Poison

Reiner Knizia

Artist: Paul Herbert, Elisa Teague

Publisher: Playroom Entertainment

According to Knizia himself, there is game for every occasion and for every group. Presumably, gaming with mom or pops is going to be different from your college buddy or with your toddler. You most certainly wouldn’t want to play My First Orchard with your romantic partner. Poison, as ominous as the title sounds, is a decent filler but an even better game with kids. I can attest to that because I have owned the game three times. I sold the game after my first two forays and finally I think I have found the perfect group to play it with. So, third time’s the charm and I guess this game will hang around for a while longer. Funny enough, this is the 3rd light game from Knizia I have reviewed where scoring the fewest points is the winner.

Briefly, Poison is a short card game where players are dealt a hand of potion cards with values of 1, 2, 4, 5 and 7. There are three suits of cards with these values : red, green and blue. Each turn, players play a single potion cards into one of three cauldrons. Only similar colored potions can be placed in one cauldron and each cauldron must hold a different color potion. The key restriction for the game is that the combined value of all cards in each cauldron cannot exceed 13. If that happens, the player who played the card that causes the spillover will take all the potion cards in the cauldron except the one that was just played, and put them in a personal pile. Each of these cards will then be scored as a negative point.

To keep things interesting, there are poison cards with a value of “4” that can be placed in any of the three cauldrons. The value for each poison card will contribute to the final total in the cauldron but each of these cards are worth -2 points during scoring. When all cards are depleted from all player hands, the round is over. All players tabulate their scores with each card counting as a negative point, and a poison card is a -2 points. But wait, that’s not all. Knizia has to throw in a final twist in the game: During the scoring phase, players with majorities of a single color can throw out all the cards of that color. So, if you have a majority of red potion cards, none of those will count toward your score. In this way, if you want to collect cards, make sure it is of one specific color and that you have the majority as ties do not count.

I suppose on the surface, the game is easy, perhaps way too easy for lifestyle gamers. There is no doubt this is a filler as much as No Thanks! is a filler or Botswana is a filler. They are all simple card games with a simple premise that shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes to play. There is very little meat on the bones and is unlikely to be the main course of your game night. That’s fine because the game doesn’t pretend to be what it isn’t. It’s probably also the reason why I got rid of the game after my first two purchases: They just weren’t that interesting with the wrong crowd. By that, I mean my friends who enjoy heavy Euros.

But, boy the game shines when you have a 6 year old in the group. All of a sudden, the game is no longer as boring because the crowd is absolutely right for the game. Even for adults, inexplicably, the game is fun with the right crowd. I am telling you that playing the game with family has a different feel than playing with your game night group. The game is just more engaging with the correct crowd and it helps to see how delighted your child is when they pull off a win.

I am not saying that lifestyle gamers won’t enjoy Poison. They can and some will. It’s just not something that you can play over and over for long periods with a group that is geared toward something heavy. The game can really only be judged properly with the right group and for that, I think the game is really good for what it does.

Final word: Good (finally!)

Kid’s Corner

6 years and 5 months: On the heels of Penguin Party and Carcassonne, Poison shines. It took her one game to grasp the concepts and to understand how to win. In fact, in her second game, she won by collecting zero cards in her tableau and was delighted to do so. I am not sure she has a firm strategy in mind, but knows enough to execute her decisions by playing high-low value cards at the right time. I am not in the habit of forcing my strategies on her while playing, but I will say some general statements about the subtleties of the game when I play. Not directed at her even though it is for her. I want her to find her own way and to see the light bulb turn on in her head. I also never let her win just because I can. I much rather give myself handicaps at the start of the game to even thing out. There is no such need in Poison, the game is simple enough.

Poison has some math, as in performing mental arithmetic to the sum of 13. This isn’t too hard for a 6 year old, but it can get repetitive and she can get a little lazy at times to do the calculations. I assume this will get easier as Zeus on the Loose already prepped her for it and that one is even harder. Still, the game is not about math, but more about timing of card play. So, I wouldn’t sweat it too much if the game slows down a little as the kid learns to do mental calculations. Certainly, there is no harm in helping them count too. Usually for her, we just correct her errors for overestimating the sum total.

The Playroom version has these three big and thick cardboard cauldrons. Totally over produced and unnecessary but also delightful to have. I am not a fan of extraneous stuff, but in this case, the material components do matter as the visuals help to hook the kids to the game. If the theme of poison is not to your liking, then there are other versions out there. My second copy of the game from Barnes and Noble feature donuts: Baker’s Dozen. Same game, same concepts except the cards are essentially donut-shaped and instead of poison, you have moldy donuts. The current version in print right now is called Friday 13th. I think any version will work perfectly fine.

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