Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of friends who are always out experiencing the best of entertainment. Be it plays, films, concerts, exhibits, or restaurants, they’ve learned that the arts are best when experienced together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. Recently, the girls were introduced to a card game by La Mame Games about the fun of deception and political gain. Let’s listen in on their conversation…
“Come on, Dania, you said ‘just a minute’ three minutes ago!”
“It’s an expression! It’s figurative!”
Eleanor cut the plastic wrap off the game box anyway, and proceeded to shuffle the small stack of cards. As Contessas and Ambassadors flashed by in the deck, Eleanor caught Gwen stacking the small cardboard tokens into even piles.
“You’re going to want to leave those unstacked for the game,” Eleanor explained. “You want to be able to see how many tokens everyone else has.”
“Dania!” Eleanor called. “We will start without you!”
“Hold on, mom!”
Eleanor continued shuffling, as Gwen stacked tokens. It had taken some convincing to get Gwen and Dania to agree to learning a new card game. But Eleanor had recently discovered “Coup,” the 2012 game by designer Rikki Tahta, and she was determined to bring the chaotic fun she had had at her friend’s housewarming to her own apartment. Besides, she knew that at least Gwen would get into the game. She had a mind for calculating decisions five steps ahead.
“So what’s the point of the game?” Gwen said, holding the card containing the game’s rules. “Get the most money? Or survive the longest?”
“Survive.” Eleanor turned over five of the cards – five different designs, each showing a futuristic character. “You get two cards each round, and you have to use them to acquire money or stop other people from getting money. When you have enough money, you can kill people in different ways.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Gwen said. She picked up the card with the image of a woman in black, with blonde bangs and shadowy, cobalt eyeshadow. “This woman looks badass.” She turned the card so Eleanor could see.
“Yeah, that’s the assassin,” Eleanor said. “One way of killing people is to have that card, plus three tokens. People can only block it if they have the Contessa…” She pointed to another card, a redhead with a massive scarlet collar. “This one.”
“Fantastic,” Gwen said, picking up the Contessa card. She glanced at the remaining three – a scarfaced sneering man in a blue coat, a dapper man in a matching turban and ascot and an Asian man with what looked to be a pocket watch on his forehead.
“This is so well designed,” Gwen commented. “The art on every card is really detailed and easily differentiated from each other. There’s even some worldbuilding worked in there. We haven’t even started and it feels like there’s a narrative behind the game.”
“One reason I like it so much,” Eleanor agreed. “Tabletop games are going through a renaissance right now. There are a ton of new ones every year, and a lot of them are developed by tiny teams, rather than, like, Hasbro or something.”
Eleanor held up the front of the box. “Board games have authors now. ‘By Rikki Tahta.’ I think it’s cool.”
“Hm,” Gwen said. “It’s almost like the path video games took, moving from developed by a studio to developed by people. Can a card game can become high art?”
“Coup is probably too simple for that,” Eleanor said. “There’s a backstory on the box, but really it’s a game about lying to your friends.”
She turned to look at the hallway. “Speaking of lying. DANIA!”
Dania walked out of the hallway a moment later. “Sorry I had to finish the grant application, Eleanor. Kind of important to finish under the deadline, and I don’t like to leave things half done.”
“It’s fine, you’re here now,” Eleanor said. She spread the cards out again. “Okay, so here’s how it works. You want to be the last person with cards remaining. So, everyone will get two cards, and each character has different special skills that can help you get money or make other people lose cards.”
Eleanor quickly ran through the abilities of each character: taking money from other players, blocking assassinations, being able to exchange your cards for new ones.
“I’m not following all of this,” Gwen said.
“It’s all on this little sheet,” Eleanor said, holding it up. “It’s a quick-learning game, once you get the hang of it. And matches are short, only five to ten minutes, so you can burn through a lot of games and figure it out.”
“Good. Then let’s start!” Dania said.
Eleanor doled out the cards. Dania was soon staring at the purple circle-scarf of the Duke and the ponytail of the assassin.
“Okay, so I can now do anything that my characters can do,” Dania said. “So if I don’t have the one that blocks assassinations, I can’t do that.”
“Well, sort of,” Eleanor said. “See, the trick with the game is that you only have to reveal your cards if someone calls you on it. So you can go through the whole game pretending you have the right cards to do anything, so long as you pretend you do and no one can disprove it.”
“Oh, so it’s about trying to count cards and read people’s eyes,” Gwen said, a smile creeping onto her face.
“That’s one way,” Eleanor said. “It can also just be luck if you guess wrong or right.”
“Okay,” Dania said. She made a mental note that it would likely be easier to simply tell the truth during her first round, utilizing the powers of the Duke and Assassin. A good pair, she quickly learned, as her Duke was able to take three coins per round – which happened to be the exact amount needed to assassinate Gwen on Dania’s second turn.
“You’re assassinating me?”Gwen said, distraught.
“Yep,” Dania said. “I have the card, so you better not have the Contessa.”
“I don’t,” Gwen said. “Am I out?”
“You just drop one of your cards,” Eleanor explained. “Just pick whichever one.” She leaned over to Dania as Gwen placed her Ambassador on the table. “And next time,” Eleanor whispered, “you don’t have to say you have the Assassin to assassinate.”
The round continued. Eleanor was called by Gwen on pretending to have the Captain, and Gwen lost her second card by trying to claim Eleanor didn’t have the Duke.
“So now I’m just out?”
“Yeah. So now it’s Dania versus me.”
Dania gripped her Duke and Assassin. She wanted to claim she had the Ambassador, and possibly get a new card from the deck. But would Eleanor believe her? Gwen’s Ambassador was exposed, and only three of each card existed. Dania balanced the pros and cons: she could get a card that would defend her against an upcoming attack, or she could lose a card for lying and thus be weaker in her coming attacks. Meanwhile, she looked up at Eleanor, reading her face and making her own determinations about the root of Dania’s stress.
“I’m…going to get two new cards…” Dania said, taking two from the deck. Eleanor’s mouth opened slightly, prepared to call Dania on her lack of an Ambassador, but at the last minute she decided against it and sat back.
Dania traded her Assassin for the Captain – who, she believed, should have been the Assassin, based on how evil he looked compared with the Sia-esque image for the real Assassin. She had switched strategy now: rather than try to attack Eleanor, she would stop her from getting the money needed to attack again.
“Duke,” Eleanor said, taking three tokens from the pile.
“I’m the Captain and I’m stealing two coins from you,” Dania said, pulling the tokens across the table.
“I don’t think you have the Captain,” Eleanor said, gripping the side of the table.
Dania froze. She looked down at the Captain in her hand, and tried to remember the rules of being called a liar.
“What…happens now?” Dania asked.
“Well, do you have the Captain?”
“Oh,” said Eleanor dejectedly. She tossed down her card – an Assassin – and pushed her tokes into the center pile. “That means you win, Dania.”
“Nice work,” said Gwen.
“I’m the best!” Dania said, tossing her Duke and Captain onto the table. “I only lied once that entire round!”
“What?” Gwen said. “I thought the whole point was to lie and get better cards.”
“That strategy does work sometimes,” Eleanor said. “Especially for new players. It teaches you to work around the limits of your cards rather than start counting unhatched chickens.”
“I suppose,” Gwen said. “Lying about the cards is certainly high-risk, high-reward. If no one calls you on it, you can basically do anything. Unless you get Coup’d.”
“I feel like too many people forget about the Coup as a strategy,” Eleanor said. “People get focused on the Assassinations, and how no one can counter a Coup. My strategy is finding a Duke and stockpiling enough money to Coup people.” She glared over at Dania, playfully. “Unless someone starts stealing my money with the Captain!”
“Only at the very end!” Dania said. “I had the Duke and Assassin most of the game, I was doing both strategies.”
“Like I said,” Eleanor said, “luck always rules.”
“Let’s keep going,” Gwen said. “I know what I did wrong.”
“You get into it quick!” Eleanor reiterated.
“I’m all in on Coup-ing people.”
“Tell us your whole plan, Gwen” Dania said.
Eleanor grinned. She passed out another round of cards, and the girls began the next of many rounds to come.
image credit: Geeks Under Grace