Introducing Sluff Off
Let me start by telling you my conclusion: This is a terrific game! Really. There's a lot of trick-taking games out there, and I've played quite a few, but this is easily one of the best, the most exciting, and the most fun that I've ever played.
Now I've always been a big fan of trick-taking games. Some of my favourites include games that require players to bid at the start of a round, examples being Rook, 500, and Oh Hell (otherwise known as Up and Down the River, and by various less savoury names). Sluff Off! fits within this genre. It's a card game by Stefan Dorra (whose design credits include the popular filler For Sale), and the has been around already ever since 2003, when it was originally published under the title Die Sieben Siegal. It was later republished under the names Wizard Extreme, and Zing.
In this game, players get 15 cards, and must predict how many tricks of each colour they'll win that round, by selecting bidding tokens of corresponding colours. These bidding tokens correspond to minus 2 points that count against you at the end of a round, so if you win a trick of that colour, you lose the matching token (good!), but if you win a trick for which you don't have a bidding token, you get a black minus 3 point token (not good!). Then there's one person who tries to sabotage everyone else's bid! Can you win the game by ending up with the lowest score?
This brilliant little trick-taking game has recently had a makeover under a new title and with all new artwork and theme as #9 in the EGG series of portable games from Eagle Gryphon Games. A somewhat odd name and theme, I'll be the first to admit, but fortunately the terrific gameplay is still the same, so this small box still comes packed with all the brilliance and tension of the original game. So let's show you what you get, and how it works!
The game box is the same size as all the other titles in the EGG Series, and the cover artwork features art from the new edition. The box front credits the artist: "with art by Kwanchai Moriya". Kwanchai is an LA based illustrator whose work will be familiar to many on BGG from his contributions to numerous unofficial redesigns as well as to several published games.
The back of the box introduces the theme as follows:
"Purists will say: "There's no such word as `sluff' - you mean `slough', which is pronounced as `sluff'." When a Chicken loses its feathers, some will say `it's molting' - but we just say the feathers Sluff Off! While others claim a Snake is shedding its skin, or a Sheep its wool, we know its just a Sluff Off! Skipping a day of School are we? Nah man, we just want to Sluff Off! And that new Girl with the blue streak, the piercings and the torn jeans? Clearly she's the epitome of Sluffing Off! So why a card game called Sluff Off!? Ever duck a trick? Well in some circles, believe it or not, that means to Sluff Off! a card. Am I messing with ya? Not sure? Well give it a try! If anyone calls you on it, just tell them to ... Sluff Off!"
You can check this for yourself, and the word "slough" can indeed be spelled as "sluff". It has two meanings and pronunciations, and when spelled and pronounced as "sluff", it means to shed or to shake off something unwanted, just like a snake sheds its skin, and metaphorically to avoid work. And in a trick-taking game it means to get rid of unwanted cards. Want to read more about the term? See here and here.
In reality none of this really matters too much, because the theme is just pasted on and irrelevant to the gameplay, so if you don't like it, you can just ignore it.
Inside the box we find the following:
● 75 Cards (in 5 suits, numbered 1-15)
● 27 Penalty tokens
● 1 Sluffer token
The 75 cards come in five suits/colours, the Blue suit being the trump, with artwork matching the theme for each suit:
● Red: a chicken sluffing off its feathers
● Yellow: a sheep sluffing off its wool
● Green: a snake sluffing off its skin
● Blue: a rebel girl sluffing off
● Purple: a kid sluffing off by skipping school
Each suit consists of identical cards numbered 1-15.
The penalty tokens come in several types:
● There are three minus 2 valued tokens corresponding to each of the five coloured suits, with the blue trump suit having five such tokens
● There are six generic minus 3 valued tokens, and four generic minus 4 valued tokens.
These are the "bidding" tokens players will use to indicate which tricks they think they'll win before playing a hand, and they'll lose these tokens every time they successfully win a trick corresponding to the colour of the tokens they bid.
In the original game this role was called the Saboteur. Now known as the Sluffer, this token can be selected by just one player instead of the bidding tokens, and their job is to try to sabotage the efforts of other players to win the tricks that they have bid. This miniature is made of a soft rubbery substance, and is obviously taken from the thematic idea of a chicken that has `sluffed off' its feathers. Somewhat corny, but it functions just fine as a clear visual indicator of who the Sabotuer player is.
The rules are available from the publisher's website here, and consist of a small folded paper with 4 double-sided panels. It's an easy game to teach and learn.
With five players, you use the entire deck of five suits numbered 1-15, whereas with four players you only use the cards 1-12, and with three players the cards 1-9.
Each player is dealt a hand of 15 cards at the start of a round.
In turns, players predict how many of each colour of trick they think they'll win this round, by taking the matching bid tokens. If there are no bid tokens of a particular colour left, you take that token from another player, and they get a white token instead, which is worth minus 4 points, but is considered wild and can be used for any trick won.
Instead of bidding, one player may take the Sluffer, who starts with minus 4 points (there are ways to lose these points), and who has the job of sabotaging the bids of other players during gameplay.
Gameplay follows standard trick-taking rules, with players required to follow suit, and Blue being a permanent trump suit.
Whenever you win a trick, you must discard the matching coloured bid token that corresponds to the colour of the trick you won. If you don't have a bidding token of the matching colour, instead you must take a black minus 3 token. The white minus 4 tokens are wild and can be discarded for winning any trick. A trick won by trumping with Blue, allows you to discard either the colour of that trick or a Blue token.
One exception is the person who is the Sluffer: they don't gain or discard tokens for winning tricks.
After playing all 15 tricks, you score minus 2 points for each coloured token you have remaining, minus 3 points for each black token, and minus 4 points for each white token. Playing a perfect hand will mean you've got rid of all your tokens, and earn you a score of zero.
The person who is the Sluffer gets minus 4 points, reduced by a point for each black minus 3 token earned by other players.
You play as many rounds as players, taking turns to lead one round each, and the winner is the player with the least penalty points at the very end.
What do I think?
Trick taking: People familiar with trick-taking games like Whist, Hearts or Spades played with standard playing cards will quickly take to this game. Unlike a regular deck, it does have five suits, each numbered from 1-15, but the trick-taking mechanism that is at the heart of this game is very familiar and straight forward.
Bidding: Unlike plain trick-taking games, where the aim is to win the most tricks that you can, in Sluff Off the trick-taking is preceded by a bidding phase. This really takes a trick-taking game to a whole other level, and makes the game far more fun and skilful.
Different than others in its class: There are other trick taking games that require bidding, notably Oh Hell, 500, Wizard, and Rook, so it's not a new concept as such. But there are several things that set this game apart from others of this type, and I'll explain the impact of these in my comments below:
1. Bidding tokens
2. Saboteur/Sluffer role
3. Five suits
Bidding tokens: The execution here is done differently than most other trick-taking games with bidding, with the use of coloured bidding tokens that represent minus points, which you lose by successfully winning matching coloured tricks. So you aren't just bidding on the number of tricks you think you'll win, but you also need to bid on which coloured suits you think you'll win with. This dramatically changes how you need to evaluate your hand, and also makes every single trick more important, including tricks that others win.
Saboteur/Sluffer: Aside from the bidding tokens, another unique element of Sluff Off that sets it apart from other trick-taking games with bidding is the addition of the Sluffer role, designated in the original game as the Saboteur. This adds an element of unpredictability and chaos, and prevents pure calculation. It's also an interesting challenge to be the Sluffer, because it requires a different approach to the game. While it can be fun to disturb the plans of others, it can be quite a difficult role to play well, especially if quite a number of bidding tokens have been taken, and if the other players are skilful they can make sure that the Sluffer is the one coming out worst. Some people have reported an issue with the same person taking the Sluffer token, but there are variants that can address this if it becomes an issue, including upping its starting value to minus 5, especially in three player games.
Five suits: This might seem like a small change to most other trick taking games, which typically have four suits, but it definitely has an impact. The addition of a fifth suit means that it is easier to get short-suited. Admittedly this game begins with players having a large hand of 15 cards, so you'll usually have quite a spread of values and colours at the start of a hand. But with five suits there's a greater chance someone will get short suited early in a hand, so even having the second highest card in a suit doesn't guarantee you'll win a trick with it because someone might trump it; similarly I've seen it happen at the end of a hand that players are forced to win tricks in colours they don't want because others no longer have that colour. While there is skill, this element levels the playing field somewhat, while at the same time injecting an additional level of excitement.
More skill than luck: Part of the beauty of trick taking games in which players bid, is that the outcome is not pure luck of the draw, and the quality of your hand is not directly connected to your ability to win. That's also the case in this game. You might draw very poor cards, but this won't affect your chance of winning, because all that matters is how well you bid your hand and play your cards accordingly. There's real skill needed to properly assess the strength of your hand, bid accordingly, and then play out the hand in a way that you successfully win the correct tricks, especially by `sluffing off' the right cards when you're short-suited. Even if you get bad cards, any hand has the potential to make a perfect bid. At the same time it's nowhere near a game of high skill like Bridge, because there's enough elements about the design to keep it casual and fun, and you won't see the same player winning all the time.
Tense: Unlike some trick-taking games, in Sluff Off! every trick matters, because it will either help players lose penalty points or gain them. Because you must bid tricks according to colour, if you lose a trick you were counting on winning, you can't make up for it with a different suit, except possibly with a trump card. So this means that early on in a hand you can tell that you're going to be in trouble, based on what colour tricks other players win. Especially towards the end of a hand, the tension really ramps up for all the players around the table. Someone else's play can really mess up your plans, or conversely your play can mess up someone else's plans.
Exciting: The high level of tension means that there's usually a lot of table talk and banter, as a result of the competition this inevitably causes, and there are moments of supreme angst, triumph, and tragedy. Even tricks that are meaningless to you personally, become exciting when another player's plans are disrupted and dashed. It's rare that a trick is played on auto-pilot, and especially in the closing stages of a hand when the tension is highest, the outcome of each trick is often greeted with either cries of frustration or whoops of joy, more so than in any other trick taking game I've played before. The use of bidding tokens and a fifth suit are elements in the game design that contribute to this, and help create high levels of excitement and fun.
Familiar and accessible: Despite the nuances that help make this game stand apart from others in the trick-taking field, it has enough traditional elements to make it feel immediately familiar to anyone that has experience with trick-taking games, and it is also quite easy to teach and learn. That means that it will have a broad appeal, including to many non-gamers.
Best with 4 or 5: You can certainly play and enjoy this game with just three players. But most people are in agreement that it offers the best playing experience with the full complement of 5 players, and it is also absolutely terrific with 4 players.
New edition: This edition from Eagle Gryphon Games features a new name, new theme, and new artwork. This game has already been through several incarnations, but this new one puts a whole new spin on the theme by using the "Sluff Off" concept. I'm not crazy on the terminology or theme of this edition (for example, I prefer to call the Sluffer by its original name "Saboteur"), and I'm not convinced that there's thematic consistency between the blue/purple suits and the red/green/yellow suits which use the concept of shedding feathers/skin/wool. In fact some people I introduced the game to thought that the expression "sluff off" sounded vulgar, which is unfortunate. So I'm not sure this title was the best choice, but this is all a matter of personal taste; in reality it's largely a non-issue because the theme isn't really relevant to the game-play, and despite my misgivings with the theme/title, this in no way prevented us from having an absolute blast with the game.
Good variety for the EGG series: The EGG series is intended to provide portable small box games that function as fillers, and so far the series has excellent variety. But there's no trick-taking games, or for that matter any card games in the more traditional mould, so this title fills that niche just nicely, and is a welcome addition to the series.
What do others think?
So why might you not like this game? Obviously the theme and graphic design of this new edition will be a matter of personal taste, which some will dislike. But I wouldn't let this hold you back from picking up the game, especially if other editions aren't readily available. Some critics simply don't care for numbered trick-taking games, or the evaluation required for exact bidding, so if that describes you, then this is not a game for you. The field of exact bidding games is somewhat crowded, but even the critics acknowledged that the addition of the Sluffer role adds something new and interesting, although some felt that this ability was just too strong, and is too safe a bet. Personally, I like the slight chaos and unpredictability this introduces, and it's something that helps keep the game fresh and varied. And of course, if you prefer your trick taking games to be played with standard playing cards, that's another reason you might dislike Sluff Off. But even most of the people who don't like Sluff Off will tell you that if you enjoy contract trick-taking games, you'll likely love this one.
1. As a trick-taking game: Especially those who enjoy trick taking games have a lot of positive things to say about this game:
"Definitely one of my favorite card games of recent times. It has tight decisions and actions from other players mess the whole thing up nicely." - Reko
"Another trick taking game, but somehow the mechanics of the tokens and the saboteur, make it that little bit special." - PHIL4477
"Probably my favorite trick-taking game." - Bigft64
"The best trick taking game I've ever played and very different than most others in the genre." - pschwar
"A simple game at its core, but with a clever and well-crafted scoring system. The Saboteur is especially interesting." - pmagnus
"Very nice trick taking filler. Easy and fast paced. Recommended for families and recreational gaming." - Von Falkenheyn
"Another nice twist on trick-taking games." - themilkcrate
"One of the best trick-tacking games I've ever played ... It's not really a new game, but truly an excellent twist to trick-tacking in general." - Xoota
"After hundreds of plays I'm actually raising my rating. This game has a lot of staying power." - GlennG
"Currently my favorite trick taking game. Very tough bidding choices." - hpcthulhu
"Pretty basic tricktaking game with bidding, and most importantly the fun role of Saboteur, which elevates it." - max_s
"The game is one of the best trick taking games I've played. Subtle tactics and strategies." - kendahlj
"It's awesome. Very fun trick-taking game. I would gladly play it anytime. It's much more interesting than the simple rules might let on." - Mike A
"One of the best trick taking games I have played. I love the nastiness of this game. It's just beautiful." - SwedeLad
"It gets a Top Shelf rating just for the bidding, the suspense of playing out a hand and the thrill of getting a score of 0 on a challenging hand." - Dave
"It takes a lot of skill to play well, yet it's not as brain-melty as some of the other card games fitting that description." - Glamorous Mucus
"Very well done trick taking game. It's a hit everytime we play it." - 2ndPlace
"After many plays of this game I have to bump it up to a "10"." - cbrua
"Great trick-taking game that really grows on you. The more experienced your opponents are, the harder it is to pull off a successful saboteur round." - kvn299
"Hands-down best trick-taking game out there. You can never be dealt a "bad hand" because it's all up to your bidding." - pschwar
"Excellent card game - easy to explain, and straightforward to play, but allows cunning card play." - Ed_the_Red
"Bidding trick-taking games are my favorite and this is one of the best." - PhotonStorm
2. Compared with other trick-taking game: Many also make positive comparisons with standard trick-taking games like Hearts and Spades, or with Oh Hell and Wizard:
"This one should be a classic ... this game is in the same calibre as Hearts and Spades except it seems more dynamic." - GlennG
"One of my favorite card games. It is like Spades or Hearts except you need to bid more specifically. One player has the opportunity to play the spoiler for everyone else." - Wrayman
"I would rather call this Spades extreme. My current favorite among trick-taking games." - byturn
"This is a wonderfully evil variation of Spades." - Verkisto
"This is a cross between Spades & Wizard and IMO features a much better, more improved scoring system (especially the Saboteur)." - Larry Chong
"There are other card games such as Wizard and Spades where you predict the tricks you will be taking. But this is more refined with further determining the number in each of 5 suits (colors), and with the addition of an official saboteur who by the way, can do no wrong." - familywontplay
"Great card game in the tradition of Wizard." - Ravenhoe
"It's meaner and more interesting than vanilla Wizard. I like it a lot." - smorange
"It's Oh Hell, but funner." - Hiko Bunta
"It's a five-suited game of Oh Hell! in which the entire deck is used each hand and players must predict not only how many tricks they will take, but which colors those tricks will be." - Glamorous Mucus
"The spice of the Saboteur turns this variant of Oh Hell into a tenser game." - PBrennan
"Excellent little game that brings an elegance to the stable of Prediction Whist games." - nickluft
"A very good variation on Nomination Whist, and the Saboteur gives that extra twist to make it superb." - Ed_the_Red
So is Sluff Off! for you? If you enjoy trick-taking games, then you definitely need to take a look at this one - it's one of the very best, and gameplay is tremendously tense and fun. Fans of games like Spades and Hearts may find that this game provides a interesting twist on the familiar standard trick-taking genre, while gamers who enjoy Oh Hell or Wizard will appreciate the new things that this game brings to the table, notably the bidding tokens, the saboteur role, and the use of five suits. Altogether these ingredients are part of a recipe that produces a high level of tension and excitement that few other trick taking games can match. There's just the right blend of skill and luck, ensuring that players who are good at evaluating their hand and playing it out skilfully will often be rewarded, while at the same time there's enough elements that keep the game casual and fun, giving everyone a chance.
Fans of trick taking games definitely owe it to themselves to check this game out, and almost certainly will enjoy it. I'm glad that this edition helps brings a modern "classic" back into print. It's in a new skin, but don't let the unusual name or theme turn you off - Sluff Off! is an ingenious little game that will prove to be a nice addition to most collections, especially gamers who enjoy traditional style cards or trick-taking games. Highly recommended!
The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
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- Last edited Mon Dec 19, 2016 3:13 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Mon Dec 19, 2016 12:53 am
I prefer the original graphics, but that is just personal; if the gameplay remains the same then I can heartily endorse getting a copy. Nice review!
Thanks for the review. This is a fun game, but the new name is horrible. All I know is that I once used the term "slough off" in a card game with another couple and the wife (a nurse) told me it's a term associated with menstruation. I've avoided using it in trick taking games (or in any situation really) ever since...
Thanks for the review.
First Zing! and now this. This is such an awful "theme" for this game... I can't imagine how anyone thought it would be appealing. It's rather lame.
Thankfully, I still have two sealed copies of the original version.
I was wondering what trick taking game could be better than Zing and it's the same game! I like the non-theme of Zing. No explanations needed around the theme that doesn't match.
Dist of Columbia
Confused...the back of the box says 2-4 players, but BGG's listing and your review claims the game is best with 5.
It looks identical to Die Sieben Siegel (other than the terrible graphics and theme) so should work from 3-5 very well. Don't think I would play it with two - are there special rules for this, in the original version it only plays with 3-5.
Confused...the back of the box says 2-4 players, but BGG's listing and your review claims the game is best with 5.
I hadn't noticed that, but you're quite right. It must just be an accidental mistake on the box back, because you can certainly play with 5 players, and the rulebook even includes instructions for that.