Review: Cahoots (iPhone)

Posted by James (admin) on August 15th, 2014

Cahoots iPhone gameIt’s been a long time since I reviewed an iPhone game.  I play plenty of them but, with limited time to write reviews, I usually choose to focus on writing about physical board games.

Cahoots is a trick-taking game with a bit of a difference.  Four players are each dealt cards: 6 suits (colours) and numbered between 4 and 8 with some duplication.  (Suits and colours mean the same thing so I’ll just use the word colour from now.)  Each round, the four players take turns playing a card and do this twice until 8 cards have been played.  The colour with the highest total wins the round.

Players are each allocated 3 colours at the start of the game – I’ll call these scoring colours.  As there are only 6 colours in total in the deck, each player shares each of their colours with a different opponent.

Once 8 cards have been played, the colour with the highest total wins that round and each player who has that colour as one of their scoring colours scores 2 points.  If there’s a tie between colours, all players earn 1 point for each scoring colour that tied the round.

Before the next round begins, there’s an extra step which adds more tactical decisions to the game.  The players go round twice taking turns to remove the played cards one at a time.  During their two turns, each player must take 1 remaining card into their hand, and discard 1 remaining card from the game – they can do this in either order but can’t take twice or discard twice.  This adds an interesting element: Do you take a card that can help you (before someone else takes or discards it), or do you discard a card that helps other players (before they take it)?  It’s tempting to take lots of cards in one of your scoring colours too, but you only get to play 2 cards each round, so you actually want other players to have some cards so they might play them too.  Remembering what cards have been discarded (and what cards players have taken) is useful but not essential.

After each round, everyone has 1 fewer card and the game ends after the round when all players start with just 2 cards.  If you’re playing a single match, the player with the most points wins; in a full match, you keep playing games until one player wins by accumulating 100 points or more.

When I first started playing, I thought the shared colours with every other player would be too much for my brain to handle/track but it’s actually quite simple and does make you think.  As well as considering the cards currently in play, you should consider which colours were played by who (to see if they’re backing your scoring colours or are trying to team-up with an opponent), and the scoring colours of the players still to play in the round.

The taking/discarding cards game mechanic really adds some interesting and important game play.  If you can see a colour is probably going to win a round, you can forget trying to win the round and play a high-value, non-scoring colour card so it might get discarded instead, or maybe play to help deny an opponent who has a high score.  Also, a high total wins the round but having lots of cards of one colour present means some will get discarded making that colour less likely to score later.  Plus, if someone plays a high card of your non-scoring colour, you could take it so they cant play it.

The game looks very neat and clean, and the cards are very legible.  The running totals for each colour are very helpful, although they would be more clear if the number wasn’t in front of the colour’s icon.  The player information (colours and score) could be re-arranged to be much bigger and more obvious too.  Also, to save having to compare the current totals, the colour with the current highest total could be highlighted, plus the colour icons next to players’ names (and the relevant cards played) could be slightly brighter/highlighted too.  However, all these are enhancements and the game is easily playable without them.

As far as downsides, I think there’s probably not enough variety in replay for me to play for the long-term but, as I mentioned, I’m not the core audience for trick-taking games, and I have found myself returning for a quick game.  As well as adding some progression and other elements to add variety, I can imagine a few possible variants where the scoring colours are unknown at the start of the game (maybe for the entire game, maybe they get revealed part-way through the game, or maybe each round the current leader must reveal one of their scoring colours to handicap them slightly).

Adding a theme would help give the game more identity, rather than the homogeneous colours which tend to turn me off card games.  The menu page has a crime theme but it’s not in the gameplay.  (The game Dead Man’s Draw on iPhone is a good example of an abstract card game with a pirate theme that’s not needed but adds a lot of character.)

I think playing the game in person (or with other human players) would be even better as I can imagine a lot of banter between players as they try to convince others to work together – so I hope the designer is shopping the game around some publishers. (The app is single-player only.)

Personally, I don’t play too many trick-taking games (primarily because they can feel fairly similar, but also because I tend to suck at them); however, I like trick-taking games that feel different and aren’t too complicated, such as Triumverate and Amigo’s excellent Sieben Segel.  So, with many games on my iPhone and iPad, I was pleasantly surprised that I found myself returning to Cahoots for a quick game and started to see some additional tactics.


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