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"I don't know why a duck!"
Sitting Ducks Gallery is a cartoony duck hunt for 3 to 6 players, designed by Keith Meyers. Each player is both hunted and hunter. The object is to plunk away at an advancing line of ducks, while sparing those of your own color.
Summary of Gameplay
The game consists primarily of two decks of cards. The first is the Duck Deck, which contains five "blank" water cards, plus five ducks in each player's color. A row of six duck cards is dealt onto the board. The second deck contains 52 action cards. Each player has a hand of three action cards and must play one per turn. Most action cards are either Take Aim or Shoot. The former lets a player to place a target marker over one position in the duck row; the latter eliminates a duck in a targeted position. After a duck is shot, the row of ducks advances to fill the gap, and a new card is drawn to fill the last position. Several cards advance the entire row one space. The card in the frontmost position flees to the temporary sanctuary of the bottom of the Duck Deck. Other actions move ducks within the line. When ducks move, the target markers stay put. In this way, you can move your duck out from under a targeting sight, hopefully substituting a rival bird in the process. The winner is the last player with ducks left unshot.
The poker-sized cards are thin, but the linen finish has a good feel and they shuffle easily right out of the box. Time will tell how well they hold up, but they still look new after a half-dozen games. The artwork by Randy Martinez delightfully captures the cartoony theme. (Although the theme is really a violent one, this a Looney Tunes sort of violence.) The board is not necessary, but it looks nice and allows the cards to slide easily along the row. The target markers are simple cardboard counters. The full-color rulebook is in English, Spanish, and French. The box is mostly filled with air, but features a decent cardboard insert to separately hold the two decks. However, when traveling, the decks easily jostle their way into the center trench. The MSRP of $15 (US) is a fair price given the components and art.
Overall, this game is a lot of fun and plays very quickly. However, it may not cater to most Eurocentric players' tastes.
With a hand of only three action cards, there are relatively few big choices and little control. At times, there is only one playable card, and you must play it, even if it shoots your own duck. A player may not win once all five of their ducks have been shot, however they still play action cards on their turn. Thus, there is a high degree of kingmaking as eliminated players exact revenge. These elements would normally irritate me. In the initial two games with my family, I was eliminated first, mostly because I "usually win games". And yet, I had a blast playing! Several games later, I still enjoy it. I generally hate "take that" card games. Part of my writing this review has been to understand why I like this one.
I think there are two major reasons Sitting Ducks Gallery works so well. The first is the quick playing time. A game typically lasts no more than 10 minutes. There is very little investment, so it is easy to laugh as your ducks disappear in rapid succession. There is practically no downtime. After a single game, we knew the cards and would briskly advance the row. The second element is the snap diplomacy. If you target or shoot someone's last duck, don't expect them to forget it. There is also room for bluffing, apologizing that it was your only choice, which is sometimes the case. If players were fully eliminated from the game, the weaker players would be the obvious targets. Here, however, leader bashing is the modus operandi, keeping things close and tense. More so, you don't want to be perceived as having picked on another. Win or lose, all of our games have featured laughs, playful taunts, and cheering at the end.
I do, however, have one serious gripe with the game. There is a major disjunction between the card text and the rulebook. For example, the Take Aim card states "Place a target over any duck in line." In our first game, we took that literally. However, the rulebook further allows targets to be placed over empty water cards. The Shoot! card is similar. However, the Misfire and Two Birds... cards require two adjacent ducks (and no water). Thus, on some cards "duck" specifically means a duck, and other times it means a duck or empty water. Move Ahead states that you can "exchange places with any card in front of you." (Emphasis theirs) However, the rulebook refers only to the card directly in front of your duck. (Apparently "any card" here means a water or duck card.) Quick Shot is "used to remove a duck that is not targeted." That seems clear, but the rulebook allows the removed duck to be "targeted or not"! Well, which is it? Frankly, this gets rather frustrating. The game is simple enough that correct and consistent wording could have been used on every card with minimal clarification in the rulebook. Instead, we were very much annoyed to discover that we had played the majority(!) of cards incorrectly during our first game. The game works nearly as well when strictly following the card text, but there is no excuse for such shoddy editing. A well-documented session of cold playtesting would have revealed that the card text simply does not reflect the rulebook. Hopefully a later printing will clean up most of this.
The Final Roll
In spite of the initial frustration, the game is a keeper. Comparisons to Family Business and Guillotine are obvious, but Sitting Ducks is more lighthearted and plays faster than either. The subject matter is still mildly violent, but the cartoon artwork and gameplay make it suitable for most families. Be warned though, that sensitive youngsters may feel like they are being picked on (as they may well be). For teens or adults, Sitting Ducks Gallery is a perfect ending to a night of headier gaming, allowing some laughs and good-natured vengeance upon whoever won the previous game. There is a high degree of chance in this game, but much of the fun is trying to convince the person with the Take Aim card to target someone else's duck. Failing that, you know who you'll be targeting next. Let the feathers fly!
...Chance: 60% (55% Luck of the Draw, 5% Push the Odds)
...Psychology: 30% (25% Diplomacy, 5% Bluff)
...Card Quality: 4/5
...Bits per Buck: 3/5
Family Suitability: 4/5
I realize the review is old ... but its a good review for my family's favorite game.
The solution we had to the card text vs rulebook text problem was to ignore what the rulebook said. We only follow the card text and honestly I think the game plays a lot better for it. Not being able to target empty water forces you to make tough choices on who to annoy diplomacy-wise.
So my honest recommendation to anyone playing the game is to ignore the rulebook ... play the game as the cards say ... you'll have a ton of fun.
This is hands down my family's favourite game and we are still playing it 2 years after buying it.