Original review available in Polish: http://www.gamesfanatic.pl/2016/08/22/karczemne-opowiesci-wy...
Tavern’s Tales is a new deckbuilding by Polish author Krzysztof Matusik, known for Amber Route, Urban Panic, Craftsmen and Black&White among others. Game for 2 to 4 players aged 12+, with Slavic theme.
Rules in a nutshell
Put 10 or 15 (depending on the variant of the game) stack with available heroes. Similar to Dominion. Each player gets their starting hand – and this is different from Dominion – they choose from the weakest characters (there are two restrictions – player can’t take the same character twice and players can’t have the same set of cards). We also put quest tile stack and reveal the tiles equal to number of players plus one. Now we are ready to play.
In their turn each player performs two actions from three available actions:
1. Playing card to your party as ready (face-up) and performing its effect.
2. Playing card as exhausted (face-down) and recruiting new character (buying new card) or taking up quest (taking a tile).
3. Playing a set of cards (each card must be the copy of the same character) and using its ability multiple times (equal to the number of played cards).
Two first actions are basic actions, the third one is a special action – this difference is important because some effects let players have additional actions, but it will always be a basic action.
How players recruit characters? After playing card with this effect (ex. any card as exhausted) player must additionally exhaust number of cards (flip the face-down) so their summed persuasion (number on the pint icon) is equal or greater than recruitment cost (upper-left corner). Taking up a quest also demands exhaustion of characters – together they must have at least the same number of icons of the same type as depicted on the quest tile.
If you begin the turn without cards in hand – you have to gather all cards from your party (in front of you) and return them to hand.
At the end of the game we count victory points from three sources:
1. Completed quests – there are VP on each tile
2. Knowledge of heroes – if player has at least one copy of a hero, then he or she gains points equal to their prestige.
3. Using the talents of characters – for each collected tile player gets points equal to the number of cards they have with the matching talent.
Player with most prestige points wins.
The thing that differentiates Tavern’s Tales from typical deckbulding is double card use. Cards played as rested (ready) have various effects – from recruiting characters, through having additional actions, using opponent’s party to cards protecting your party and reaction cards. Exhausted cards always have the same effect: recruit a card or take up a quest. Flipping (exhausting) cards is a distinct mechanic in Tavern’s Tales – this is the game’s currency. This way we “pay” for new cards, which enrich our hand – This way we can acquire quest tiles. Technically we use the cards two times (first playing them as ready to use the effect and second time by exhausting them). What’s more interesting exhausted cards can be flipped (by using other cards) and can be ready again – of course you don’t use their effect again, but you can exhaust it again to use its persuasion (to recruit characters) or knowledge of terrains (for completing quests).
This game differs from standard deckbuilding in that that there is no discarded pile – played cards just lay in front of us, forming a party. It’s a bit similar to Lewis and Clark – our hand is dissolving to the point that we have no cards in hand – Them we take the party to the hand and have full array of possibilities again. There is also no way to “trim” the deck. There is simply no action which lets you get rid of a card. That makes you think about how you build your deck. On the other hand – there is no need for such action, because you always have full access to your hand (there is no random card drawing) and can also use the special action and play a set of cards instead of a single cards if you feel like you need to get rid of cards in hand and gather the party again.
There are two game variants in Tavern’s Tales – simplified and full. The simplified one consists of choosing 10 from 15 available heroes and discarding the hardest quests. The characters that need to be discarded are depicted in the rulebook – this is what this simplification is about – there is almost no negative interaction (except Lubomyr Moldbeard, which can be used to exhaust an enemy’s character instead of readying your own ). Furthermore, there is less heroes to read, think and assembling combos.
On the other hand in full variant we have all 15 characters at our disposal – there are cards that let you exchange cards with opponent, exhaust opponent’s characters, but there is also Jaromyra Bubble, which protects our party while she is ready.
Jaromyra Bubble. She is necessary. It doesn’t matter what she can do (that is what strength and icons she has). What’s important is to play her at the beginning and not exhaust her too soon. There are only four copies of her – is that equal to the number of players? Yes. When we remove a part of cards during the game with fewer players, the number of Jaromyra cards will always be equal to the number of players. And that’s where the shoe pinches. At the beginning there is a race for the Jaromyra. You must carefully plan your actions to buy her before they run out. Because if we don’t make it in time and someone gets two copies, then the player without Jaromyra is screwed. The other players will sit with hands in your party’s pockets. To be fair all players are screwed, because it generates additional downtime (if there is not already enough during combo planning) – each time we play a card we check who we can disturb or on who we can feed on. But if everyone has a Bubble, then we focus on ourselves and the turn flows much smoother. Because each stick has two ends – negative interaction turns up the atmosphere but downtime effectively kills it (especially when we don’t know the game yet and a quick glance at the cards is not enough). Me – and I consider myself a negative interaction enthusiast – much prefer the game with Jaromyra in party.
Tavern’s Tales is a quick game (only 9 round – only 9 turns for each player), maybe even too short? Sometime I had the impression that the game ended too soon, and I still wanted… But it’s good, because it forces to optimize, not only jolly party-building, but also to take up quests. Game scales well, there is a limited random factor restricted to the quest tiles (which can hurt sometimes – especially at the end of the game, when we need a specific terrain type). Replay value of Dominion can’t be beaten, but – even though all characters are available at all times – the draw of quests is always different and will alter the way we play. Beside this, even though the beginning of the game will always be the same (taking Jaromyra), after this every game goes differently.
Rulebook. Hmm, I heard some unflattering words about it, but in my opinion everything is clear from the beginning to the end and even the first game was fun. To be fair I have to admit that some people – even though they know the deckbulding genre – the mechanics was not intuitive.
Tavern’s Tales is light and interesting deckbuilding, title more fit for family than heavy thinkers. I like the main game mechanic. I also like the idea with exhausting the characters. I like the art style a little less (but it has some ring to it – but you have to see it yourself). Character names are nice, but make the game a little harder, they are not as distinctive as Marketplace, Moat or Library from Dominion. But this is just the theme of the game – we are adventure-hungry (or maybe more tales-from-advenure-hungry) nobles. One disadvantage is that if we play the starting turns wrong – we will have no Jaromyra – then we will have much harder time.