Once upon a time, trick-taking card games were just that: games where you just tried to win as many tricks as possible. Then came Bridge-style bidding and the focus wasn't so much on just winning tricks but on accurately predicting how many tricks you'd win. In recent years, we've seen many more sophisticated twists and tweaks to the trick-taking mechanic; for example, with The Crew (Kosmos), where trick-taking became a cooperative exercise, and more recently Cat in the Box (Bézier), which introduced aspects of quantum mechanics into the mix! With Tolerance, designer Ren Multamaki has added card-driven actions to the trick-taking game: win a trick and you have to take the actions indicated on the cards you win - even tho' these may not be to your advantage. It's a mechanic that will be more familiar from heavier board games like Twilight Struggle (GMT) so it may come as a surprise to see it integrated into a 30-40 minute trick-taking card game.
Tolerance is designed for 3-5 players and it has a strong thematic setting. The game's title is ironic, even sarcastic, because Tolerance is set during the religious upheaval following the English Reformation where Protestants and Catholics burnt each other on the stake as heretics. It's played over three rounds, each representing the reign of in the 16th and early 17th Century of Mary I, Elizabeth I and James I (James VI of Scotland) - so starting around 50 years after the Hieronymus Bosch picture on the box was painted. Players play as one of eight characters, each with their own religious (Catholic or Protestant), mercantile or nihilistic objectives, and there's a basic game option where the players share the same objectives and symmetrical scoring.
Cards in Tolerance each represent characters - some actual personalities from the period; some generic - and they show their affiliation (Catholic, Protestant, 'Prevailing' or Guild Member), their suit (Noble, Clergy, Townsfolk, Peasant, Wild), their rank (value 1-14) and their Piety and Money values. The cards also show their effect (Kill, Condemn, Convert, Collect Taxes or Collect Piety) and the target of their effect (Catholic or Protestant). That does mean there are several key icons on every card so it can be difficult to see all the information when holding a full hand of cards, which is why we'd recommend using racks - card racks that is, not the torture implements of the period!
In each round, players are dealt a hand of 12 cards, so each round will comprise 12 tricks. Most of the usual rules of trick-taking apply (you must follow suit if you can) except that even if you can follow suit, you can instead play a Wild card and declare it as any suit, including the suit being led. The meat of the game tho' is in what players do with the cards when they win tricks. The cards for the trick are lined up in rank order and their various effects are all in turn applied, and because the religious proclivities of the monarch differs in each round, so too do some of the corresponding effects.
Among the most fascinating aspects of this game are the fact that winning a trick can mean you end up with negative effects on your score, and the way in which the rank order of the cards in your trick can affect the results (because you activate the card effects in rank order). Knowing they won't win a trick, canny players therefore may deliberately play a card to the trick that they think will disadvantage the trick's winner. After all the effects have been resolved, the player who wins the trick places the characters in the appropriate piles on his individual playing board - as living or dead and according to their affiliation.
There's a subtlety of play in Tolerance that takes it way beyond the norm for trick-taking card games, and there's a feel too for the turbulent history of the period. If you play with asymmetric characters and objectives, it becomes a hidden role deduction game too! Tolerance will certainly appeal to board game enthusiasts but the scoring is relatively complex so this can be a tough game to introduce to less experienced gamers. It's worth the effort tho': learn the game and the way in which the card powers interact and you'll be a Convert for life! :-)
Dragon Dawn Productions are due to bring Tolerance to Kickstarter and Gamefound on 19 March. We'll add a link to the campaign when it goes live.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)
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