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Subject: Why I prefer Hearts to Indulgence rss

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Chris G
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I have to preface this by admitting I haven't played this game very many times. But my limited experience has told me enough to know this game is not for me and I've attempted to articulate why as accurately as possible below.

I tend to enjoy trick taking games. The genre includes one of my very favorite games (Tichu) and a number of other clever designs. However, I have one very simple base-line rule as to whether a trick-taking game is worth owning:

It has to be as good as hearts.

Hearts is a great game, only requiring a deck of cards for a fun, accessible experience that generates drama and excitement.

Of course, if a game isn't at all like hearts (Black Hat, Joraku) or works for player counts that don't for hearts (Haggis), different rules apply.

But Indulgence is like hearts. It's a largely abstract, relatively pure trick taking game with shooting-like mechanics. The variable rules and ability to choose rules that fit with your hand are nice concepts. But despite these twists, Indulgence loses much of the drama that makes hearts great.

Why?
1) There's no queen of spades - one of the great dramatic features of hearts in each hand is who is going to take the deadly queen of spades. Until that card comes out, everyone is on edge, trying to avoid being the one who has to take it because 13 points for a single card is a substantial blow. It adds risk, drama, and uncertainty to most of the tricks: even taking a harmless couple of diamonds with your ace could see the queen dumped on you by the person who somehow got rid of them all. Each spade played is going to be threatening to someone who's got just a few spades left and an ugly ace or king that they may be forced to play.

Indulgence doesn't have any such drama. In most cases, it's a lot like playing hearts without the queen.

2) You MUST decide whether to shoot at the start - this is an underrated problem. Shooting in hearts can be an art of bluffing as much as brute force. Letting people get rid of their high cards earlier and choosing when to take the lead and start your shoot can be a matter of expert timing. Similarly, you might stumble your way into a shooting attempt by accidentally taking the queen and some hearts, then realizing that everyone has carelessly gotten rid of the high cards they'd need to stop you. This uncertainty isn't necessary in all trick-taking games (Tichu has high enough tension in each hand that declaring it at the start isn't so problematic). But it's a great feature of a "shoot the moon" mechanic and its absence here is a shame.

3) It's easier to shoot in Indulgence (usually) - I haven't played every edict, but most sins will only require having anywhere between 2-4 high cards for success, especially given the sizable advantages of the indulgence and the lead on turn one. The fact that there are fewer cards often means there are fewer chances to stop the sinner, fewer trumps for them to have to take, etc. Some hands, you will know before you even play that you can't be stopped, no matter what. That's so much rarer in games like hearts and tichu (and there, those assessments can likely be wrong - not usually in indulgence).
I'm not counting the "papal bull shooting" where you win the game immediately, because that's actually too unlikely for you to succeed to be viable in all but the rarest of hands a) where a bull is used and b) where you have the perfect hand for it. It's not likely to be a factor in all but the rarest of games or the most desperate of shooting attempts. The papal bull shooting is nice, but you probably won't see it successfully done more than once or twice. Which is as it should be for an insta-win shoot, but it's not really a regular feature of the game-play at all.

4) It's less risky to shoot too - the average sinning penalty of 6 florins isn't a huge penalty when you'd expect to lose somewhere between 1-4 on an average hand. When you shoot and miss in hearts, you take a huge, sometimes catastrophic hit (usually 20 or so points). Here? You missed. Oops. 6 dollars please. Of your 30.

Between points 3 and 4, sinning attempts tend to be common occurrences, and the stakes just aren't as high as hearts. The very concept of shooting the moon needs it to be challenging and at least uncommonly difficult. Here it doesn't feel as skillful when you do, opponents have fewer chances to stop you, there's no bluffing involved, and the stakes of whether you succeed or fail are too low.

The end result of all of these differences is this: the individual hands of Indulgence feel less consequential, less tense, and less exciting than any hand of hearts.

The twists of the edicts and bulls don't add enough excitement to make up for it: as a ruler, your choice of edict isn't as consequential as it seems (from my experience anyway) as you're likely to get roughly the same amount of money. MOST of the edicts aren't really different enough to dramatically change the experience of playing each hand: it's kind of like varying which suit is hearts in most cases. Often, you'll be picking to avoid choosing one that's easy to sin, which is not a fun way to pick. Moreover, if someone sins, the ruler is disproportionately affected as you lose your main chance to make money. In hearts, if someone shoots, everyone but the shooter takes an equal hit. Here? You got sinned. Bad luck.

Conclusion
I like Restoration Games and what they're doing. Finding and restoring old classics with high quality productions is a great endeavor.

If you are someone who enjoys trick taking games for different reasons, Indulgence might hit your sweet spot. It has a number of the same features as classic trick-taking games with a twist and presents them in a fantastic package. You might not WANT your shooting to be high difficulty, high risk, high reward and instead prefer more shooting with lower stakes. You might not WANT to worry about the queen of hearts every hand, or enjoy trying to lay that trap on an unsuspecting player.

But I do. To me, that tension and excitement are at the very core of hearts - indeed most traditional style card games - and are what makes them fun.

I don't need all of my trick taking games to be as deep and rich as Tichu. I'm not an "advanced-or-bust" kind of player. But hearts is a truly great game and has proven to be accessible and popular over the years.

In my opinion, you're better off sticking with the deck of cards you've got at home. For me, Indulgence just served as a reminder of what a great design Hearts is.

Edit: typo (high instead of low)
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Panagiotis
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This is a very helpful review. Wish there were more reviews by way of comparison to a single other baseline game.
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Michael Frost

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Though with today's modern trick-taking games, the designers appear to want to go down one of two routes:

1. Those that are tied to your ability to estimate the number and/or kind of tricks you take. See Sponsio.

2. Using either the trick-taking or just the playing of the card (even if you don't take a trick) to "do something". See Cobras and Joraku.

And there is that recent great game that is a modern classic in the genre, Diamonds.
 
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Brian C
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Nice review. You've expressed well the thoughts I had after some plays of this game. Still, I'd never choose to play hearts with our family of 4 for a couple reasons...Do you play 4 player hearts? I haven't tried forever, but I always require at least 5. Also, for many of the very points you mention in your review, I think that Indulgence levels the playing field between different skill levels.

So maybe Indulgence is a glitzy, watered-down version of the real thing, but it has its place, and in my current circumstances (lacking a core group of trick taking enthusiasts) is more likely to get played, and enjoyed by all players.
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Ryucoo
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I like Indulgence as I have found it a fantastic attempt at turning a classic card game (which is not always that attractive to newbies and modern boardgamers) and 'gameified' it significantly enough that it's a satisfying package to bring to any table, not looking out of place alongside any other designer game one could offer up on gamesnight.

Yes, shooting for the moon is a little easier but for those less expert at Hearts, trick taking games or classic card games in general, this means we actually get to SEE someone shoot for the moon once in a while, rather than be a challenge most casual players disregard. In our games, we still don't see people shooting that often so the game is probably benched just right for intermediate players who want a taste (or can be 'tricked' into tasting) a trick taking game that doesn't feel like 'boring old cards'.

Incidentally I don't remember Hearts setting up the shooting mechanic as an option that could be taken stealthily, mid game. Must be my memory, we probably played that way but the 'choose first' rule in Indulgence didn't particularly jar when we first played. This could probably be incorporated into the game of Indulgence with a simple variant.

I do remember missing the queen mechanic though, maybe this too could be reintroduced via a variant?

Either way, I suspect you could, should you want to, customise your experience of Indulgence to push it closer to hearts, and that would mean you not only get your Hearts experience, but also the variable edicts (which to me are very varied and game-changing, and are far more than just a simple suit change - are you missing edicts in your version?), plus the wonderful art and gems which turn the concept from an austere standard deck game into a modern day 'board' game more people will be excited to play.



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Justin Jacobson
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Thank you for this extremely thoughtful review. You've outlined some of the major design differences between hearts and Indulgence very well. To give you a bit of insight: In designing Indulgence, we were not trying to make a strict hearts clone. The differences were designed to make the game less swingy and increase tension over time rather than in immediate moments.

For a lot of people, such as yourself, these differences make Indulgence less fun. For others, it will make it more fun. That's what makes games great -- there's something out there for everyone.
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Arnaldo Horta Jr
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chg21012 wrote:


1) There's no queen of spades - one of the great dramatic features of hearts in each hand is who is going to take the deadly queen of spades. Until that card comes out, everyone is on edge, trying to avoid being the one who has to take it because 13 points for a single card is a substantial blow. It adds risk, drama, and uncertainty to most of the tricks: even taking a harmless couple of diamonds with your ace could see the queen dumped on you by the person who somehow got rid of them all. Each spade played is going to be threatening to someone who's got just a few spades left and an ugly ace or king that they may be forced to play.

Indulgence doesn't have any such drama. In most cases, it's a lot like playing hearts without the queen.



This is actually one of the reasons I like Indulgence more than Hearts. The Queen of Spades the Hearts's "Take That" moment. I like hearts, but there are some people I just can't play it with. My wife and I used to lay it with this other couple and every time I had the Queen, one of the people in the other couple would get REALLY ANGRY whenever she got the Queen of Spades. I would have to play Spades or Bridge with them, but never hearts....
 
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Chris G
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JustinDJacobson wrote:
Thank you for this extremely thoughtful review. You've outlined some of the major design differences between hearts and Indulgence very well. To give you a bit of insight: In designing Indulgence, we were not trying to make a strict hearts clone. The differences were designed to make the game less swingy and increase tension over time rather than in immediate moments.

For a lot of people, such as yourself, these differences make Indulgence less fun. For others, it will make it more fun. That's what makes games great -- there's something out there for everyone.


I couldn't agree more. I hope I was clear that this is a matter of preference rather than lazy design. There will certainly be players who prefer this style of trick taking game. Perhaps it says something about my tastes that I prefer more moment to moment drama and bigger swings. I wouldn't say anyone who's disagreed with this review is wrong. They just want something different from their trick taking games.

It's my hope that there will be people who read my review/the comments and decide it is still for them. I'm particularly intrigued by your comment on the increased drama over time: that wasn't my experience because I wasn't as invested in the game by that point but I can see how players more fond of the hand to hand play of Indulgence would get that arc.

This one wasn't for me, but keep up the great work!
 
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Justin Jacobson
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chg21012 wrote:
I couldn't agree more. I hope I was clear that this is a matter of preference rather than lazy design.

Absolutely. Hence my thanks.

Quote:
I'm particularly intrigued by your comment on the increased drama over time: that wasn't my experience because I wasn't as invested in the game by that point but I can see how players more fond of the hand to hand play of Indulgence would get that arc.

Oftentimes, in Hearts, when a player shoots the moon, that can eliminate some of the drama in the game. Particularly if someone else then tries to come back by attempting a risky moonshot and ending up so far in the hole that the end result is little in doubt. In Indulgence, we tried to make it somewhat easier to sin but minimize the swing both on success and failure. As you've noted, the biggest problem with the sin can be the ruler's loss of income. This also makes the ruler's choice of edict important. For me, trying to find an edict that I know will net me some coin but won't entice someone else to sin is one of the hardest most deliciously challenging parts of the game.
Quote:
This one wasn't for me, but keep up the great work!

Thanks again!
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O.Shane Balloun
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chg21012, personally, I agree with you. Hearts is such an outstanding game, that I too use the same heuristic to decide whether to keep trick-taking games. If it's not at least as fun as Hearts, then I slough it <--- see what I did there? And, like you, I think the queen of spades, the ability to decide to shoot the moon late in the hand, the difficulty of shooting, and the risk are all positives about Hearts. We would enjoy trick-taking games together, I'm sure.

However, I say this for the benefit of posterity: if Indulgence was expressly designed to smooth the edges of Hearts, then it is obviously targeting a different demographic—one less engaged by the risk and tension of Hearts.

Anyway, I think your thoughtful review will nicely distinguish the two games for both types of players. More cutthroat gambit-loving types may well ought to play Hearts. Players who prefer closer calls may want to indulge themselves in a new game.
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Rick Janssen
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chg21012 wrote:


2) You MUST decide whether to shoot at the start - this is an underrated problem. Shooting in hearts can be an art of bluffing as much as brute force. Letting people get rid of their high cards earlier and choosing when to take the lead and start your shoot can be a matter of expert timing. Similarly, you might stumble your way into a shooting attempt by accidentally taking the queen and some hearts, then realizing that everyone has carelessly gotten rid of the high cards they'd need to stop you. This uncertainty isn't necessary in all trick-taking games (Tichu has high enough tension in each hand that declaring it at the start isn't so problematic). But it's a great feature of a "shoot the moon" mechanic and its absence here is a shame.



Secret Power Plays in Dragonmaster were just this. If you had a bad ("good") hand, but not perfectly bad, you could start by bluffing as if you were trying to avoid the tricks. Then, once players had dumped their high cards you could flip and start to clean up with yours. It added so much tension to most hands trying to make sure that not one player got all of the bad cards.

I feel that some semblance of a Secret Power Play (Secret Sin?) on those Edicts where it would make sense would do so much to add some tension and second guessing as to how to play your hand. As it is, if no one is Sinning then most players easily dump off their bad cards with no regard for who takes them.

I agree that some Edicts are too easy to win by Sinning, but a lot of them are way too hard...if the other players know you're trying to Sin.
 
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Doug Birdwise
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I enjoyed your review and all of the thoughtful comments by others about this game and how it compares to others. Thanks to all for the civilized forum!
 
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I do enjoy Indulgence in certain types of more casual social gatherings than is fitting for Hearts. Like Bridge, Hearts can often have a residual metagaming component that is not always pleasant. I learned this the hard way while playing Hearts on a cruise on the St. Lawrence River. I can't imagine this happening with Indulgence.

That being said, I basically agree with all your statements regarding a comparison of the two games.
 
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