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Subject: Refuse to Lose; Choose Ruse & Bruise! P.S.: Fuse, Pews, Muse, Abuse rss

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Eric Clark
United States
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Here we have a splendid bit of heavy filler released not so very long ago by Hans Im Gluck and Rio Grande. Its small, unassuming box and embarrassing title (in English, anyway) caused it to fly under many a radar system, resulting in a distinctive "overlooked gem" aspect. Not one of the really good gems, like a diamond or emerald, mind you. More like a citrine. Or a garnet, maybe.

But I digress. Ruse & Bruise is a card game for two to six players, lasting around forty minutes, with a very Faidutti-ish feel. It's even illustrated by Julien Delval, Bruno Faidutti's frequent artistic collaborator. Fans of Citadels, Castle, and Fist of Dragonstones, with their prominent but somewhat restrained screwing of opponents and sowing of chaos, would do well to investigate this game's merits. So strong is the Faidutti vibe here that I've had to assure people "Yes, I am certain that Lutz Stepponat designed this game" on more than one occasion. You may encounter similar difficulties.

But I digress. The general idea here is that each participant is given an identical deck of character cards (with red, blue, yellow, green, white, and black backs for player identification) which they will use to compete for "goal cards" in six suits (crossed swords, mandolins, gold coins, corn, funny red hats, and glass containers of some sort for which there is undoubtedly a scientific name that I don't know). At the beginning of each of the six rounds, a number of goal cards equal to the number of players are drawn and lined up. One might think that you would want to include only as many suits as there are players, since the game features six of those as well, but that's not the case. Some goal cards just won't make it into play if you don't have six players, and this can lead to some diminished usefulness of certain character cards, along with a certain amount of bellyaching when someone lacks only a corn card for a complete set at the game's conclusion and reveals a whole field's worth of it in the unused pile.

But I digress. When it's your turn, you select a character card from your hand (which has a constant size of three), play it face down in the column of your choice (one for each goal card currently up for grabs), and expose the face-down character card which precedes yours in that column, if there is one. Each of the twenty-five characters has a numeric value, 20 being the highest, and many of them have some sort of special ability as well. Some of these abilities get triggered when the card is exposed; others take effect only when the current round concludes. When all is said and done, the player with the highest total in a column will take its goal card, but these special abilities can wreak all sorts of havoc with what would otherwise be a matter of simple arithmetic. They also wreak another, more irritating form of havoc; they necessitate constant reference to the game's instructions until everyone has them memorized. Why? Because the card text is frequently incomplete or misleading, with the biggest offender by far being the Assassin. The card states that he eliminates (discards) the character he reveals. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Since he, like every other character card, is played face down, only his owner should know he's the Assassin. In actual fact, he eliminates the character card that reveals him. That's a pretty severe error, but it does make some sense, when you think about it. When you're an assassin, what do you do: target a particular victim, or just go to a certain place and stab the next person who lines up behind you? Yeah, I thought so. (Also, one of the other cards in each player's deck is the Storm. How exactly does one assassinate a storm?)

But I digress. To sum it up, rulebook text takes precedence over individual card text. These consultations will slow the game down at first, but once everyone is up to speed, it'll generally adopt the rompish, chaotic nature that one would expect from a game of its ilk. A player who goes through his or her character deck reshuffles the discards and starts anew, but will probably only get one or two more turns; the game is nicely paced that way. Whoever has the highest total value in amassed goal cards (worth one to five points each) will win, unless someone accumulates one of each suit, which allows them to use a slightly different scoring method (2x the value of the six card set, -1 for each additional card) that will probably give them the victory instead. Mind you, this isn't the sort of game in which one should attach a huge amount of significance to winning and losing. Since you're dealing with nothing but cards, Lady Luck has a few methods to really have her way with you; Romeo on the top of your deck and Juliet at the bottom, ditto Prince and Squire, all the goal cards of one suit being clumped together...

But I digress. Bottom line: This is a fun and underappreciated game. It's chaotic, but not impervious to strategy. It's not such a great choice for six players since the length-to-depth ratio starts to become undesirable, but with three or four it's a great amount of game for just some cards in a box. You may even like it enough to forgive the stupid title, but I'm not foolish enough to guarantee you that.
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