Partners was one of the games being introduced to the UK at this year's UK Games Expo. The game itself isn't new: designed by Thomas Bisgaard and published by Danspil and Game InVentorS, Partners first appeared in 1998 and, we are told, it remains 'very big in Denmark'.
On the face of it, Partners resembles the simple children's game Ludo (aka Parcheesi) in that players each have four pawns that they have to move around the board to reach their home spaces. Partners, however, is not a roll & move game and, as the title suggests, it is a game played by two pairs working in partnership.
Instead of dice, movement is determined by the cards played. In successive rounds, players are each dealt four cards, and each chooses one card to pass to their partner. The cards mostly show different movement values and those with a heart symbol are needed to allow a pawn to enter the board at their start space. Pawns need to make their way all around the circular board to get home but pawns landing on one of their opponents' pawns send it back to its start. As in Backgammon, if an opponent has two of their pawns on the same space they are immune from being bounced back to the start, and, in this instance, the player who moved gets bounced to their start. There are several cards with special effects; notably, a card that allows the player to switch the positions of any two pawns on the board.
The introduction of cards to dictate movement is what turns Partners into a game of strategy, especially as players are working in partnership and are able, at the start of each round, to pass their partner a card that they think can help them. The winner in Partners isn't the first to get all four pawns home, it's the first partnership to get both sets of four back...
As written, the rules seem not to count the start positions as spaces on the board. This means that parking your pawns there leaves them immune from being landed on yet they appear still to block other pawns from passing them. If you have other pawns on the board that you can move instead, keeping a pawn so that it blocks the board to your opponents appears to be a successful strategy, but you will find that other players will complain that this is a 'broken' rule.
Because it looked so much like Ludo, our expectations for Partners was initially quite low. We were pleasantly surprised, however, by how much we've enjoyed playing this very accessible game. We can appreciate now why so many Danes have found the game addictive.