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In this game, Bullheads play the leading role. The goal is to collect as many green Bullheads as possible, but to avoid the red Bullheads, since they bring penalty points. Special cards will cause many surprises!
- 98 playing cards
- 12 special cards
- 1 set of rules
Average Rating: 4 in 1 review
'Hornochsen!' is an abstract little card game with an obvious lineage, descending from the classic 6 Nimmt. Now I have never played the parent game, but have heard many good things about it, and Hornochsen seemed like an improvement, from what I read online of the rules.
I can't really speak to the subject of improvement, but I can say that the game is a brain-bending exercise in spite and malice. Despite its abstract nature, this is a game that seems to appeal equally to casual and hardcore gamers. Play is relatively quick (depending on number of players) and the choices are agonizing.
The object is to score as many positive points as possible. Not always an easy thing, considering how many cards score several negative points, and all the positive point cards score a paltry one or two points!
The game is based around the squeeze play. With forethought, a player can make a crude determination of what opponents are holding, and try to minimize the number of choices available to them. When a card stack reaches critical mass, the player who placed the last card must take the stack, no matter what it holds. Early rounds are often filled with seeding the negative red cards, followed by a slow process of trying to grab the few positive scoring piles and avoiding the stacks of red cards.
Yes, luck plays a factor in this game. Any game with a random distribution of cards tends to have a large luck factor. Hornochsen overcomes this, since clever cardplay can often overcome a bad distribution, and poor play can bring down even the best hand.
Wolfgang Kramer has had a good year. The big prizes didn't come his way, but with Tycoon, El Caballero and now Hornochsen, he (and his collaborators in the case of the first two) added three titles to my list of games in the good to excellent category and that is a very solid achievement.
This one, like El Caballero, sees him going back to an earlier idea and then constructing a new game from it. In this case, the earlier game is 6 nimmt (published in the States under the mistranslated title Take 6). In that game you had a set of numbered cards, each showing a number of sets of ox horns. As the game progressed, you played the cards you had been dealt into a shared tableau consisting of four rows. Rows could not be longer than five cards and so when you played the sixth card in a row you had to pick up the five that were already there and add them to your score pile. (Hence the title "6 takes".) The ox heads on the cards you picked up all counted against you as penalty points and the game continued until one player went past the 66 mark, at which point the player with the smallest number of penalty points won. It was the hit card game of 1994 and although some players later turned against it on the grounds that there wasn't a lot of skill in it, others, my group included, have continued to play it for the good and sufficient reason that it is fun. It is true that you don't really have a lot of control over your fate, but it doesn't seem like that at the time as you desperately look for a way of minimising the damage to your score. You do actually have lots of decisions to take as you try to avoid the axe and that and the ever welcome opportunity to complain about the cards you have been dealt are enough to make the game a hit with us.
The new game (the title of which can mean either 'ox horns' or, by figurative extension, 'blockheads') uses similar principles, only now the cards are a mixtures of positives and negatives. The cards that used to carry more than one penalty point are still negative, but the others have become positive, each worth either one or two points (usually one). The net balance is positive, but very narrowly so. In addition to these numbered cards there are some specials and each player starts the game with two of them. One is worth "+5" and the other is a doubler.
At the start of the game a number of cards are placed in a circle in the centre of the table. These form the kernel of the tableau which will radiate out from them like a set of spokes. The numbered cards, as they are played, will be placed at the outer end of the spokes, using much the same rules as apply in 6 nimmt. Any specials played to a spoke go at the centre side of the start card. In their turns players have the option of playing one, two or three cards and they pick up a spoke if their play has resulted in it having five of the numbered horn cards. This continues until either all the spokes have been picked up or until every player has run out of horn cards. (They may still be holding either or both of their specials, but they are in trouble if they are.) You now add up your positive points, subtract the negatives, add in any of the "+5" that you might have picked up and apply any doublers. Finally, you subtract 10 for each of the specials you were still holding in your hand to get your final score. The game just consists of the one hand and takes about half an hour to play.
The claim is that the game offers a greater range of tactical options and, by implication, more opportunities for skilful play. It delivers. As with any card game, you can pick up good hands and bad hands and your score in a particular game is going to reflect that. This is true of the very high skill card games such as bridge and poker and it remains true much further down the line with a game like this one. In a no luck, fine differences game like Go the better player will win almost every time; with a skilful card game the better player comes out ahead over the long run, not on every hand. This might irritate those who like things to be neat and tidy, but it is also one of the reasons why bridge is a more successful social game than chess. Hornochsen is not a bridge, it is not even a Mü, but it does give you plenty to think about and lots of places for exercising judgement. If you enjoyed 6 nimmt, you will enjoy this one and you are also likely to enjoy it if you quite liked the earlier game but wished it had a higher skill factor. One word of warning though: it does seem to deliver bigger headaches than its parent. It is one of those games where you can see an impending catastrophe heading in your direction long before it hits and that somehow seems to add to the agony. This is true to a large extent of 6 nimmt, but it is even more true with this one. Good fun though.