I had the pleasure of being introduced to this little known card game from Klaus Palesch (designer of Fossil) by Brent Carter at Ty Douds' home while vacationing in Tampa, Florida, and instantly took a liking to it. I'm discovering that I seem to enjoy the 'rummy' mechanism as used in several card games, including the Mystery Rummy series. This surprises me as I have never been a big fan of traditional style card games.
To quote the game's rules introduction, "In Robin Hood, players represent Robin's merry men and are trying to grab as much treasure as possible from the clutches of the Sheriff of Nottingham." Players can also steal treasures from other players, all in attempts to become the wealthiest merry man.
There are three suits in the game (red, yellow and blue) with four sets of 1 - 9 respectively. Each player is dealt nine cards to begin the game and cannot possess more than nine at the end of their turn. The remaining cards are stacked are set on the table and three cards are turned over as in Get the Goods, to be drafted from by the players.
On a player's turn, he may draft one or two cards from the three which are face up (the drafting cards). If you draft two, however, you MUST perform at least one action. If you choose only one, you MAY perform actions if you desire.
Actions take three forms:
1) Play a meld of three cards, thereby 'stealing' a treasure card from the sheriff. A meld must consist of 3 cards of the same suit and have consecutive numbers.
The highest valued card of the meld is then placed face-up in front of the player and will count for victory points at the end of the game if it is still there. The other two cards of the meld are discarded.
The player also takes a gold card from the sheriff (worth 3 points).
2) The player plays a meld of 3 cards with the same number and one or two suits in front of an opponent. The other player may counter this by playing a card from his hand with the same number as the meld played against him.
If the action is countered, the attacker must discard one of the three cards from the meld and take the remaining two back into his hand. The defender retrieves the card he played in defense.
If the action was not countered, the attacker steals the desired card from the opponent, places it face-up before him and discards the successful meld.
3) The player plays a meld of three cards with the same number and all three different suits in the same manner as listed above. This attack, however, cannot be countered. The attacker takes a card from the opponent's face up-cards and discards the successful meld.
Once a player has been successfully attacked, the 'Maid Marian' card is placed in front of him and he cannot be attacked again until Marian moves to another player who has been successfully attacked.
The idea is to secure as many cards as possible, preferably of high value, and to collect gold coins from the sheriff. All cards in front of a player are worth their face value at game's end and each gold card is worth 3 points.
The problem is that cards are easily stolen from each player. There is a way to protect them, however. If a player manages to collect three cards of the same suit in front him, they are all three protected and cannot be stolen. Thus, the timing of one's attacks and playing of melds is critical so one can collect two or three cards in one turn and protect his cards.
The game ends once the deck has been cycled through twice. The player with the greatest value of cards and coins face-up before him is the victor. Cards in the hand at game's end are worthless.
I've played numerous times and find the game consistently entertaining and challenging. Which cards to collect, how long to hold them, and the timing of one's thefts are all critical decisions. Further, the actions of your opponents, as well as the cards available in the drafting row, often force you to alter your strategies. I always find this 'forced alterration of strategies' to be a good thing as it usually prevents a game from becoming stale and forces players to adapt to various conditions as they arise during the game. It also tends to prevent the tactic of doggedly pursuing one strategy from beginning to end.
Admittedly, the game does have a few problems, but most are easily corrected. Six players is simply too many with only three cards in the 'drafting' row. As is, the cards you want will never be around by the time your turn arrives. The general consensus was that if being played with six players, place four or five cards in the drafting row. I have used this idea in subsequent playings with five or six players and found the results very satisfactory. Six players also causes some downtime between turns, but I, for one, don't feel this is excessive.
The game does have a potential 'kingmaker' problem as well. It's easy to envision the final player not being in contention to win but being able to steal a card from one of several players which would ultimately determine the victor. It hasn't happened in the games I've played, but it could easily occur.
In spite of this, I enjoy the feel and flow of the game. I think there are enough things to think about to keep it interesting and the hand management and timing required is both challenging and fun. I find myself continually looking for opportunities to pull it off the shelf ... always a good sign. Why this game hasn't received more and better publicity surprises me. It is truly a 'treasure in the forest'.