2 - 8 Players, 20 - 45 minutes
Designed by: Uncredited
Reviewed by: Greg J. Schloesser
Editor's Note: This review first appeared in Counter Magazine # 20
One of the benefits of reviewing games on a frequent basis is that I occasionally am contacted by a company or designer and asked to review a game (or sometimes more than one!) that they have released. This usually entails receiving a complimentary copy of the game(s) in question. Usually, if the games are from a major publisher, then I can expect the actual game play experience to be at worst tolerable and at best sensational. However, when the game is a self-published title or from a small, relatively unknown company, the experience has the potential to be, well, less than pleasant.
So, I will readily admit that it was with some degree of trepidation that I accepted an offer from Playroom Entertainment to play and review four of their games: Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot, Golden Deuce, SeaNochle and Eye of Horus. First, I wasn�t familiar with the company itself and second, the only game I had heard anything about was Killer Bunnies. Still, sometimes a gem can be found hidden in the avalanche of games cascading down upon us, so I figured I'd give the games a fair shake.
I read the rules to all of the games when they arrived and it immediately struck me that SeaNochle was essentially identical to the traditional card game of Pinochle. Then, when I first played Eye of Horus, my good friend Tim Watson identified the game's ancestor as Casino. Not being a player of traditional card games, I wasn't familiar with Casino, so the game felt new to me. However, after perusing the rules to Casino, the influence is unmistakable, but there are some differences. Primarily, Eye of Horus has stripped out numerous rules, most notably the "build" rules of Casino, and simplified play. It makes for a clean, albeit less strategic game.
The introduction to Eye of Horus claims that it is a "Middle Eastern fishing game based on the ancient Egyptian game known as Basara". This contradicts with the online rules for Casino, which claims that tradition put the origins of the game in Italy, but that the game became popular in England in the late 18th century. An interesting side note is that there appears to be some dispute as to the spelling of the name -- either Casino or Cassino. Eye of Horus avoids this raging controversy by completely renaming and re-theming the game!
The components are simple: a deck of 52 playing cards. For the purist, the game can certainly be played with a regular deck of playing cards, saving the discriminating buyer about $9.00 or so. However, if you are like me, traditional card games don't get a second glance. The only way I discover them is if they are re-packaged and re-themed as something that hides its true identity! I never would have discovered the Finnish card game Paskahousa had it not been re-themed and re-packaged as Pig Pile. The same now holds true for Casino (or does that have two "s's" in it?)
The cards themselves have a grainy background with Egyptian motifs in place of the normal pips. Further, the Jacks have been exiled from the deck, replaced with four "Eye of Horus" cards, while the Kings have been appropriately replaced with Pharaohs.
To begin the game, each player is dealt four cards, with four more cards dealt face-up to the table into a section known as the "pool". The remainder of the deck is set aside, but will be used in subsequent hands until it is depleted.
Game play is quite simple. On a player's turn, he MUST play one (and ONLY one) card from his hand. The idea is to match a card that is face-up in the pool, or play a numerical card whose value is equal to the sum of the values of several (or all) of the cards in the pool. For example, if you play an "8" and the cards in the pool are a 2, 4, 6 and 9, you can capture the 6 and the 2 (6 + 2 = 8). You take the captured card(s) and the card you played and set them aside in a stack in front of you. Some of these cards will score points at the end of a complete hand of play.
Since the Queen and Pharaoh carry no numerical value, they can only be captured by playing a card of the same type. Further, if you play a card that matches either a single card or the sum of several cards, you can choose to take either the single card or the multiple cards, but not both.
If a player cannot capture any cards, the card he played is simply added to the cards in the pool.
Now let's talk about the powerful Sphinx. If you play a card that captures ALL of the cards in the pool, leaving it empty, you score a 10 point bonus in addition to any points the cards may individually score at the conclusion of the round. Thus, one must be very careful when taking cards if it leaves only one card remaining in the pool, as this increases the chances that the next player will possess a card that allows him to empty the pool.
The four "Eye of Horus" cards allows the player to take ALL of the cards in the pool, but he does not score a ten point bonus. Still, it is a powerful card, especially if there are numerous cards in the pool. Further, it means that there will be no cards in the pool for the next player to take, denying that player the possibility of scooping any point cards.
The final special card in the deck is the Seven of Ankhs. This card works in an identical fashion as an Eye of Horus in that it completely empties the pool. However, if the sum of the cards taken tally ten or less, then the play will score a 10 point bonus for the player. If the sum is greater than ten, then no bonus is earned. Although the seven of ankhs is marked with a large ankh symbol, it is easy to forget its special property and it is often played as a regular card, resulting in a "D'oh!" moment!
Play continues with each player playing one card until all players have depleted their hand of four cards. Four new cards are then dealt to each player, but no new cards are dealt into the pool. This entire process continues until the deck of cards is depleted. On the final round of a hand, any cards remaining in the pool after all players have depleted their hand of cards are awarded to the last player to have captured a card or cards from the pool.
At that point, players inspect the stack of cards they captured during the hand and tally their scores. The player with the most cards scores a 30 point bonus. If more than one player ties for the most cards, the 30 points are divided equally amongst the tied players. Then, individual cards are scored as follows:
Eye of Horus: 1 point
Ace: 1 point
Two: 2 points
Ten: 3 points
Sphinx: 10 points
If no one has reached 121 points, a new hand is played in the same fashion as described above, with four new cards also being dealt into the pool. The game concludes at the end of a hand when a player's total points have reached or surpassed 121.
With only four cards in your hand to begin a round, one's options are limited and grow more limited as the number of cards you hold decrease with each play. The objective is clear: grab scoring cards when you can and try to grab the most cards so you can earn that hefty 30 point bonus. Hold on to your Eye of Horus card until the pool is filled to the brim, but don't hold onto it too long lest it be wasted on just one -- or even worse -- no cards. Try to not leave the pool with just one card as this will provide a good opportunity for the next player to match it and empty the pool. Likewise, leaving two or three cards that can total to ten or less is also a danger as the next player could manage to claim them all with just one high-valued card.
Let me state that I was pleasantly surprised by the game. Although the strategy pool here is not very deep, the game is entertaining and fun to play. Certainly it is light, airy (perhaps even "fluff") and heavily dependent upon luck, but I don't mind that if the game itself doesn't pretend to be something more than it is and it is fun to play. I don�t think this would be one you would pull out as an entre with a group of hard-core gamers, but as a late night filler or in a family environment, it could well likely be a pleasant diversion. I've had some fun with it in a wide variety of settings and, to add icing to the cake, my wife enjoys it, too! A final caveat, however: although the box touts the game as playable with as many as 8 players, don't believe it. With anything more than 4 players, the game becomes far too random and loses much of its appeal.