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Use the strength of your knights! Play a card and conquer a land. Where you cannot impose your rule, capture a few treasures. At the end, victory goes to the most powerful player.
Rise to the challenge in this exciting contest for cool tacticians!
Reiner Knizia tends to create games in phases--his tile-laying games, his auction games, and even some of his card games. I never understood why one of these games will get a lot of press while another gets ignored.
This close cousin to Lost Cities, Schotten-Totten, and Battle Line is an excellent game. It also has the advantage that it can be expanded up to four players. While the stacking rules in Lost Cities reminded me of Racko, and those of Schotten-Totten and Battle Line were based on poker, the stacking rules here seem to allude to Uno or Crazy Eights.
Like the other two games, there is some luck involved, yet skillfully card play is also in order. Other than a runner-up nomination in Games magazine, this game hasn't gotten much press, but it's certainly better than many card games being touted about lately.
It's a well-known--though perhaps apocryphal--fact that Reiner Knizia develops his games in threes. There is his 'tile-laying trilogy'--Euphrat & Tigris, Durch die Wste and Samurai; his 'auction trilogy'--Modern Art, Medici and Ra; and his 'multiple paths to victory' trilogy--Stephensons Rocket, Taj Mahal and The Merchants of Amsterdam. When Lost Cities came out, then, it was just a matter of digging around to find its relatives. It doesn't take any more than a glance at the short rulebook to this game to instantly recognize Tabula Rasa as one of them. (For the record, the third in this particular trilogy is Schotten-Totten.)
The theme of Tabula Rasa apparently involves knights contesting regions of England, and it all looks very medieval; but the fact is that--like most games from Reiner Knizia--the theme is paper-thin and really doesn't enter into the gameplay at all. I'm going to ignore the theme in my description, as you doubtless will when you play it.
The game consists of fifty cards--two each numbered 1 to 5 in five suits--and several tiles, worth from 1 to 5 points. It is the tiles which players are trying to capture, with the biggest sum of tiles determining the eventual victor. Five of the tiles are coloured, the same as the card suits, and are worth five points each. Five more tiles are not coloured, and have points that vary from one to five. In the two-player game--which is how the game is usually played--all ten tiles are laid in a row between the players. On your turn, you play a card in front of one of the ten tiles, then draw a replacement card, if there are any left. The game ends when both players are out of cards. Each tile is then won by the player who had the most cards played in front of it. The highest sum of tile points wins. And that's the entire game.
Well, almost. There's one restriction on how you play your cards--you can't put any old card in front of any tile. This is where the tiles' numbers and colours come in to it. Say you have a blue three card in your hand. You can play this card to either the blue tile (worth five points) or the three tile (worth three points). Nowhere else. This is where the delightful Knizia-esque dilemma comes into the picture. It means that you have to plan your placements carefully to beat your opponent while keeping your options open at the same time. Because there are a fixed quantity of cards of each colour and of each number, your opponent also has a pretty good idea of what's winnable and what's not. And you can bet this information will be used against you. (To a point. Card-counting isn't infallible in Tabula Rasa because two cards have been removed from the deck sight-unseen before the game.)
Another thing you should keep in mind is that there is a prize for second place in each of the ten columns. The player with the second-most number of cards played in front of a tile earns a one-point consolation prize--even if it was from playing just one card. If two players tie for first, both players get just one point. The final scoring opportunity encourages you to go for the less lucrative number tiles, rather than the five-point colour tiles: counting from the one-point tile to the five-point tile, the first player to win two of them outright (this could be no one if there are draws) gets a five-point bonus. These balances make it only slightly more lucrative to go for the colour tiles than the number tiles, but then both players know that, so any advantage is cancelled out.
As a two-player game, Tabula Rasa feels a lot like Schotten-Totten, and a little like Lost Cities--you don't want to commit a card yet, but you have to before you can draw another card. Information is very precious, and the longer you can deny it from your opponent, the better shot you have at winning. Where Tabula Rasa has a big plus over its two siblings is that it can be played as a three-player game--with just the same rules--and loses none of its charm or playability. (There are also four-player partnership rules which I am not so thrilled with.) Schotten-Totten is strictly two-player, and while Lost Cities has three- and four-player variants, they feel like quite different games to me than the original.
Tabula Rasa is produced by one of the smaller game companies, but it has not lost any production quality from this; the cards are still strong and thick, and the tiles are healthy chunks of cardboard that are never going to bend. The artwork is a little repetitive and boring, but since this card game doesn't really have much of a theme, I don't perceive this as a significant loss. Tabula Rasa is perhaps the least known of its trilogy of influence-based card games, but I think it is certainly as good as its relations--indeed better in some aspects--and definitely worth a look.
Is there any end to Dr. Knizia's talent for dreaming up deceptively simple games that leave us in the throes of indecision? You will wonder exactly that as you use Knight cards to joust for control of 10 Estates--five uncolored Estates numbered 1 to 5, and five colored Estates all numbered 5. Knight cards are also numbered and come in five colors. On a turn, play a Knight card to an Estate matching the card in either number or color, and draw to replenish. When all cards are played, score the Estates. The player with the
highest value [greatest number] (*) of cards on an Estate gains its number in points, with one consolation point for second place. In ties, each gets one point. The first player to gain two uncolored Estates earns a five-point bonus. Only in the heat of battle over such a large front can you realize how difficult it is to decide where to place cards.
* Editor's Note: The original GAMES Magazine review was in error: the winner of the duel is actually the player with the greatest number of cards played, not the greatest total value of cards.
Or "Son Of Lost Cities", as we swiftly dubbed this excellent 2-4 player game (although I suspect it will be played exclusively as a two-hander).
The bounty in Tabula Rasa are Estates, either valued as numbers (rated from 1-5) or colours (all worth 5). The tiles are placed in a row (l-r) from 1-5 (numbers) and then the colours, with each tile having a treasure card beneath (all deemed '1'). In turn, participants play a card from their hand, which must either match the number OR colour. All cards are played, apart from two withdrawn before the start of the hand. In the final tally, it is the number of cards played adjacent to each estate (and NOT the value) which determines the benefactor. For example, Yellow '5' has two cards worth '4' and '5' placed by Harry, whilst Dave has laid three cards, '1', '2' and '3'. Dave wins, hands down (naturally) and takes the yellow '5', whilst Harry grabs the consolation '1' gold. Note: you need to have a presence on each estate in order to earn either card.
In addition to the distribution of Estates, a bonus tile of '5' is taken by the first player to have secured two of the numbered (1-5) tiles, although this is negated in the event of ties, which, in normal play, provide '1' gold each (as pictured on the reverse of the Estate tiles).
Once discovered, Tabula Rasa caused a flurry of activity on the Spiel Spass stand, the company obviously taking the view that at their best, Reiner Knizia's games are peerless, and when they don't particularly appeal, they are still better than most of the opposition. My music background forces me to ask the question "Why doesn't someone sign to him to an exclusive contract?"