Players try to collect as much fruit as possible, either by harvesting it themselves or by stealing it from other players. Each player chooses a color/fruit and receives nine harvest cards and up to five action cards (one for each player) in that color. Each player shuffles his harvest cards and places the stack face-down in front of him. Each player’s hand consists of all the action cards.
The game consists of nine rounds. In each round, players turns over their top harvest card, then decide whether to harvest their own fruit or to steal from another player. Each player selects the appropriate action card and places it face-down. When all players have made their decision, cards are revealed simultaneously, and fruit points are awarded. After the ninth round, the player with the most points wins the game.
The values on the harvest cards range from 2 through 10. If a player harvests his own fruit and nobody steals from him, he receives the full value of the card. If he harvests and one other player steals from him, he usually receives half the value rounded up, and the thief receives the rest. If he harvests and two other players steal from him, the two thieves each receive half the value rounded down, and the player who harvested receives whatever is left (if anything). For example, the following chart applies for the 5 card:
Harvest, no thieves: harvesting player-5
Harvest, one thief: harvesting player-3, thief-2
Harvest, two thieves: harvesting player-1, first thief-2, second thief-2
If a player harvests and more than two other players steal from him, the fruit is squashed and neither the harvesting player nor the thieves receives any points that round. If a player chooses not to harvest, obviously, any player who tries to steal from him receives no points. The point distribution is listed on each harvest card, so players don’t have to memorize charts.
Two of the cards have additional icons indicating exceptions to the rules outlined above. The 3 card is a cooperative harvest card. If the player harvests and up to two other players steal from him, each player receives 3 fruit. (Any more than two thieves will still cause the harvest to be squashed.) The 7 card encourages theft: if the player of the 7 card elects to steal from another player, he receives an additional 2 fruit, regardless of whether his theft is successful.
One action card shows a content hobbity-gnome guy gazing at a bucket of fruit and is used to indicate that the player will harvest his own crop. Each player also has a thief card with a hat in each other player’s color. Action cards are not discarded after use; on each turn, players have all actions at their disposal.
Cards are matte-finish on fairly heavy cardstock, but I’m not all that impressed with their quality. I’ve used my cards several times, and they’re still shedding tiny shreds of paper. Shuffling is difficult because of the thickness of the cards; fortunately, not much shuffling is required. I’m also a little worried that the matte finish could be less grime-resistant than regular cards. The harvest cards are the size of standard playing cards and can be sleeved without problem, but for some reason the action cards are smaller (slightly larger than the original Ticket to Ride train cards), so sleeving them is more problematic. Finally, the graphics are cute, but the images are pixilated – higher-resolution graphics would have been a nice touch.
Ultimately, though, the quality of the cards isn’t likely to interfere with game play. The information contained on them should be clear to everybody except the color-blind, who probably will have a problem differentiating between the different thieves.
At first I was worried that this was a standard paper-rock-scissors game, which usually make me feel like I might as well select my action at random. In my first game, however, it quickly became obvious that Fruit Bandits is a better game than that. In the beginning rounds, it is mostly about trying to figure out what your opponents will do. In later rounds, however, it becomes more important to reign in the leader by reducing his ability to score points. Subsequent games have reinforced my initial impression that this is a thought-provoking little filler.
My regular gaming group reacted very skeptically when I brought this out but quickly warmed up to it. By the end of the game, seasoned and casual gamers alike were laughing hard enough that the people at the next table wanted to know what was going on, and all players indicated that they would welcome the chance to play again. A twenty-minute game that’s easy to learn and fun to play, Fruit Bandits is likely to hit the table on a regular basis in my group.