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Friday
Sep182015

Review: Reiner Knizia's Icarus from Victory Point Games

 

In their own words:  “Bluffing, guile and strategy abound as you ask the most relevant question: How high can you fly?”—back of Icarus box. 

 

Components:  126 high-quality cards—I can’t say enough about the raise in production quality at VPG in recent years; 30 double-sided Feather tokens; 1 game mat—I’d like to have a sturdier board than this.  1 bid value marker

 

Game Play:  This game is basically the pub game Liar’s Dice done with cards instead of dice.  Players draw a hand of cards from seven decks (with different color card backs) to form a hand, and a “Daedalus” hand is drawn in secret and removed from play to make card counting harder.  One player looks at his hand, chooses a color and estimates how many points he thinks (or maybe just pretends to think) are in one of the colors, marking his bid on the game mat.  It will sometimes make sense to “lie” by making a bid that isn’t really likely given the card in the player’s hand.  The next player in line can offer a challenge or raise the bid (optionally discarding a card and drawing a replacement and changing the color if he wants).  When a bid is challenged, all players reveal what card of that color they are holding.  The numbers are totaled and the loser of the challenge takes a negative-score token.  The game continues until one player has taken four tokens. At that point, the player with the highest score wins.  The game becomes a little dance of drawing, bluffing and guessing based on what you have in your hand and what you think the other players have. 

 

 

My Take:  Before getting on with the review, it is only fair that I cop to something: I absolutely love Liar’s Dice, especially as tweaked from its parlor game origins by Richard Borg.  His version (also called Call My Bluff) won the prestigious Spiel Des Jahres (Germany’s Game of the Year) in 1994 and I think it was a worthy winner.  Because of my love for Liar’s Dice, I’ve played a lot of “Liar’s Dice, but with cards!” games over the years, but they have all fallen flat for me.  Truthfully, I have no interest in replacing Liar’s Dice with “Liar’s Cards.”  The basic game of Icarus is mostly that, so I had some fear that this would be one of those “one play and done” games for me.  Luckily, I discovered a bit of magic in the game’s box. That magic comes from the game’s variant rules in the form of Flight cards.

 

Flight cards are a deck of cards that the players can draw from during their card step by revealing one of their number cards face up in front of them (making it impossible for that player to bluff in that particular color).  Having your card in front of you for all to see is a huge disadvantage, but many of the Flight cards do things that are worth that concession—like allow the player to move a bid lower, skip having to bid or challenge, or look at the undrawn cards in an Icarus stack.

 

These Flight cards add just enough spice and variety to up the game’s “fun factor” to the point that I might sometimes choose it over Liar’s Dice.  It actually reminds me of the relationship between two other Knizia designs:   Schotten-totten and Battle Line.  Schotten-totten was a solid but dry 3-card poker variant, but when the Tactics cards were added to it for GMT’s Battle Line, it became a lot more fun because players could no longer rely on simple card counting to determine what play to make.  The Flight cards do the same thing in Icarus, and I’m glad Victory Point Games came up with the variant.  I’m pretty sure I’ll never play the game again without them.  That “vanilla” version of the game isn’t bad, mind you, it just isn’t particularly fun.

 

I subject my game group to a lot of new games that I need to play in order to review.  After I’m satisfied I can review them, most of them don’t see the table again unless I bring them up.  It is perhaps telling that while I had a group playing games for review tonight, the guys forming another table came up and asked if I had brought Icarus.

 

Review Score: 3.5/5—Good!  

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