Whale Riders: The Card Game

Designer: Reiner Knizia

Artist: Vincent Dutrait

Publisher: Grail Games

Whale Riders: The Card Game is a reimplementation of Trendy, an earlier Knizia design. I have never played Trendy and the game is probably long out of print. When the card game was announced as an addition to Whale Riders, I gladly picked up a copy of the game along with Whale Riders. I was lucky to find a copy since Grail Games indicated that it would no longer pursue a collaboration with Knizia. While I am not really afflicted by FOMO, I was really looking forward to Whale Riders and to a certain extent, the Card Game as well. Just as well, both Whale Riders and Whale Riders: The Card Game are great games in their own weight category.

If you are interested in Knizia’s Whale Rider, which is a big box production from Grail Games, you can click on this link (to be inserted). The Card Game is a much lighter affair and is essentially a deck of cards. Most of the graphics for this game is lifted from or shared with Whale Rider, hence the thematic tie in. It really makes sense though. The art is already there and the game is merely a deck of cards, so why not take the chance to introduce an old gem from Knizia’s library.

In Whale Riders: The Card Game, players draw six cards from a deck that features five different goods. Each goods has a numerical value. For example, conch is worth 3 coins, kelp is worth 4 coins and a pearl has the highest value at 7 coins. During each turn, players play a card to table as a starting bid or to support a bid, with the intention of securing the purchase of a particular set of goods. They then draw a card from the deck to end their turn. The catch is, goods can only be purchased to score points if the exact number of cards played to the table by all the players matches or exceeds the value of the card. So, for example, if I want to buy pottery at 6 coins, then, all the players on the table must collectively play 6 pottery cards. During your turn, you are not obligated to follow suit and can play a different goods card, hoping to entice other players to follow your lead. In this way, card play continues around the table and the round only ends when a single goods amongst several at play wins out. At that point, all players who contribute to the winning goods will take the cards they played, flip it over and count as points at the end of the game. The remainder goods cards are discarded. Note that buying goods does not involve any actual currency. In fact, all you need to do is to set aside the cards from the winning bid for scoring. The actual “buying” part is abstracted.

The game has some elements of negotiation and compromise. It is of course possible for a single person to play all 6 pottery cards to win the round, but highly unlikely. In this case, you need other players to buy in and help you complete the purchase. Because other goods cards can also be played at the same time, players have to decide which ones they want to help contribute.

It may seem like the first goods card played is also the best to help support, but several factors do come into play. The first is whether you actually own the card and if you don’t, then you don’t have a choice but to start a new bidding war. Even if you do own the card, you may want to curtail the leader and this means not supporting a particular bid. The key of the game is also to see how much support a card is already getting. This means, sometimes, the decision feels automatic. For example, if there are already 5 pottery cards on the table and you can play the sixth to end the round, you might as well adopt a “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude. After all, if you don’t play that pottery card, someone else will and you will end up losing out on a point.

To spice things up, for each goods, there is a “storm” card version which when played, which cancels out the goods on the table and places them in the discard pile. There is also a “double goods” card which functions as having two good cards of the same type.

Play ends when the deck runs out and a proper game consists of several hands. The winner is the one with the most points. Now, points can be scored in two ways. With kids and younger adults, each card can be scored as one point. With the advance scoring, each card is worth their weight in coin. So, high value cards like the pearl is more desirable. Advance scoring is clearly more strategic and likely the mode of play for adults.

I think the game is decent. It’s not, in my book, one of Knizia’s top fillers. That distinction goes to High Society or even Botswana. There are clearly decisions to be made, but they are on the lighter spectrum. The decision to play a card to support a bid or to start a new bid feels pretty straightforward. Sometimes, you are performing these actions for the lack of a better option. Now, there are a deck of port cards in the game that allows for variant play. At the start of each round, a port card is flipped over and the rules for the port card will dictate restrictions for the round. For example, some port cards will block playing storm cards or bonus cards while others will allow two groups of goods to be purchased. I haven’t tried the variant, but it seems critical to increase variety especially for adult gamers.

Whale Rider, The Card Game is on par with other light fillers like LAMA. Perhaps with the variant thrown in, the game is a little heavier. Overall, I feel neutral toward the game and see it as a short filler and a decent family game.

Edit: Having now played the variants, they are great. In fact, this is one instance where I think the game needs it. Because it is light and simple, the port cards really inject some much needed round to round variability.

Initial impression: Average (both for family and adult gamers)

Kid’s Corner

6 years 6 months: My kid likes it, but mainly because it’s the latest shiny. From the purely educational perspective, it’s not bad. It’s a springboard for kids to do quick mental addition and multiplication especially if you use advance scoring. You can also encourage younger kids to do “friends of 10” style scoring. My kid can do the math, but does get lazy at times to do it.

However, the negotiation aspects of the game is harder to navigate when playing with kids. You see, this game makes it easy to lean toward supporting your child’s bidding choices. When presented with an option of antagonizing your child with a new bid or supporting your child with a similar bid, many parents will be tempted to lend a hand….. especially if this is 15 minutes from bed time. This really messes with the spirit of the game. Believe me, I don’t blame the parents here. In another words, kingmaking your child to victory is probably built into the framework of this game. I never let my kid win on purpose, but even I have fallen into the trap once or twice here by making suboptimal decisions especially when the scores are close. I also think it’s particularly challenging for some kids to process losing a strong hand given the cards on the tableau. If anything, this game can teach kids how to navigate failure during negotiation.

Honestly, the game is fine if your kid can handle some stress. It’s probably not has big of a deal and most people probably won’t even feel a thing unless your kids is sensitive. If you have been playing often, they should be able to handle losing with grace. So, get the game.

Edit: The variants also work very well and I highly recommend it to keep the game from getting to dry and repetitive.

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