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Zum Kuckuck is German for 'For The Cuckoo' as well as for 'Hell's Bells'. For the ornithologically challenged, the cuckoo lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. In this game, your objective is to avoid having all of your birds (the cockatoos) replaced by cuckoos.
The game is similar to Raj and other closed-bidding card games, but with a couple of twists to even the odds. The game is for 3-5 people, and I would expect that it would work as well with three as with five. I would recommend this game for both gamers and non-gamers, as the rules can be explained and demonstrated quickly.
The game consists of three decks: a 'number' deck, (sixty cards from 1 to 60); a 'nest' deck, with 24 cards (two each of 1 to 12); and a deck of identical cockatoo cards, each with a cuckoo on the back. Each player is dealt 12 cards from the number deck. Each card in the number deck has a picture of a cockatoo, a half-cockatoo, or no cockatoo at all. The 'best' numbers for gameplay have no cockatoos, the worst have a whole. Each player gets a number of cards from the cockatoo deck equal to the number (rounded down) in his/her number deck. Since scoring is based on the number of cockatoos which haven't turned into cuckoos at the end of each round, better number hands have less potential for good scores, while crummy hands have lots of cockatoos. I had one hand with seven cockatoos!
The nest deck is shuffled, and the top two cards are turned over. Each player secretly plays a number card to bid for the nest cards. The highest number card gets the *lower* of the two nest cards, while the second highest gets the *higher* value nest card. These cards are placed on top of any nest cards gained earlier in the round. This is important, as the player with the highest *exposed* nest card must turn a cockatoo card into a cuckoo. Most of the time, this means that high and low cards are good, and middle cards are bad. It also means that whoever takes the nest card may not be turning over a cockatoo.
After all 24 nest cards have been revealed and bid on, each player gets one point for each remaining cockatoo card (-1 if all are now cuckoos), and the lowest showing nest card gets a point as well. Then, each player passes their cockatoos and number cards to the player on the left, and another round is played. In the end, each player will play each hand. The result is that the game is very balanced toward gameplay rather than random elements (which consist of the distribution of the number cards and the order of the nest cards).
The game is relatively easy to teach, although the translated rules take a couple of goings-over to 'interpret'. The pictures on the cards are cartoony and cute, though I felt that they didn't display enough variety (all the cockatoo cards are identical, for example) and don't add to the game as, say, the Bohnanza beans do. However, I can shuffle all of the cards easily, which I *can't* do with the expanded Bohnanza deck!
Graphical sameness aside, I liked the balancing mechanics quite a bit, which added to the gaming experience. I also own and enjoy Raj, but the changing hands in Zum Klukluk make for different challenges from hand to hand while keeping the game from being decided by luck.
In the final analysis, the game is as much about what you think your opponents will do as much as it is about walking in everyone else's shoes.