Several years ago while attending Alan Moon's Gathering of Friends, Al Newman taught me his prototype card game that he, at the time, called Toy Soldiers. I was blown away and thoroughly enjoyed the game. Al mentioned that he didn't really plan on pursuing getting the game published. The group that played it with him badgered him, pleading with him to seek a publisher. The game was that good and deserved to be in print.
Finally, that has occurred! R&R Games has released the game has Tin Soldiers, re-themed due to other copyright conflicts. The new theme involves food items engaged in a brutal 'food' fight. "When Good Food Goes Bad", as the tin can packaging declares. The artwork is quite good and clever and fits the theme quite nicely. In a clever marketing ploy, the game comes packaged in a small tin container, similar to a 'Band-Aid' container. Nice.
The game is essentially a trick-taking game, but with some clever twists and unique features. The deck contains four suits (tomatoes, peas, corn and beets), each with 10 cards valued 0 - 9. The cards also depict a number of tin cans, varying from 0 - 4, with the greater number being on the lower valued cards. In addition, there is 1 flag per suit, 5 'Catsup' cannons and
one 'trump' card. Each player also has a pantry card wherein he keeps three cards in reserve.
I've only played the game with 4 players and in partnership, which is the method Al recommends. So, the rules and play I describe below are applicable to the partnership game.
The cards are mixed and each player is dealt three cards face-down, which are placed in their pantry. Players cannot look at these cards ... until, perhaps, later in the game. The remaining cards are dealt equally to each player. There will be one card remaining, which is set aside face-up and determines the 'trump' suit.
After players have received their cards, players then pass three cards to their partners. This 'passing of cards' is supposed to help give players a hint as to which cards their partner possesses. I must confess, however, that I continue to be at a loss as to how best to use this maneuver to my advantage. Perhaps one day I'll learn ...
Play then proceeds as in a normal trick-taking game. One player leads a card and every other player MUST play a card of that suit, if possible. The only exception to this is that a player may play a 'catsup' cannon if he desires. I'll explain this card a bit later. Assuming all players play a card that matches the lead suit, the player who played the highest valued
card will win the trick and take all of the cards ... usually. Again, I'll explain the exception later.
If a player cannot follow the lead suit, he is free to play any card he desires. If he plays a suit that is not the lead suit or the trump suit, he cannot win that trick. However, if one or more cards that match the trump suit are played, the highest valued 'trump suit' card will win the trick. Again, this is normal trick-taking stuff.
Now, for the twists and special cards:
1) Catsup Cannons: A player may play one of the catsup cannons instead of following the lead suit. When he does this, he may remove one previously played cards in that trick. Blows 'em away! The cannon and destroyed card are discarded. This can be extremely powerful and can dramatically alter the outcome of the trick.
2) 'Trump' card: A player may play the one 'trump' card and take the one card that was set aside at the beginning of the turn (which determined the trump suit) into his hand. That card is replaced with the 'trump' card, which is turned the appropriate way to indicate the trump color.
3) Spy: The '3' card in each suit is a spy. When a player wins a trick that contains a spy card, he may peek at the top card of his or an opponent's reserve pile (those cards in his pantry).
4) Flags: These cards have no rank, but have a value that increases with each flag card taken during the entire hand, as follows:
1 Flag = 1 Point
2 Flags = 5 Points
3 Flags = 10 Points
4 Flags = 20 Points
5) Generals: These are the '0' cards in each hand. Alone, they are not very powerful, losing to all other cards except a Flag. The only exception is if the Sergeant (the '9' value) of the same suit is played during a trick, then the General becomes the most powerful card in that suit and will win the trick .. unless a card of the trump suit was also played.
6) Reserves: Instead of playing a card from your hand, you may instead take the top card in your pantry and play it to the trick. Unless you had previously glimpsed the card via the power of Spy card, you have no idea of the value of the card you will be playing. A bit of uncertainty, but it sure adds some tense moments to the game!
If a player wins a trick by using a reserve card, the pantry card is rotated one step higher. This will result in additional points at the end of the round. Winning 1 trick from the play of a pantry cards yields 5 points; winning 2 tricks yields 15 points, while winning 3 tricks yields a bounty of 30 points!
However, there is a significant scoring bonus for cards that remain in your reserve after a hand is complete. So, using them does entail some risk and the likely loss of points if you fail to win the trick with the card.
A round of play is complete when one person no longer has cards to play. At this point, each team gathers the cards they won in tricks as well as any cards remaining in their hands and tallies their points. Points are scored as follows:
1) The total value of 'tin cans' depicted on the cards;
2) The value of the flag cards collected, as listed above;
3) The value showing on their pantry card (0, 5, 15, or 30);
4) The value of the tin cans depicted on the cards remaining in their reserved ... DOUBLED! This really makes you think twice about using the cards in your reserve.
The rules recommend playing a pre-set number of hands or to 100 points. Playing to 100 points should take 2 - 3 hands.
As is evident, the game goes way beyond the norm in regards to trick-taking games. The additional features and twists make for an exciting, tense game with lots of decisions to be made. I've grown to become a big fan of the trick-taking genre, so Tin Soldiers has proven exciting and a welcome addition to my collection. In spite of its twists and additional features, however, it is, at its heart, a trick-taking game. So, if you are not fond of that genre, you probably won't enjoy this one, either. If you share my tastes, however, you will find this one quite the tasty morsel.
Jim and Clyde paired against Steven and I for two matches. During the first match, Steven and I had a near-perfect mind-meld, winning the vast majority of cards and stomping our competitors in just two rounds.
Game 1: Steven & Greg: 116, Clyde & Jim: 54
The second game was much closer. Steven and I led by a measly one point after the first round, 50 - 49, but Clyde and Jim captured the lead in the second round, 96 - 82. The third round was relatively close, too, but we were unable to overcome Clyde & Jim's lead.
Game 2: Clyde & Jim: 143, Steven & Greg: 112
Ratings: Greg 7, Jim 6, Clyde 5.5, Steven 5