There is no shortage of trick-taking card games but Shamans, from Studio H and Blackrock, may be the tricksiest trick-taker yet. It's a game that's not so much about winning tricks as in manipulating the special effects triggered by winning a trick, playing the lowest card in the winning suit and discarding a card out of suit. Tricksy, eh?
In an unusual twist, designer Cédrick Chaboussit has combined the trick-taking mechanic with a hidden role and deduction game. The 3-5 players each start with a hidden card that secretly identifies them as either a Shaman or 'Shadow' (if this were reskinned as a Star Wars game, think 'Light Side' and 'Dark Side' of the Force). Players also have a hand of cards in at least five suits (six suits with four players; seven if you're playing with five players). If you are a Shadow you will want to move the track marker to the end by the time all the cards in a round have been played; if you are a Shaman you want to 'protect the spirit' (mumbo jumbo for the tracker not reaching the end of the track).
But we said this game was tricksy. Shamans isn't just about moving a tracker. You get victory points for achieving your Shaman or Shadow objective in a round, but you can also score points through the use of a suit's special effects and by collecting tokens. The tokens can also, for example, force players to switch role cards - so you can find you switch 'sides' midway through the game (a bit like discovering you're a Cylon halfway through a game of FFG's Battlestar Galatica). Ultimately, the game ends when a player accumulates at least 8 victory points - play to the end of the round and the player who ends up with the most points is the overall winner. And in another twist, the designer has eschewed the notion of shared victory in the event of a tie. If two or more players end a round with the same number of victory points, you're urged to keep playing until only one player has the single most points.
Tho' we confess we weren't sucked into the theme of spirit worlds and rituals, we certainly appreciated Maud Chalmel's stylish artwork and we've really enjoyed our plays of this highly original game.