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Dia de los Muertos


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Ages Play Time Players
0 30 minutes 3-4

Designer(s): Frank Branham

Manufacturer(s): Sacred Chao Games

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Product Description

The Day of the Dead Card Game. Two pairs of partners play in this brain-bending trick taking game to try and feed the hungry souls visiting the world of the living during the three days of this traditional Mexican festival. The 48 cards are illustrated with the traditional Day of the Dead engravings of J.G. Posada.

Product Information

Contents:

  • 48 cards in 4 colors (black, green, pink, blue):
    • 9 Food cards (value 2, black)
    • 12 Muertos cards (value 4, 4 each in green, blue, pink)
    • 27 other cards
  • 2 overview cards
  • rules
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Product Reviews

Stuart Dagger
February 28, 2001

There is a nice story about a girl who applied for a place at one of America's grandest private schools. Her parents had to complete a form, one of the questions on which was "Is your daughter a natural leader?''. They replied that Emily wasn't a natural leader but that she was a very good follower. The school offered her a place straightaway, on the grounds that she was the only follower who had applied and they felt they should have at least one. I am starting to feel similarly uncommon, being one of the few game buyers who doesn't harbour ambitions of being a game designer, and if I get much rarer, I think I shall start charging for my services. One of the latest to hop the fence is Frank Branham, the custodian of that most valuable of web resources, The Dumpster, and he has made a pretty good start, with a high placing in last year's Hippodice competition (Germany's leading game design contest) and now this neat little self-published card game.

The theme is Mexico's 3-day celebration, 'The Days of the Dead', which takes place over October 31st (Halloween), November 1st (All Saints' Day) and November 2nd (All Souls' Day). It is a time when people remember their dead friends and relatives. The game consists of three hands--one for each day of the festival--and the object is to take tricks containing scoring cards. There are 7 scoring cards in each hand: three representing food and four representing beings, which, following the folklore, are made up of animals on day one, children on day two and adults on day three. In each hand the seven scoring cards for that round are mixed with the 25 non-scoring cards to form a 32 card deck, which is then dealt out fully. The game is a partnership one and partners sit opposite each other.

The cards are numbered (0 to 10, but with no 9s) and come in four colours. There are blue, green and pink cards for each of the values 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8; the remaining cards are black. The scoring cards are the 2s (food) and the 4s (beings). Each trick is taken by the highest card, with "eldest card'' having precedence in the case of ties.

Basic stuff so far; the interest comes from the rule governing following suit and from the special powers attached to the lower valued cards. The suit rule is that you can always play a black card but can only play a blue, green or pink one if the trick doesn't already contain a card of that colour. (If this rule leaves you with no legal card that you can play, you discard a card instead, this card not counting as part of the trick.). Cards from previous tricks played in the hand are on display and so you can do your calculations about what's left without having to remember what's gone. The special powers come with the 0s, 1s and 3s. 3s kill 10s, which stops tricks being a simple matter of who bangs down the first 10 and increases interest in the 8s and 7s. They can't be killed by a lower card but are, of course, vulnerable to the 10s and affected by the restriction on the play of coloured cards. The 0s and 1s come with an assortment of powers. For example, one of the 0s entitles you to ask a question about the contents of an opponent's hand, while the play of a 1 requires you to swap a card with your partner. The value of the first of these is clear: "What is your highest card?''; "Do you have any 3s?''. The second is more subtle, but you will find when you play that it is just as useful. Knowing that your partner holds a particular card can set up a scoring opportunity.

The other comes when a player takes a trick containing one or more scoring cards. In keeping with the theme of the festival and the idea of placating the Fates, the player has to "give a gift'' to their right-hand opponent. To do this they fan out their hand and offer it face down to the opponent, who then takes a card. The recipient then selects a card from their own hand and gives it to the trick taker in exchange. (This may be the card they have just received if they choose.). The effect of this is twofold. In the first place it breaks up over-powerful hands, which would otherwise have an unbalancing effect on a game which is only three hands long, and in the second it puts a "not necessarily permanent'' tag on the information you have gleaned about other players' hands.

Scoring cards are collected on a partnership basis and stored until the end of the game. You then score 1 point for each being/food combination that you have. So in most cases the game will be the best of 9 points--this being the total number of food cards that are available over the three hands.

This is one of those games that has a lot more play in it than you think there is going to be when you read the rules. You only have eight cards, you don't have to remember what has been played, there are no trumps to worry about and "highest card takes the trick''. It ought to be straightforward, but it's not; timing turns out to be very important and players are soon twisting in their seats as they try to devise a plan which will enable them to capture the scoring cards and to frustrate the opposition. Learning to play well seems, as Frank himself has observed, to be a matter of remembering the mistakes you made and the opportunities you missed on previous hands and trying to get it right next time.

I have described the 4-player game. There is a 3-player variant which is similar, except that each player takes it in turn to play with an open dummy.

Components? The cards don't have rounded corners, but they are laminated, nicely illustrated and of a good thickness. The game is interesting, good fun and I am happy to recommend it.

Kevin Maroney
December 31, 2001

This trick-taking game is full of macabre twists. Highest rank wins, but following suit, the foundation of trick-taking, is forbidden! Over three rounds, you'll aim to win "Food" and "Dead" cards. One of each combines to earn a point. Other cards played allow you to swap cards, ask questions about the contents of another's hand, or cancel a play. Winning a trick that includes Food or Dead cards forces you to exchange one card with an opponent. These novel features make for a game that requires precision play. Whether with four players (as partners) or three (with a rotating Dummy hand), this game is sure to liven up many an evening.

Other Resources for Dia de los Muertos:

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