Thursday, April 16, 2009

Review -- Spite & Malice


When it comes to card games, a definite rarity is one which plays well for only two people. The list of such games is rather shorter, and even shorter if you are looking for a truly engaging game which holds a level of replay ability.
One game which you can add to that list is Spite & Malice, which plays well with two, but can be played by up to five.
Spite & Malice is a fairly new game, released initially in 2003 (its roots being older), coming from the well-known games company Parker Brothers, so the cards are good quality, and the rule set well-illustrated and straight forward.
The game fits into the family of card games widely known as 'stacking games'. The idea is rather simple, players build stacks of cards, in this case in numerical order, trying to rid themselves of certain cards before the others.
In Spite & Malice each player is dealt a card stack of eight cards, the top card placed face up. These are the cards you want to move into the play stacks as quickly as possible.
In addition a player has a hand of five cards, replenished from the common card pile at the start of each of their turns.
When a player draws a number one card, he must play it to the centre of the table, and twos must also be placed as soon as possible. After that players can decide when, and if to play cards to the piles, which build to 13, and are then removed from the table.
The goal is to be able to play the face up card on your stack to one of the stacks, allowing you to then turn up the next card, and eventually wade your way through the eight cards.
If you can't, or don't wish to play a card to the stacks, a player can put one card a turn into a store pile. You can have a maximum of four store piles, from which you can only play the top card. So on any given turn you have a maximum of 10 cards to start placing to build piles, five in-hand, up to four from the store piles, and the crucial top card of your card stack.
It soon becomes clear that it may not be wise to play a card just because you can. For example you will not want to play a three, if you can't also play the four, if you see your opponent's card stack has a four showing. You don't want to help them work through their eight cards.
The play is helped along by wild cards, which can be used with a few exceptions to help get cards playing. A wild card cannot be used as a one, two, seven or 13, and you can't play back-to-back wild cards into a build pile. You must also be able to add at least one card to the pile after playing a wild card, for example using the wild as a five, you must then be able to play a natural six on the same turn.
So, it's pretty easy to see where the spite comes from.
The malice side of things comes by way of special powers that are part of a wild card. A player can give up a wild card to use the special ability, like exchanging a store pile with an opponent, or taking a card from the discard pile to your hand. They are not overpowered little tricks, but add a little more randomness to the fun.
The game play is smooth, rather quick, and while there is strategy in how you work your store piles, and when to play without helping your opponent, it's not so deep as to bog down.
The game is also helped along by the whimsical artwork of two cartoon cats with all manner of evil devices, in one case the cat is winking as he draws his claws across a chalkboard, in another the second cat sharpens an axe on a grindstone. There is a devilish charm to the cards and that's a plus.
Overall, if you are looking for a game that plays two nicely, and can be used for more – it might bog down at five in terms of ability to control any strategy – then Spite & Malice is well worth acquiring.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper April 1, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

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