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Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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Zaubercocktail is a non-turn-based commodity trading game in which players trade commodity cards through open outcry in an attempt to gather the most valuable sets. In this respect it bears some resemblance to Pit. If you enjoy a raucous game that will draw in a lot of players (especially late at night,) this is an attractive new option.

The game includes 151 commodity cards plus 4 wild "Black Thing" cards. The commodities are depicted using a magic-related theme and vary widely in value and rarity. There are 27 of the lowly Blue Schlums; a set of 2 Blue Schlums is worth only 8, but a set of 7 is worth 63; as the number in a set increases, the value of each card goes up. There are only 5 Gold Roses, so they are much harder to collect, but a set of 2 is worth 62 and a set of 3 is worth 96. You can't turn in a set of more than 7 Blue Schlums or 3 Gold Roses (though if you have more you can keep the extras for a future round.) The Black Things can be added to any set (but cannot be played on their own; you must have at least one natural card in a set.)

The game also includes a set of 10 "Recipe" cards. Nine of them display the victory points on offer for a round, but the tenth is the "Magic Lightning" card that ends the game immediately when it appears. You shuffle the Magic Lightning card into the bottom 4 cards of the Recipe deck; thus, the game will end after 7 to 10 rounds. This assures that no player knows exactly when the game will end (unless it goes to 10 rounds.) As a result, you have to think about saving for next round; if you blow it all on the current round, you're taking a risk. Recipe cards come in several types. The highest-scoring cards pay 6 VP for first place, 4 for second, 2 for third and minus 3 for last. The lowest-scoring cards pay 4 VP for first, 2 for second, 1 for third and minus 1 for last. The recipe card is revealed before trading for the round begins so players know how hard to push for points.

At the start of the game each player is dealt 10 cards at random. You place your score marker at zero on the score track and place the glass stone of the matching color on the table in front of you. Once players have arranged their hands and a recipe card is revealed, trading begins. Unlike in Pit, players describe their offers to each other and negotiate acceptable trades (you must bargain honestly.) Sets traded may include unequal numbers of cards; you will usually have to offer more than one Blue Schlum to get a Gold Rose, for example. The names of the commodities are in German, but we found it easy to use the colors once we agreed that the Giraextracts are "turquoise." The trading phase involves a lot of hollering and interrupting---"I'll trade you a blue for a turquoise." "I need more than a blue for my turquoise." "If he won't trade you a turquoise for a blue, I will!"

The first player who is ready to stop trading places his or her glass stone on the board in a specified spot to signify that he or she is finished. That player lays his or her hand on the table and may no longer trade. This involves a risk, because the other players may continue trading, and as explained later, the first player to stop trading is making a 2 VP bet that he or she will finish with one of the top four scores for the round (top three in a four or five player game.) A second and a third player place their own glass stones in different spots on the board when they are finished trading, and at that point trading ends for everyone (the third player in our games yells out "Stop!")

At this point, each player selects one or two types of commodity to lay down. You may lay down cards in a commodity only if you have at least two cards (including Black Things.) If you believe you can finish first, second or third, or if you were first to stop trading, you will often lay down two types of commodity, but otherwise you may very well lay down just one type to save cards unless you fear coming in last. Players lay down their sets face down and reveal them simultaneously, adding the points and assigning VP accordingly based on the Recipe card. If you do not have even a single pair, you display your hand to prove your claim and you lay down nothing. If you were first out you receive 2 additional VP (or lose 2 VP if you did not finish in the top four.) Scores are cumulative from hand to hand. Your score can go below zero, but it cannot go below minus 3; any penalty beyond that point has no effect. Any cards laid down for scoring are placed in the discard pile.

Once scoring is complete, each player is dealt five more commodity cards (reshuffle the commodity deck if it runs out) and a new Recipe card is revealed. The game ends when the Magic Lightning card appears. The game can also end if a player makes it to 30 VP; this seems unlikely based on our experience.

Opinions about Zaubercocktail varied widely among the people I played with. Some people enjoy the chaos and interaction while others despise it. If you've played Pit, it will serve as a good reference point; the feel of the two games is roughly similar (and they sound somewhat alike if you're trying to sleep in a nearby room!) Both games are particularly engaging for a largish group late at night when you're tired and don't want to think too much.

Zaubercocktail is somewhat more complex than Pit, especially in the scoring. On the other hand, players don't really need to know how to score; it's clear that larger sets and sets of the rarer commodities are worth more, and you can just lay down your one or two sets and let someone else score. Zaubercocktail is more suitable than Pit for younger players in that you don't suffer the disappointment of receiving the Bear in a trade (something that makes Pit hard to take for many children I play with.) The box says the game works for ages 8 and up, and I agree with this evaluation. Every trade provides a benefit to each participant, and you know what you're getting before you make the trade. If you lay down only a few cards in one round, you gain a larger hand for later; this self-balancing feature gives every player a chance to get a big score at some point. Zaubercocktail is also immune to the "lockup" problem in Pit (if one player in Pit collects the Bull and one of each commodity, the game will never end.)

Zaubercocktail may not work with "serious" gaming groups. It works well with a more lighthearted group, or at a larger get-together where those who aren't interested in this type of game can play something else. It's also a good choice for non-gaming families, especially if you have that awkward 6 or 7 number that's so hard to deal with. I see no reason the game couldn't work even for 8 or 9 if you supply your own scoring and end of trading markers for the extra players.

Eric's rating: 7. This is a game I'm happy to have in my collection for the right occasion. I won't be carrying it out to my regular group regularly, but I'll be taking it when I go to conventions or to visit family.
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Dave VanderArk
United States
Coopersville
Michigan
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Re:User Review
Eric Brosius (#36996),
Thanks for such a detailed review. I received a copy of this game as a throw-in in a trade not too long ago, and wasn't sure I'd ever play it. It sounds perfect for a big group as a late night closer. I'll try to get it to the table in the next week or two, as I'll be gaming with a large group of people over the course of 4 days.
 
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