Welcome to the 4th edition of Radio Reviews. Today I will be taking a look at Tschak!, a 2011 release by GameWorks, designed by Dominique Ehrhard. Tschak! is a fantasy-themed card game that can be played with 2-4 players (though a full 4 is ideal). Players will be vying against each other in order to escape monsters and gain treasure. What’s interesting and unique about Tschak! is that by the end of the game, all players will eventually have played the exact same hands. So the game is not only about how best to manage the hand in front of you for that turn, but also how to best manage the following hand from an opposing player the next turn.
The cards are broken up into 4 different types:
Warriors (green cards)
Dwarves (red cards)
Wizards (blue cards)
Artifacts (purple cards)
There are 12 Warriors, 12 Dwarves, 12 Wizards, and 4 different Artifact cards.
Each card has different artwork and a number on the card. The number represents the overall power of that particular card. At the end of each turn, players will combine the numbers on the cards to compare their overall power, and score accordingly. Whereas the Warriors (green) and Dwarves (red) are represented by only numbers, there are a few differences with some of the Wizard (blue) cards, and the Artifacts (purple).
There are 4 of the 12 Wizard cards that are represented by “?” marks instead of numbers. When comparing the overall power for your turn, these “?” marks are equal to the lowest numbered Wizard played by any other player. Artifacts have a “x2” on them, meaning that you would add the numbers of the other cards played this turn, then multiply them by 2.
Also in the box you’ll find:
A deck of Treasure cards
A deck of Monster cards
A bag of coins
Two square placeholder boards for a 2 or 3 player game
And finally the main game board that represents the three levels of the tower that players will be playing through each round (or season)
Before I get into how the game plays, lets look at what the Victory Point cards (Treasures and Monsters) do for players when obtained.
Treasure cards are worth Victory Points at the end of the game. Each coin in the top right hand corner of the card represents how many Victory Points that card is worth to the player. Additionally there are a few other cards in the Treasure deck. Cards represented by rings are worth the final value of the combined number of ring cards you have, squared. So only having 1 ring is worth 1 point, but having 3 rings is worth 9 points, and so on. There is also a trophy card that is worth 2 points for every Monster card in your possession at the end of the game, and an Elixir card that will allow you to eliminate 1 Monster card before final scoring.
Why would you want to eliminate a Monster card? Monster cards are worth negative Victory Points. Each skull in the top right corner of the card represents how many negative Victory points that card is worth to the player. Other than these regular monsters, there is only one other type of Monster card. The Troglodyte cards (as seen above) work in the same way as the ring cards, but with negative points. So 1 in of itself is only worth -1 Victory Points, but having 3 of them will net you -9 points. Yuk!!
At the start of the game, each player will be randomly dealt, 3 Warriors, 3 Dwarves, 3 Wizards and 1 Artifact. These 10 cards will make up the player’s hand for this first of four season (or rounds) in the game. Each season is comprised of three turns. Each turn is represented by the 3 different levels of the Tower on the game board.
On the left side of the Tower, 1 card from the Monster deck will be drawn and placed face up on each level. The same will be done on the right side, but instead drawn from the Treasure deck. These cards will represent the Treasures and Monsters that will be obtained by one of the players during each level of the Tower.
By the end of each round, a player must have created a team of three cards from their hand, and each team must always include three different types of cards. So a team can include an Artifact, a Dwarf and a Wizard, but cannot be comprised of 2 Wizards and a Warrior. The team with the lowest combined power will take the Monster card for that level and the team with the highest combined power will take the Treasure card. So in a 4-player game, two of the players will get neither. The way that these teams are built during a turn depend on which of the three levels of the Tower the players are on.
During the lowest level of the Tower (turn 1), each player will play one card from their hand and play it in front of them simultaneously. Then, a second card will be played simultaneously. And then finally, the third card will be played to complete the team for each player. After collecting the Treasure and Monster cards for this level, this team is discarded and the following turns are used with the remaining cards in a player’s hand.
During the 2nd level of the Tower (turn 2), each player will play one card from their hand and play it in front of the them simultaneously, just as with the first turn. But, then players will play both the 2nd and 3rd card at the same time to complete their team.
Finally, during the 3rd level of the Tower (turn 3), each player will play all 3 cards of their team, simultaneously.
After the 3rd turn, players will still be left with 1 card in their hand. Players will flip this final card over and the player with the highest power will receive 3 coins, 2nd place will receive 2 coins, 3rd place 1 coin, and the 4th player receives none (in a 2-player game, the player with the highest receives 2 coins and the other player receives none). After all teams have been played and coins distributed, players will them pass their deck to the player to their left, and the 2nd round of play begins. This is done for a total of 4 rounds (or seasons) and then players will total up their Victory Points, (Treasure cards, Monster cards, and coins).
Many times when comparing combined powers, there will be a tie. This is where the artwork of the game shines. Not only does each individual card have gorgeous artwork, but the artwork itself determines the tiebreaker. Let me explain. If there is a tie of combined powers, the following is compared:
the strongest Wizard will win (Wizard with a “?” mark will always
lose this comparison.
– If both Wizards are tied in strength, the Wizard that has a wand will
– If a tie is still in place, then the teams will compare their
Warriors, with the strongest Warrior breaking the tie.
– If both Warriors are tied in strength, the Warrior with an Axe will
– If still tied, we move on to comparing the Dwarves, with strongest
– If both Dwaves are tied, the Dwarf with the Axe is the strongest
while a barehanded Dwarf is the weakest.
(While most ties won’t get past the Warriors, this is one of the most clever tie-breaking systems I’ve ever seen in a game. Very intuitive and fun when these scenarios come up.)
While the mechanics of Tschak! are nothing innovative, the game has a few wrinkles up its sleeve that make it quite unique. First is the artwork. Many will find humor in the depictions of fantasy characters from Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Conan, etc that are to be found here. I also found pleasure in the fact that the lesser powerful characters (power of 1) were depicted as weaklings accordingly compared to the 5 and 6 powered cards. Along with that, the idea of implementing a tie-breaker system within the art of the cards themselves is something that I’ve yet to experience in a game.
But as cool as the art implementation is, what do I think of the gameplay itself? Even though each player will eventually play the same hands of cards by the end of the game, I do find Tschak! a bit luck-based. So take that how you will as far as the amount of luck you like in a game. Luck mainly comes from the Treasure and Monster cards that are dealt to the Tower each round. And while you might have a great combination of cards to put together a great team this turn, the cards in the Tower may be less than desirable this turn, compared to next turn when the person to your left has the same hand and great cards in the Tower.
But this doesn’t ruin the game in any way. At least, not for me. Playing through the four rounds of the game is more about minimizing that luck and building a team off of what your opponents are doing. If you see an opponent going all out for that 5 point Treasure, you may want to hold back for something later. Also, trying to stay in the middle of being the highest or lowest each turn is a solid strategy. I also find joy out of the game when trying to remember which player has which deck (by the final round everyone will have known everyone else‘s deck), then trying to deduce what team they will put together in the Tower on which turn.
Altogether, while I have had a lot of fun with Tschak!, I can’t say that this game is going to please everyone. I would say that those that enjoy deduction and outsmarting their opponents will find a lot of fun here. But if your just playing it as the cards are dealt to you, the game may come off a little stale. So, its really what you’re going to put into it.
Personally, this game was a bit of a surprise to me, as I had not heard much of anything about it. During the first couple plays I wasn’t sure how I felt (especially as a 2-player game, which I still try to avoid), but after realizing that there was more strategy behind knowing when to build a killer team and knowing when to back down, along with trying to outwit your other opponents, I’ve found that this one gets to the table as a filler a lot more often than I would have expected.