair in mid-June, I spent most of my time in the BGG booth either on camera talking with people about their new games, with people who wanted to schedule time on camera, or with passersby who were curious as to what we were doing or what we had for sale. I bought a couple of games, and I received a few review copies of games either recently released or due for release in the near future, the oddest of which was Cahoots, mostly because the publisher (Gamewright) had no presence at the show.

What happened is that Cahoots designer Ken Gruhl was walking around the Origins 2018 exhibitor hall with frequent design partner Quentin Weir — you might know them best as the designers of Happy Salmon — and I was also walking around that hall on one of my infrequent breaks, and Ken saw me and said something like "Hey, nice to see you again!" and I pretended to recognize him but couldn't place his face, then he said, "Do you want a copy of my new game Cahoots?" and he pulled it out of his bag, and then immediately I knew who he was.

I can't place names to faces, but I can place names to box covers. Maybe I spend too much time on this site.

Anyway, I had already liked the sound of Cahoots when I saw it at NY Toy Fair in February 2018, and cooperative card games had been hitting a sweet spot for my mind recently, so I said yes. I've now played the game a half-dozen times in the intervening two weeks, so here I am presenting it to you in this space, a game with no other videos on its BGG page, a game with no forum posts and fewer than ten ratings, a game that might have passed unloved and unnoticed if not for this callout, which quite frankly is 90% due to the designer pressing a copy into my hands. (The other 10% is me playing the game, liking it, and wanting to talk about it.)

Your collective goal in Cahoots is to satisfy all of the goal cards in your challenge pile before everyone has played all the cards in the deck and are left staring at their sausage-y fingers wondering when dinner will be. The cards come in four colors and are numbered 1-7, and on a turn you must play one of the four cards in your hand onto one of the four display piles, covering a card of the same color or number when you do. You've played UNO or Crazy Eights or Mau Mau, right? Then you know how to play cards. If your play satisfies one or more of the four current goals — which might be something like "all cards even", or "two adjacent pink piles", or "orange equal to half of green" — then you discard that goal and draw a new one. Refill your hand to four cards, then hope the next player does something to help out the team. Maybe they will.

To some degree, Cahoots is one of those "they won't even know they're learning" games. When I've played with youngsters, I initially point out how they need to figure out why they would want to play something: "One of the goals is to have the cards add to twenty. What do they add to now? How can you boost that sum to twenty?" "We need a straight of three numbers. How can we do that?" Then after a while, I shut up and let them figure out things on their own. With four goals in play, the requirements to fulfill them often pull you in different directions, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Goals in life often pull you in different directions, after all, and you need to figure out how to focus on and tackle certain goals in a certain order to get them all done in the long run. Sometimes the team pulls in opposite directions, and you fail. Sometimes you run out of a resources, and you fail.

And sometimes you don't.

Nothing about Cahoots feels new or innovative, but it's a nicely designed game that fulfills my "new games are for new gamers" mantra perfectly. Cahoots is a perfect design for some segment of the gaming audience to which cooperative games are relatively new. Maybe they've played Hanabi, a breakout mainstream hit in Germany thanks to winning the Spiel des Jahres award and a game that also had mainstream presence in the U.S. thanks to an edition in the Target retail chain. They liked the challenge of that game and here's something similarish and it's not expensive and we haven't bought a new game in a while, so sure, let's get it. We'll have fun playing this with visiting family members and while we're decompressing in the evening after the kids are in bed and with those same kids on the weekend at the beach house. Cahoots is colorful gaming comfort food.

[I apologize for the boxiness of the sound. Apparently I've messed with the settings on my recorder, but I can't figure out what I've done, and my sound guy is out of town. Next week's video should be better!)
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