Should I Buy the Buka?
This review of the Buka Invasion deck (Blue Moon) is aimed at the casual Blue Moon player who has collected some, or all, of the eight base people decks (without having explored the Emissaries and Inquisitors Expansion decks) and is wondering whether the Buka deck is a meaningful addition to, or an unnecessary complication of the game. I must prefix my review by saying that I am a completionist, and whilst not being at all enamoured of the seeming departure in game mechanics of the Buka deck from the eight base peoples, purchased it anyway so that my OCD compulsions could be appeased.
And thank goodness I did!
I am presuming that the reader is au fait with the basic Blue Moon rules. As with all the best games, Blue Moon's rule-set is deceptively simple on first play, yet delightfully intricate the more you delve into the game.
The two new mechanics added by the Buka deck are Bluffing and Ships. These both fit in perfectly with the crafty Asian-origin pirates depicted in Steve Prescott's exquisite artwork.
Ships are a way of putting aside 2 to 4 cards (depending on which ship you use) so that you can offload them onto your hapless opponent at a later stage in the game. Ships are played into the Influence Area (opposite side to the Leadership Area) at the Beginning of Turn phase, instead of a Leadership card. You fill them with any cards you wish from your hand (except Leadership or Influence cards), face-up, instead of playing Support cards during the appropriate phase of your turn. There are enough Buka Character/ Leadership cards with special power text enabling you to play more than one Support card per turn to allow you to mitigate the potential loss of playing a card in the Support/ Booster phase when loading a ship. Ships in the Influence Area aren't discarded when a fight is over either, and you can be loading more than one ship at a time. It is one of the joys of the game to watch the growing consternation on your opponent's face as your arsenal of ships fills with cards. You can land a ship at the Beginning of Turn phase instead of playing a Character card and, as the Buka Character cards are treated as Free if played from a ship, you can offload an entire ship's worth of cards into the combat/ support area to potentially annihilate the opposition and secure a dragon or two.
I concur with other BGG contributors comments on loading a ship - don't be too fussy about which cards you put into your ships! Any card loaded into a ship is another empty slot in your hand for drawing from the deck at the end of your turn. For this reason the ship 'Sea Devil' is a gem as it allows you to immediately load 3 cards onto it, meaning you get to draw 5 or 6 new cards at the end of your turn and can potentially land a fully loaded ship at the start of your next turn.
Bluffing was the Buka deck concept with which I had the biggest gripe before actually playing it. Why introduce a gambling/ poker type element into a fighting card game?
All but 4 of the Buka Character cards have the Bluff icon on them. There are few Support/ Booster cards (see below) meaning lots of Characters in the deck and lots of Bluff icons. You play a Character card face-down during the support/booster phase if you want to bluff, where it is treated as having a value of 2 in the current element and is played into the Support area. The element of the Bluff icon on the Character card is depicted as orange for Fire (3 of these in the Deck), black for Earth (3 of these) or white for Empty Bluff (12 of these). Once you announce your power for the turn your bluff is set, and your opponent can decide, at the start of their turn, to accept your bluff and play their cards or call your bluff. The element is the bit that's a bluff or not. So if your opponent calls your bluff, they're saying that you've lied about the element on the Bluff icon of your face-down Character card. As you can see from the relative distribution of elements and Empty Bluff icons, the more often you use the bluff the more likely you are to be caught out by your opponent. The penalty for 'fibbing' is the immediate loss of a dragon AND retreat, conceding at least one more dragon. If you're really good at pretending to be anxious and get your opponent to call your bluff mistakenly (ie you weren't lying about the Bluff element), they immediately concede a dragon to you, all your bluff cards in play are discarded and the fight goes on.
This last scenario is where the craftiness of Reiner Knizia shines through. Your opponent may choose to take a 1 dragon loss in order to get rid of your support cards (ie bluff cards), reduce the power they need to match and perhaps end up taking the fight by 2 dragons overall.
There are only 2 designated Support Cards and 1 Booster Card in the deck and the Buka Character card values are relatively low compared with some other decks (eg Terrah, Vulca). You therefore cannot play the Buka without bluffing at some point during the game to supplement your power. Do it too little and you'll easily be out-muscled by some of the other decks. Do it too often and you'll bleed dragons until you're dry.
A few last words on bluffing. There is an 'out' for the bluffer. If the Element of the fight changes (eg Mutant), or the fight is going on longer than you'd anticipated and you're worried that the opponent will call your bluff and catch you out, you can discard your bluff cards at any Beginning of Turn phase. It also helps, if you're playing against the Buka, to keep a mental note of how many Fire or Earth Bluff icons have come up during the game. The bluff cards all have to be revealed to you at the end of the fight and there are only 3 of each element in the Buka deck.
Other Deck Components
The remainder of the deck is peppered with icons and special power text. It's almost as if it was decided that they might as well throw in one of each icon (except the Gang icon and Pair icon) to keep things interesting. There's the only (to my knowledge) Character card with both a Protected icon and special power text, a Retrievable Character card, a Free Booster card, a non-Mutant Character with both Stop icon and Shields and even 2 character cards with no icon at all (a rare occurrence in this deck).
The B.P. (Brotherhood of Pirates) character cards each have special power text which, when the right conditions are met (and these are different for each card) allow them to be played as if Free (unless they're played from a landed Ship, in which case they're effectively free anyway).
Lastly, to add variety to your favourite preassembled people deck, there's a way of including Buka cards into it. There are 6 Buka families of five cards each, labelled on the cards as Ba to Bf. Simply take a family out each (you and your opponent) and add it to each of your chosen people decks to increase the number of cards from 30 to 35 (+Leader). I haven't tried this one yet, but it could add variety to the preassembled decks if you want an intermediate to Deck Building.
The Buka is, to steal others' words, a finesse deck; a love-it-or-hate-it deck. The Flit probably also fits this description. I thought that it seemed gimmicky and contrived at first glance, clanging with the gradual deck progression of previous peoples. Pirate poker without a traitor or mutant, who'd want to play that? Well, I would actually!
This is a great example of not taking things at face value. After a few plays it quickly becomes evident that the Buka fit into the Blue Moon family perfectly and that the two new mechanics are well balanced enough to complement, rather than overpowering, the other decks. They're a brain-burner at first, trying to 'resource manage' your cards so that you can load ships whilst not neglecting the current fight. Trying to keep track of how many Bluffs of an element you've played before so that your opponent doesn't catch you out on the one turn that you fake it. There's also an increased element of luck of the draw with this deck, as there is with the Pillar. If the ships aren't coming out, it could be a short game for the Buka.
Buka Invasion is up there with the best Blue Moon decks, if you give it a chance. You may get trounced the first few times you play it, but as with the Flit or Mimix, if you put the time in it will reward you handsomely. I rate it an 8 out of 10.
Word is that the decks are out of print, so if you're sitting on the fence about whether or not to buy to Buka, I suggest you go out and grab a deck or two today!
I am presuming that the reader is au fait with the basic Blue Moon rules.
I wasn't au fait with au fait.
SoRCon 11 23-25 Feb 2018 Basildon UK http://www.sorcon.co.uk
It's almost as if it was decided that they might as well throw in one of each icon (except the Gang icon and Pair icon) to keep things interesting.
Well, not quite. But doing something new wasn't a negative, and was a positive in at least one case.
There's the only (to my knowledge) Character card with both a Protected icon and special power text
Yes, it's the only one. As for why, I think you might find my article on creating the Buka deck at http://www.mnemosyne.demon.co.uk/bgames/bluemoon - same page as the FAQ list - of interest.
2 character cards with no icon at all (a rare occurrence in this deck).
I can't recall if this is in the article or not. But having such characters (first one, then two) with no BLUFF icon was a design feature in order to provide the Buka with some outs against anti-icon text (and they are among the stronger characters to be useful then).