A Gnome's Ponderings

I'm a gamer. I love me some games and I like to ramble about games and gaming. So, more than anything else, this blog is a place for me to keep track of my ramblings. If anyone finds this helpful or even (good heavens) insightful, so much the better.
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Emu Ranchers: soon to be in print and worth looking at

Lowell Kempf
United States
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Emu Ranchers is a game with a curious genealogy. It was developed using the Decktet system and was also openly influenced by Reiner Knizia’s Lost Cities. Now, App Saus Labs is working on creating the game as a standalone game. As I understand it, they initially were trying to create it as an iOS app and are now planning on focusing on a physical version of the game. They were kind enough to send me a copy since I’ve gone on the record being interested in the Decktet system and enjoying Emu Ranchers.

In Emu Ranchers, you take on the role of a farmer whose main way of making ends meet is raising emus. Yes, this does actually happen. My parents actually live down the road from someone who tried to do this. (For the record, the other guy who tried llamas had better success. No, I’m not actually joking.) You’ll breed different plumages of emus. (Can’t… Resist… Monty Python quote… Beautiful plumage) Unfortunately, expenses are high when it comes to emu ranching and it’s all too easy to take a loss on a line of emus.

Okay, let’s talk about the actual game mechanics. If you’ve ever played Lost Cities or any of the many games that Knizia developed from that system (at this point, it should probably be called the Keltis system ), this will be comfortable ground for you.

Emu Ranchers is a two-player card game that consists of a deck of cards. If you’re not familiar with the Decktet system, this next part is going to be the neat twist. There are six suits but all but the high cards and the low cards are double suited. More than that, the variant rules include cards that have three suites and a card that no suites!

You set up by shuffling the deck and dealing out six cards to each player. On your turn, you can A) Start an emu pen by playing down a card, creating a stack B) Add to a pen by adding a card to one of your stacks or C) Discard a card. Then you draw card either from the draw pile or the discard pile (as long as you didn’t just discard a card).

Since the pens are the heart of the game, let’s go into a little more detail. All of the cards have to be of the same suit so the second you add a second card to it, you determine the suit. The cards also have to either go up or down numerically (although you can, of course, skip numbers. Otherwise, the game would be unplayable) and that second card determines which direction that stack is going.

The single suit low (egg) and high (feather) cards don’t have numeric values but they give a five point bonus or penalty, depending on if a pen is profitable.

The game or hand (depending on if you’re playing multiple hands) when someone draws the last card from the draw pile. At that point, you add cards from your hand to pre-existing pens but you cannot start a new one. Then, you remove cards from each pen until you’ve removed at least 18 points in rank. Sorry, no change. Any cards left over are score. Pens that don’t are the difference in negative points.

Since Emu Ranchers is honestly pretty close to Lost Cities, I want to comment on the differences between the two. The most obvious one is that the cards in Emu Ranchers are double-suited. For me, that makes the cards more flexible, although I’ve heard some folks argue it makes the game more complicated since each card has a different situational value even just for you, let alone for the other guy. Regardless, it does make a surprisingly significant difference and is a legitimate game changer.

I also found that removing at least eighteen points of cards somehow made scoring less mathy. Honestly, there’s no reason why it should but it helped scoring click for folks better. And being able to play cards in your at the end of the game made Emu Ranchers more forgiving than Lost Cities. Whether or not that’s a good thing or a bad thing is really personal taste. It does take away some of the stress level.

Since I have had a chance to actually see and use the cards that are proposed for the kick starter, I want to comment on them. After all, we’re not just looking at a set of mechanics. We’re talking about a product folks are trying to get on the street.

Years ago, my gaming group tried out Venture, the old Sid Sackson game, after having played some other, very thematic card games that used black borders, messy fonts and very dark colors. Venture had white borders, very clear symbols and a layout that that yet you splay the cards and still clearly see all the important information. Venture became our gold-standard for card layout.

And the Emu Ranchers measure up very well to that standard. White borders, which don’t show wear and tear as fast. Symbols to go with each of the six colors so the suits are all colorblind friendly. And the top of each card has the suite, rank as well as a band of the other suit’s color and symbol so you can stack the cards in a tight splay and both players can see which suit you are using and what the other suite of that card is.

That might not seem like such a big deal but I have seen enough poorly designed cards over the years that I know making a very clean and highly functional card is not as easy it might look.

So do I think that this is a project that deserves to succeed? Yeah, I do.

Emu Ranchers isn’t for everyone. Gamers who pride themselves on being serious, hardcore players who treat Hammer of the Scotts as filler are not going to get much out of it. But for more casual gamers, Emu Ranchers is a pretty good game. It does have enough twists to stand out from Lost Cities (and honestly, may be more forgiving and easier to teach to folks who don’t play games) and it is actually even more portable with a smaller footprint.

And you know what? In addition, it's also a lot of fun.

The kickstarter campaign is still going on (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/appsaucelabs/emu-rancher...) and it has enough money to make it. I think that is a good thing.
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