Okay, we all know the "Inverse Rule of Gaming," right? You know, the basic idea that the more female flesh used to sell a game, the worse the game must be. Don't believe me? Have you seen the commercials for Age of Fire? Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with Kate Upton...but whenever a game company uses attractive females to sell its product, you just know that the game probably has no other selling point.
Well, the inverse rule also applies to cartoon or illustrated use of females as well. I am sure we have all seen the game apps that advertise themselves with some drawing of a busty long-haired warrior. C'mon guys, you know that the app must be crap! Anyway, since Anime is very popular now not only in Japan but across the Pacific in the United States, Anime drawings are also used to sell games.
And that brings me to Tanto Cuore from Arclight Games.
A box of Tanto Cuore
As you can see from the box cover, Tanto Cuore is a game about Japanese maids! When I first saw this game on a shelf, I thought, oh no another poor Japanese game being sold with cute anime drawings. And drawings of maids no less! And who wants to play a game about maids?!? The back of the box describes the game as, "We will work with great heart when you employ us! Be the 'greatest master'!" What the? It further says, "The players take the roles of 'masters of the house', employ a lot of cute maids, and are served by them while slowing filling out their house (card deck)."
I don't know about you, but I was wondering if maybe this game should've been put in the adult section of the store instead! Hahaha!
Okay, I checked out reviews on line and people said nice things about the game. I really like the Eminent Domain deckbuilding game so I thought, why not give Tanto Cuore a try.
Like most deckbuilding games, Tanto Cuore is pretty simple. You use a common currency, "Love" in Tanto Cuore, to recruit maids from a common pool of cards which you then add to your discard pile, which eventually cycles back into your hand.
Here are two of the three Love cards:
1 Love and 2 Love cards
The heart in the upper left corner is the amount of Love needed to recruit the card (yes, you have to use Love to recruit move Love, kind of sounds like a Beatles' song or something). Each turn a player empties their hand of their Love, counting how much is played and using that amount to recruit more cards. The player also tries to play as many Maid cards from his/her hand as possible.
Here is an example of a Maid card:
Genevieve Daubigny: one of many maids
Like many games, icons are used to convey information. Here there are three highlighted icons and one faded icon on the bottom of the card (and remember that the heart in the upper left is the # of Love needed to recruit this card). The stack of cards is "draw" , the heart is more "Love", the hand is "serve" and the faded icon refers to "employ." In short, on your turn you can only serve (in other words, play) one maid from your hand and employ (in other words, select a new card from the common pool of cards) one new card per turn. Put as you play maids, they can give you more servings, cards, love, employment, etc. At the end of your turn you discard any cards that you could not play and draw back to your hand size.
Thus, there are only these four icons to memorize! Very simple and quite easy to understand. Literally, when I introduced this game to the other Toledo Tuesdays Gaming Club (TTGC) members, they quite quickly were able to get the hang of the game. It is just this simple: lay down your Love, play a maid (and try to get more servings so that you can play more maids), try to build up as big a pile of Love as possible, and then employ 1 or more maids. As your stack of cards gets bigger every turn, eventually you can lay down more Love and draw more expensive maids.
Of course, some maids have special abilities and/or victory points. Here is an example of a maid that everyone begins the game with:
Collette Framboise: note the two different spellings of her first name on this card. Sometimes when games get translated into English mistakes like this happen.
As you can see above, Collette is worth 1 victory point (shown 3 times on the card with a symbol in 3 of the 4 corners). She also has a special ability: Chambermaid. Basically if you spend the indicated number of servings (2 in this case), you can remove Collette from your hand and place her on the table. Doing so thins your hand and optimizes it for future draws. Collette has no other special ability or helpful icon, so every time you draw her and don't get her Chambermaided (is that a verb?), she is useless and gets recycled back into your hand through the draw pile.
Each game there are two victory point maids (Collette above is one of them) and 10 regular maids. The box contains 16 different regular maids and players select 10 of them randomly or by any other method before the game starts, so no two games should be exactly alike. Moreover, different maids combo with other maids so the overall strategies in each game are going to be different based on the 10 maids used. There are also Private Maids, which are special maids that you do not put in your hand but rather put them into play on the table in front of you. Here is an example:
Rosa Topaz: A Private Maid that gives you more Love each turn
Anyway, the game is won by having the most Victory Points after 2 piles of maids are exhausted. The game plays very fast. Typically after one or two go arounds, play is quick, typically with the active player playing his/her hand and one of two others shuffling their discard piles back into their draw decks.
Why you should play this game
It is very, very fun! It is also very, very easy! Moreover, this game is not just multiplayer solitaire. There is player interaction. There are cards (not mentioned here in my review) that mess with your opponents' private maids and cost them victory points. Moreover, as you employ cards from the common pool, you deny them to your opponents. Thus, while Tanto Cuore is not directly combative (this isn't Advanced Squad Leader after all) there is tension between the players and you might have to modify your strategy if others start snapping up the same maids that you want.
Once you get past the whole cute maid thing, Tanto Cuore is actually a very solid game. I haven't played Dominion, which kind of was one of the first popular deckbuilding games, but from what I have read and heard, Tanto Cuore is a slightly more sophisticated (is that the right word given all the pictures of maids?) and enjoyable game. To be completely honest, when the TTCG plays Tanto Cuore, we almost always refer to the cards by their first names and after a while you don't notice the illustrations at all. Typically after a game I could tell you exactly what icons were on a card but I can't recall the picture. So even if Anime illustrations of maids might be a bit too much for you, trust me, you will like the game so much that you really won't be bothered at all by them.
Of course, if cute maids are not enough for you, try Barbarossa from Kamikaze Games. It is Anime girls fighting as the Germans as they invade the Soviet Union in the Second World War. It's a really good game too, no joke!
For more reviews and posts about boardgames/rpgs, head over to the blog of the Toledo Tuesdays Gaming Club www.toledotuesdays.com