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Subject: What makes Canasta Caliente so "Caliente"? rss

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Matt Posey
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Bakersfield
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I have enjoyed playing Canasta for over 10 years now and just recently received Canasta Caliente as a birthday present. I had seen it in stores, but had never played it before, so I was interested in seeing what made it so "Caliente". This review was written with the assumption that the reader would know how to play regular Canasta and is interested in finding out what makes this version "Caliente". Here is what I found.

What you Actually Get:
Cards - The game comes with 110 playing cards of good quality and decorated nicely. None of the cards have suits, and most of the cards are numbered. If a card had a special function in regular Canasta, it was replaced by a card saying what that function was. Here is a picture of these cards: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/133812. The following cards were replaced:

Black 3 = Stop
Red 3 = Bonus
2 = Small Wild
Joker = Big Wild

Additionally, all the cards have their point value printed on the card as well. So 4-7 have a 5 on them, 8-King have a 10, Ace and "Small Wild" have a 20, etc. The game comes with 110 cards because in addition to the 108 cards that it normally takes to play a game of Canasta, 2 Caliente cards were also added. I will explain what these cards do later. Replacing cards with the special cards help people remember what each card did. Now instead of trying to get a Canasta of 2s, people will remember that they are actually Wild Cards. Printing the point value of the card on the card is also helpful, especially when trying to lay down your first meld. Both of these are good ideas.

Instructions - The game comes with a set of rules that is fairly easy to understand, and also has rules for 2-6 player Canasta. The 5 & 6 player versions seem silly though, because it makes people sit out each hand. If you have that many people, why not just play another game?

Box - The box claims that this is "Official Version", but what is it the "Official Version" of? Canasta? Canasta Caliente? I hope this is the offical version of Canasta Caliente and not some no-name knock-off brand that I have never heard of ! But seriously, the box is of good quality and will not fall apart after your first couple of games. To help their marketing, Hasbro made the box larger than needed. Because the box is larger than needed, they decided to fill in that extra empty space with a piece of foam so the cards would not move around. Thanks for the all the extra packaging Hasbro. I do appreciate paying extra for the larger box and piece of foam.

How you actually play:
The instructions include two different ways to play: regular Canasta and Canasta Caliente. Regular Canasta is just canasta and is not played with the Caliente cards. The rules state that it is draw 1 and discard 1, but you could play however you wanted. It really does not matter. Canasta Caliente is the same as regular Canasta except that it adds the two Caliente Cards. When played instead of drawing a card at the beginning of a player's turn, these cards allow the player to replenish their hand back up to 11 cards. However, this card can only be played if you have fewer melds than your opponents, and it also subtracts 100 points from your score when played. If the player does not play this card and still has it in his hand at the end of the game, the player loses double the penalty value of all the cards left in his hand. If you discard the card, it simply acts like a Stop.

I like this idea, because sometimes during Canasta it seems like you cannot discard anything without the opposing team picking it up. This can be very frustrating, and this card can help fix that situation. The only problem I have with this card is that the team with the most points can still use it and not allow the losing team to catch up. Let me use an example of why this is a problem.

Example: Team A has 1400 points and Team B has 3300 points. However, during this past hand Team A got lucky and has about 8 melds on the table while Team B only has 2. Team B has very few cards in their hands, and everything that they discard is picked up by Team A. Team A keeps picking up the discard pile so they can score more points. They might not be ahead in points after this game, but they will have significantly reduced the lead that Team B had. All of a sudden, Team B plays the Caliente card, discards, and now has plenty of cards to choose from. They can now finish the hand without Team A scoring significantly more points.

Because Team B played the Caliente card, all the catching up that Team A could have done is now lost. Even though Team B was behind in that hand, they had a tremendous lead overall, and did not need any extra help from the deck. The Caliente card is a good idea, it is just implemented poorly. A good and simple house rule would say that the card can only be played if a team is behind in melds AND points. You could even count the Canastas already completed during the game as part of the points if you wanted.

Verdict:

Should you get this game? Well, it depends. This would be a good game to use if you want to teach people how to play Canasta. Clearly labeled wilds, stops, and bonuses can help new players learn how to play. The point values on the cards themselves also help new players learn. The Caliente cards also add a good idea, even if it does take a house rule to "fix". However, you cannot play any other card games with these cards, which makes it much more limiting than two regular decks. The extra large box also makes it bulkier to carry than two regular decks of cards.

In the end, I really cannot recommend buying Canasta Caliente. If you really want to help out new players, just write down on a piece of paper what the special cards are. There are only 4 of them. If you really want to play with the Caliente cards, buy three identical decks of cards, write "Caliente" on the jokers of the third deck, and throw the third deck away. Now go spend the $10 you just saved on a good original card game like BANG! that cannot be played with two normal decks of cards and but can be played with up to 7 people.
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Ivan thegreat
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Good review. I tend to agree about the caliente card and the how it can help out a team that is already beating you down. I have played this game WAY TOO MUCH. I hope I never play it again. It was very popular with my wife and a couple of our friends. It is not as Caliente as you think. Canasta is a good game but I agree that this just is Canasta with a card that can be very annoying. Although I have used it to lay down some punishment myself. I hope I have successfully left this game on the shelf for good. I have a feeling I will see it again though.
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Matt Posey
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If you are looking for a good card game that non-gamers would like, you really should try out [GAMEID=3955Bang!]. It is a fast card game with a spagetti-western theme, and allows 4-7 players to play. In fact, the more players there are, the better the game becomes. I just tried it out with a group of 5 non-gamers and everyone had a great time. My wife and her friends also really enjoy playing.
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