Crazy Chickens

Designer: Michael Schacht

Artist: Atelier Wilinski

Publisher: Ravensburger

Still the best version on the market (Photo credits: Frog of Doom@BGG)

Note: I finally decided to do a DIY copy after realizing I was never going to find a copy of the game. I adapted some of the artwork from Kariba.

Crazy Chickens was never on my radar until I joined the OG guild in Board Game Geek. OG which stands for “Old School German Style Games” is a guild set up to promote games with lots of player interaction and simple rules. These old school games were very popular in the mid-90s’ to early 2000s’ and still remains a staple of many gaming group even though the diversity in board gaming has really exploded in recent years. The designer Michael Schacht was one of the prominent game designers of this era, producing gems such as the award-winning Zooloretto, Web of Power (which really should be another award winning hit), Coloretto, Hansa and many more. Crazy Chickens is definitely one of his lesser known designs but it is clearly one that I never even heard of until I joined the guild. Well, the game is a certified “Old School” classic and a delight! Oh, and it is also a fantastic game with 2, and with kids.

Crazy Chickens has a deck of 110 cards and like many card games of that era, the cards just have numbers on them. The original game has different illustrations of anthropomorphic chickens with famous human personalities such as Marilyn Henroe, Billy the Chick …. well, you get the idea. But really, the theme is silly and delightful but has no bearing on the game itself.

Of the 110 cards in the deck, there are different suits, so to speak with each suit having different number of cards. However, each card in the suit is identical. The number of cards in each suit comes up to: 6,7,8,9,12,14,16,18,20. For each round, players are dealt 3 cards and during their turn, players must draw two cards from either two draw piles or two discard piles, with the rule that the two cards cannot be drawn from the same pile. After drawing two cards, players must either discard one card or lay down a set of cards. The number of cards in the suit that you lay down in front of you must be more than two if the suit is not on display, or it must be at least one card more than a previously played set. In other words, if you two Billy the Chick cards in your hand, you can play the set to your personal area. If however your opponent already has two Billy the Chick cards in play, you would need to top that by collecting at least another Billy the Chick card before playing the set. The kicker here is that the other person with the Billy the Chick set needs to discard their set into the discard pile.

The game ends when all nine suits are on the table – and there can only be one suit of each type on the table. The game also ends when at least one person has six of the nine suits on display in their personal area or the draw deck is depleted. The most common way to end the game for us is the appearance of all nine suits on the table. Once the game ends, you add up all the points on each set of cards you have, but not on the number of each cards in the suit. So, while you own five Billy the Chick cards, you get the face value of the cards, which is 20 points for the entire set regardless of how many Billy the Chick cards you own.

Crazy Chicken is a pretty fun and also easy to grasp. Funny enough, there is an aspect of playing a game of chicken in the game (yes, corny). The tension comes from deciding when to play your suits. If you have two Billy the Chick cards, do you play it now? If it is early in the game, your two card set will definitely be beaten by a larger set since there are 18 more Billy the Chick cards. However, late in the game, this might be worth the risk especially if triggering the end game helps you win it all. There is also the fact that cards worth more points are also easier to beat since there are more of them in the deck. Other hard choices one has to make during the game comes from discarding the card. Often times, you want to hold on to all your cards, but you have to ditch one. Where to place the card on the discard pile also matters for blocking your opponent from picking up previously discarded cards. So, as you can see, there are tons of decisions to be made throughout this relatively simple game.

Many people have compared Crazy Chickens with Lost Cities. I see only a passing resemblance. It is true the discard pile mechanism is somewhat similar to Lost Cities in that discarded cards can be picked by other players, but beyond that, the set collection feels very different. There is no need to assemble the cards played in ascending order and the scoring is also much simpler than Lost Cities. Consequently, Crazy Chickens does not really “fire” Lost Cities and is neither superior or inferior to Knizia’s classic. Rest easy, Reiner. The original game was designed for only two players but subsequent reimplementations allow you to play up to four. I can see that with two, the zero sum game makes it go back and forth with a lot of blocking and posturing. That will be cool. I think the game plays just fine with both two and three players as well. I have played it with my wife and child and it pretty fun too. I guess there is less chance to play strategically or by manipulating the discard pile, but honestly, the game still depends on luck of the draw and so, this issue doesn’t bother us too much given the short play time.

Crazy Chicken has been reimplemented as Drive by Simply Fun and as Lyttlewood by White Goblin. In each iteration of the game, the core mechanics remain the same but slightly more ways to hinder or score points. I have not tried any of the other versions but honestly, for these short card games, simple is best. However, Crazy Chickens is really hard to find now in the open market and Drive and Lyttlewood also doesn’t seem to be widely distributed either. To come clean, I don’t even own a copy of Crazy Chicken and have been using Bohnanza cards to make do. Right now, you can do this by selecting some of the sets to play the game. We are missing the “7” set though and so it is rather incomplete in my mind, but I think the experience feels the same. It’s too bad the game isn’t widely available any more where I am.

Kids Corner

6 years 10 months: For some reason, I haven’t been able to find a good two player game that suits me and my child. Most of our games are multiplayer adapted for two. It always feels a bit off. Except for Sleeping Queen the rest of my two player specific games feel a little out of reach still. Enter Crazy Chickens. It is perfect for 2/3 players and she loves it! The base game is intuitive enough that she caught on after a game. After that, she is discovering all the nuances in the game, including how long to hold on to a set, the probability of starting a new hand given the number of cards already in play, etc. It’s fun for me to see her develop. More importantly, I like it enough as a two player game with her. If you find a set of any version, grab it. If not, you can modify Bohnanza like we did. It’s not perfect but it will be ok. I can’t recommend this game enough, especially with a kid in the group. It’s fun enough and engaging enough for both adults and kids and there is just enough luck in the game to balance out the age differences in skill.

Note: After repeated plays with 3, I noticed that getting a high value set is critical to secure victory…. at least in our household. We followed the multiplayer rules from Drive where 5 sets are required to end the game for a 3 player game. Still, there is a tendency to hoard. So if everyone avoids the low value sets, the game can drag on because no one wants to collect those and not all sets will hit the table. Not sure if this will consistently happen, but will have to keep an eye out. I have tried the rush to 5 set route and also failed to win.

Initial impression: Great!

07/2022: The game is still fantastic after so many plays. It is a standard filler game for us and we still love. I finally just decided to make my own copy based on the artwork from Kariba. Just added a few more characters and voila! If you want the digital prints, just send contact me on the site.

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