I recently bought Spite & Malice at Walmart (against my better judgment as I was pretty broke at the time). I'm glad I did, because it's a clever little game that seems to have enough strategy to warrant a decent replay value.
As most gamers know, getting non-gamers (and even sometimes avid gamers) to play a game can be a chore. I've found lite to medium complexity card games often serve as a gaming appetizer. It gets the non-gamer into the gaming mindset and makes other, more complex games easier to stomach. However, how many times can you play Uno, Rook, Chez Geek or Lunch Money? Thus, I like to pick up the occasional card game to add more variety in my offerings. They also have the added benefit of being highly portable and quick to teach.
I'm told this is based (or maybe even RIPPED-OFF; the jury's out) on an older game called Cat & Mouse. To be honest, I've never played it. I just saw the cute kitties with axes and bombs on the box and thought "Hmmm...this looks interesting".
Let's talk about the packaging a little bit.
I used to work for Hasbro (i.e. my handle) and I was the first to bad mouth their products (off the record, of course). I felt they charged too much for too little and meddled in games that ought not be meddled with. However, it seems that Hasbro may be making a turn-around (or maybe I'm not as bitter for being treated like a slave *grin*). The small box S&M (PUN DEFINITELY INTENDED) comes in is very sturdy and includes a divider and a slab of foam to tighten up the package. Instructions are neatly folded and fit easily in the box. The art work on the 110 cards is clever and the fonts are unique (even if the 3 is a little hard to read). The cards do have "a snap" to them (as advertised on the back of the box). All in all a top notch production.
I read over the rules sheet and was playing in under 10 minutes just as it advertised. The rules sheet is very clear and gives an example of how to set up the table (something many card games overlook).
The rules are really very simple. Most of the cards are numbered 1-13. There are additional "Wild" and "spite" cards. Wilds count as any number (other than 1,2,7 and 13) and spites are action card thrown in to mix things up (think "instants" in M:tG). Each player has a stack of 8 cards (only the top card of the stack is showing), a hand of 5 cards and 4 stacks of stored cards for later use cards (one card is placed from the hand on any of these stacks, once a turn). The object is to be the first to get rid of all of the cards in your stack by building piles of cards in the center from 1-13. If you lay the 13, you get to remove that pile from the game and add 1 card to your opponent's pile. You may build to the piles from your hand, stack, or store. You must place 1 card from your hand on your stores each turn (to end it). The spite cards do various things like switching hands or adding cards to stacks.
This makes for a quick and dirty game. You can fight off the winner, but they can retaliate at the right time too.
The rules are pretty elegant except for a few things: you MUST lay down a 1 (otherwise you could hold up the game) and you must play a 2 when able (you may not put them in storage. The Wild card restriction (no 1,2,7,13 substitutions) is a little kludgey too, but I can see why. There are probably a few house rules that can fix this, but I'd have to play a few more games (with a few more people) to decide on a balanced solution.
I've only played it with one person, but I can see the potential for a larger game. I gave it a solid 6 so it has room to grow. At $5.86, it is quite affordable and worth the purchase. I think I shall have to check out more card games.