Blazing Aces: A Fistful of Family Card Games
a book of Poker-based card games
List Price: $16.95
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Join our intrepid and fearless hero Joe Joker and his friends as he plays his way across the Wild West. From the loneliness of the early settlers and the madness of the California Gold Rush to the terrifying cattle stampedes and on into Red Indian territory. Just grab your deck of cards, get your family or a few friends together and away you go. Good prospecting!
In this book of fifteen original card games, world leading game designer Reiner Knizia reveals how to use ordinary playing cards in an exciting variety of ways. Each game is demonstrated using detailed illustrated examples, along with playing hints and many variations. There are games here for just one player, many for groups of two to seven players, and even one for up to twenty!
A deck of cards is likely in most houses in Western, and it's interesting on how there are thousands of games that can be played with this deck; yet most folks only know a few games to play with the deck such as Hearts and Spades. The current most popular game that seems to be on a sweeping craze is Poker, and the several variants that are becoming popular enough to even make it to cable TV. And now along comes Reiner Knizia, one of the most prolific game designers in history, and publishes a book titled Blazing Aces! (Fred Distribution, 2007 - Reiner Knizia) that has fifteen "original" card games, building on the poker phenomenon.
First of all, the language of the book, written by the fictional prospector Joe Joker, is tremendously annoying and difficult to navigate. Once one gets past that, the games are explained (after a bit of babbling) fairly clearly; and I start to doubt the "original" aspect, since nearly all of them are variants on poker. That being said, I found several of the games enjoyable; although a few of them take normal poker and complicate it a little too much. The simplest games in the book are the best, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for more variants in card games.
As I said, the book is written in a very unusual style, all 173 pages of it. There are tons of illustrations of cards (with helpful hands pushing them around). But it still drives me a bit crazy for a few reasons. First of all, the entire thing is told in a narrative style, in supposedly authentic cowboy language, as if the author is talking to the reader. He stops to make exclamations and will even pause and say, "Okay?" It's a little jarring, especially if you are simply reading to learn how to play the game! From the style of the writing, I kept getting the picture in my head of a friendly European masquerading as a cowboy with over the top dialogue to help convince me that he's authentic. Here's an example: "And for me? 7 of Diamonds. Hey, Joe Joker's on a roll! Three of a Kind in the first row. Yep, that tastes good. The first row looks like mine, friends. No point in arguing about it. Now I'll steal a second row from you, and that'll be it." Personal stories are included with the game descriptions that are sometimes much longer than the rules, and I just had the hardest time staying focused and finding what I wanted.
The actual rules are fairly short for most games, but there are long detailed examples of game play. Normally, this is wonderful; but for some reason the examples are given before the rules, so much of the time I was slightly disoriented, especially as the cowboy author continues to talk in jargon that sounds fake and added just to give the game a cowboy theme. In fact, can I call foul here and declare that the theme is pasted onto the book? I'm not sure who wrote the text of the book and possibly something happened when it was translated into English, but it's a huge detraction from the enjoyment of figuring out the games. As I said, the illustrations of cards are very useful, and many sample games are included. There are also quite a few passable illustrations in the game, adding to the theme; but I would have preferred a more compact, easier to navigate book.
I haven't played every game in the book, although I've played several of them, and have read the rules for the best. Of the games, none of them really jumped up and struck me as something that was a fantastic new game, but I didn't dislike any of them either. Sometimes they seemed to add ridiculous complexity to an already streamlined game. Don't get me wrong - I'm all for trying out new variants of card games, especially poker - but sometimes they went a bit too far. For example, there are several new combinations added in some of the games, such as the Four Blaze (four Court cards - is just below a Straight in value), or the Puritan (five cards with values between two and ten - just above a pair). While these sound interesting, adding them in gets confusing and causes 17 different hands a player can get, which tends to slow the game down.
A few of the games have solitaire variations, which a few folks will enjoy; but they are basically just variations on a push-your-luck mechanic. A few of the games, such as East West, almost feel like solitaire, as players work on building poker hands on their side of the table - with only a cursory glance at what the opponent is playing. Other games feel like Knizia tries to shoehorn European mechanics into a card game that really doesn't want them. A few of the games are entertaining, but none of them stand out as completely interesting.
I suppose the name "Knizia" will sell several copies of the book, and the fact that it has something to do with poker will get a few more people to check it out. But it's too weird for poker; it's too boring, which seems to be typical Knizia these days, for gamers; and the book is simply written atrociously. I don't mind having it, as a book takes up little space, and I might use some of the variants for ideas in the future. But I doubt it will see much use, as most of the games are easily forgettable.
"Real men play board games"