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This guest review was written by Chris Fenton; lapsed blogger, father of two young boys, St Ives Board Game Group organiser, and a teacher who has spent years successfully integrating modern hobby board and card games into the classroom environment.
Freaky is a light family card game which revolves around matching from Amigo Spiel, from experienced designer Leo Colovini. In the game players are trying to claim rows of cards with the player who claims the most cards being crowned the winner. The game is for 2-5 plays and plays well with any player count. Games take anywhere from five to 25 minutes. The box lists the game as for ages 8+ but my son was four when I taught him to play and he fully understands the game and has taught others to play it. This is a very simple matching game with little to no theme, beyond the characters that populate the centre of the cards. The art is fun and the three major matching elements are clear and easy to distinguish between. The cards are of a high quality and durable and with the game currently available online for £8 this is great value. The game fits nicely into a pocket making it brilliantly portable; we have taken it with us on holiday, out to restaurants and on longer journeys.
Freaky is incredibly simple to teach. On your turn you do one of two things: add to an existing row of cards or start a new row. The aim is to have four matching cards in a row. Cards are matched either by background pattern, number colour or the number itself and a card can be placed onto a row as long as one of its features match at least one on the last card played into that row. After playing a card (or cards) into an existing row you check if you have four exact matches in the row and if you do the row is yours to claim. These cards are then set aside and are essentially your victory points for the end of the game. Alternatively you can start a new row by placing a card (or cards) down next to the current rows. This happens more rarely and mostly occurs as rows are claimed by other players. The players hand consists of three cards and players may play all three each turn. At the end of your turn you draw back up to three cards. Play continues until there are not enough cards in the draw deck for a player to draw to a hand of three; at which point claimed cards are counted and the player with the most is declared the winner.
The four sides
These are me, my wife, the teacher and my eldest son (aged five).
The eldest son (Recently turned five and interested in ‘daddy games’; competitive, but with a short attention span): This game is lots of fun. I like matching the cards and collecting the rows. I like to beat daddy at this game and we have played it in lots of different places. While some of daddy’s games are too complicated and need rules adjustments this one doesn’t; I am able to win the game without help and this feels like an achievement. I have been able to teach this game to mummy and to one of daddy’s friends, and I am looking forward to teaching it to my little brother.
Dad (An avid gamer who secretly prefers euros to thematic games, but don’t tell anyone!): When I was first shown Freaky I immediately saw the potential for some great family gaming. My son quickly understood how it played and clearly enjoyed the matching element. Due to the random nature of the card draw no-one can become a dominant player and the chances of winning are relatively equal; while the minimal number of decisions, and just three cards in hand, makes turns pass quickly and helps keep the younger ones interested. With more experienced gamers, this would make it a simple and fun game to get a games night started.
Mum (casual gamer at best, just about tolerates husbands growing gaming collection): It is fantastic that this is a quick game that takes up very little space but can entertain two of my boys while we are waiting for a meal, or on a long train journey. The fact my five-year-old was able to teach me how the game works speaks volumes to its simplicity and it has him practising his number, colour and shape recognition – but without appearing to be an educational game.
The inner teacher (me again: a primary school teacher always looking for ways to engage and educate pupils via board gaming.): The fact that a reception pupil was able to both learn the game quickly and teach others how to play showed its potential for use in the classroom setting. While it is not a games that can be used as an educational tool like some others (Rory’s Story Cubes, for example) I certainly saw a use for it. I introduced the game to my after school board gaming group and they all really enjoyed the simplicity of the game and the way the turns were so rapid. But if teaching lower age group pupils, Freaky will certainly be a game I always have at hand as it does a good job of sneakily reinforcing number, shape/pattern and colour recognition.
Freaky’s minimal number of options keeps the game simple and the pace of play high, while the game’s random nature tends to ensure players stay relatively level throughout. However this randomness is seen by some as one of the major weaknesses of the game, claiming there is little or no real decision making and how well you do only comes down purely to the draw. I agree the luck aspect of this is true, and if short, luck-driven games are a big turn off this is not for you: but to a point it is true for almost all games in which you draw a new hand from a shuffled deck every turn. And, especially with younger players, spotting the place to play is the real fun element.
Some gamers may also feel that, due to your limited options and the luck aspect of the draw, there are times when you will only be setting other players up on your turn. While it seems counterproductive to play anything less than the three cards in your hand, the option to hold cards is available to players. The rules state players “must play 1, 2, or 3 cards” from their hand, meaning you’re not obliged to play the full hand; usually, by not playing all your held cards, you can avoid setting other players up by strengthening a row too much. And the second option on a player’s turn allows them to begin a new row, as long as a card cannot be played legally elsewhere, allowing for limited tactical choices. As a light, small box card game Freaky does many things very well, but gamers shouldn’t be expecting a brain burning game of strategy. The game will offer nothing more than a quick distraction for the more serious gamers, who will probably find the randomness and limited choices a weakness of the game as opposed to a strength. But as a game where you children can soon compete with you on a relatively even footing, it ticks many boxes.
Freaky has quickly become a firm favourite in our household, as its overall simplicity means all members of the family can take part and enjoy the game. The randomness guarantees age or experience don’t give players an edge, as long as the younger ones really concentrate (I don’t think I won a single game in our first five plays). The colourful cards, with their strange, furry, number creatures, are eye-catching and engaging. Even my two-year-old son wants play the game and has been able to play (as part of a team with mummy or daddy) a little already. I can certainly see this as a game that will continue to be played in our family well into the future and this is where the game is best suited; as a quick, simple and fun family card game which is enjoyable for all players.