- For ages 8 and up (publisher suggests 12+)
- For 3 to 8 players
- Variable game length
- Active Listening & Communication
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Pattern/Color Matching
- Hand/Resource Management
- Child – Easy
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- Gamer Geek rejected!
- Parent Geek approved!
- Child Geek approved!
A simple deck of cards has been used as the cornerstone of countless games and for some of the earliest. The first playing cards appeared in the ninth century during the Tang dynasty in China and have been part of just about every culture in the world since. Many of our first game experiences involve a standard deck of playing cards, but the thrill of 52 cards is long since gone for most gaming enthusiast. Can we find love for our decks of plain old cards again? What a conundrum!
Conundrum, by Josh Young Games and published through the Game Crafter, is comprised of 8 Rule card decks (in 8 different colors, 8 cards in each deck), 2 decks of standard playing cards (minus the Jokers), 1 pencil, and 1 pad of paper (for recording scores). The Rule cards are roughly half the size of standard playing cards. All the cards are made of thick card stock and durable.
Game Set Up
To set up the game, first have each player select a complete Rule deck. Each Rule deck should be comprised of 8 cards that are all the same color. Other than their colors, there is no difference to them. Any Rule decks not selected are set aside and not used for the duration of the game.
Second, shuffle the 2 decks of standard playing cards together thoroughly to create on large deck. This deck is referred to as the “Playing deck”. Deal out one card at random to each player. The player who was dealt the highest valued card is the first player for the first round of the game. Collect all the cards and shuffle the Playing deck one more time.
Third, place the Playing deck in the middle of the playing area and draw the first card from the deck’s top, placing it beside the Playing deck face-up. This revealed card starts the “Play pile”.
Fourth, give the pencil and the pad of paper to one player to use to keep track of players’ scores.
That’s it for game set up! Time to play!
The game is played in 8 rounds. Each round includes all the players at once. A standard round is completed in 4 steps. These steps are summarized here.
Step 1: Shuffle the Playing Deck
The first step of each round is to take any cards previously played and reshuffle them into the Playing deck. Then the Playing deck is placed in the middle of the playing area and the top card of the deck is drawn and placed to the side of the Playing deck face-up to create the Play pile. For the first round, this has already been done as part of the game set up.
Step 2: Select a Rule
Each player has the same number and type of cards in their own Rule deck. Each deck contains 8 specific rules that will govern how the player (not their opponents) will play the round. As the game progresses, the player will have a reduced number of Rule cards to select from. Each of the 8 rules are summarized here.
- Higher: the player must always play a card to the Play pile that is HIGHER than the previously played card. In Conundrum, the “Two” is the lowest and the “Ace” is the highest. For example, if the previously played card on the Play pile was a “Seven”, the player can only play an “Eight” or above. By selecting Higher as the Rule card of choice for the round, the player can never play their “Two” and can never play higher than the “Ace”.
- Lower: the opposite of the Higher rule, the player must always play a card to the Play pile that is LOWER than the previously played card.
- Sequence: the player must always play a card to the Play pile that is either one higher or one lower in value than the last card played to the Play pile. For example, if the last card played was the “Seven”, the player could play their “Six” or their “Eight”. When this rule is in play, the player can “wrap” the sequence. For example, if the last card played to the Play pile was the “Ace”, the player could play a “Two” or the “King”.
- Alternate Color: the player must always play a card that has a different color than the last card played to the Play pile. For example, if the last card played was red, the player could play any black colored card they have in their hand, regardless of its value.
- Match Suit: the player must always play a card that matches the same suit as the card previously played to the Play pile. For example, if the last card played to the Play pile was “Clubs”, the player can play any other “Club” card with any value.
- Match Odd/Even: the player must always play a card whose value matches the “odd” or “even” value of the card previously played to the Play pile. For example, if the last card played to the Play pile was an “Eight” (which is an even number), the player can play any other even valued card from their hand of any color or suit. “Jacks” are odd valued (being the equivalent to “Eleven”, “Queens” are even valued (being the equivalent to “Twelve”), and “Kings” are odd valued (being the equivalent to “Thirteen”). “Aces” can be played as either an odd or even valued card.
Where the above 6 rules always have the player play to the Play pile that is influenced by their opponents (and vice versa), the seventh and eighth rule allow the player to play cards directly in front of them instead of to the collective Play pile.
- Pairs: the player attempts to create pairs of cards. This is done by taking 2 cards from the player’s hand that match or taking 1 card from the player’s hand and the previously played card on the Play pile. Pairs are any two cards that have the same matching value. For example, two “Fours”. The card suits do not have to match, nor do their colors.
- Five Card Poker: the player attempts to complete two Poker hands using all 10 of their cards. These can be any combination of a Flush (five cards of the same suit), a Straight (five cards in a non-wrapping sequence), or a Full House (three cards with the same value and two cards with the same value). On their turn, the player can either draw the previously played card from the Play pile and then discard a card to the Play pile OR play a Flush, a Straight, or a Full House to the table. A player can never draw and play cards to the table on their same turn and only one five card Poker hand can be played per turn to the table (you cannot play 2 five card Poker hands on a single turn).
All Rule cards to be played for the round are selected and placed face-down in front of the player so as not to reveal to any of their opponents what Rule card they will be using for the round. Additionally, all players will know what cards they have in their hand and know what the first card in the Play pile is before they are asked to select a Rule card.
Once all the players have placed their selected Rule card in front of them, they are all revealed simultaneously and the next step in the round beings. Players should keep their selected Rule card for this round out in front of them so all their opponents can see it and they can easily refer to it.
Step 3: Play Cards
Players now play their cards in their hand in accordance to the Rule card they selected for the round. Remember that players are only required to follow the rules of the card they selected, not what their opponents selected. The player to the Dealer’s left will always start the round.
If a player is ever unable to play a card (or chooses not to), they simply state “Pass”. They are not out of the round, but must wait until their turn comes round again to play a card.
This step continues until one player plays the last card in their hand OR all the players “Pass”.
Step 4: Score and Cleanup
All the players now count the number of cards they have left in their hand (1 to 10 possible). The number of cards in their hand indicates how many points they have scored this round. The player with the pencil and paper should write each player’s name and each of their scores for this round and then add the scores of later rounds to it.
All the Rule cards that were played for this round are collected and set aside for the duration of the game. These Rule cards are no longer available to the players.
The player who played the first card of the round is now the Dealer. They take all the cards (except the Rule cards) and shuffle them to create a new Play deck following step 1 above, unless this was the eighth and final round.
After the eighth and final round, all the points scored by the players are now added together. The player with the LEAST number of points is the winner!
To learn more about Conundrum, visit the game’s web page on the Game Crafter.
Too often, I have been asked to play a game using a standard deck of cards and felt that painful twist of apathy in my gut. Like so many Gamer Geeks, I no longer see a standard deck of cards as anything other than a medium to play boring games of chance and tiresome hand management. With no theme and narrative in a game, I have a hard time keeping engrossed and eager to see what will change during future rounds. It’s always the same thing – pick up a card – play a card – rinse – repeat – yawn – groan – etc.
But Conundrum has turned my head and I want a better look. I recognize all the game play as easy, don’t think there will be any difficulty (except for perhaps the Poker hands) teaching the game to any of our play groups, and really like the idea that the players decide which rules they will specifically play to each round. It’s a refreshing way to look at a game that has long since stagnated. But will it be enough of a twist to keep players at the table? For the Child and Parent Geeks, without a doubt. In fact, I expect to see Conundrum greatly appeal to non-gamers and casual gamers from different generations. There is nothing to this game that suggests an overt level of challenge to a player’s definition of a standard card game. Until you ask them to make up their own rules, that is. But even this is very straight forward and well within the bounds of common standard playing card law. Nothing the Rule cards are asking for is over the top or brazenly bucking the system. Heck, this is a game I could have put in front of my Great, Great Grandmother and she would have understood how to play the game in a few minutes.
I don’t think the Gamer Geeks will endorse Conundrum for two reasons. First, it’s just a card game that takes simple rules of play and gives the ability to control which ones are used to the player. Second, the game is a bit too simple for most elitist Gamer Geeks to begin with. But, I don’t see why the Gamer Geeks won’t also give the game a solid “A” for effort, either. Yes, it’s simple, but giving the players the ability to change the rules of play only for themselves based on what is available and what they have in their hand is unique.
This game is going to be exceedingly simple to explain. At most, I will need to put a bit more effort into the Rule cards for Pairs and Five Card Poker. This is especially true for our younger geeks who have not played Poker before. The only limiting factor I see to the game is the player’s need to be able to read their Rule cards and understand how they can use them with their currently held hand of 10 cards. My 5-year-old (and any Child Geek who cannot read very well yet) will either need help (which will reduce their level of fun) or just partner up.
And so, after teaching the game to my two oldest Child Geeks (my 5-year-old opted to partner with me for the first game and with his brother during the second), we were ready to play Conundrum. They didn’t have any questions other than wanting to know what snack they could have while playing. We went with Cheerios. While they grabbed those delicious rings of fiber goodness and stuffed them into their mouths, I asked them what they thought of Conundrum so far.
“A neat idea. I really like how we get to change the rules each time we play the game!” ~ Liam (age 8)
“I think it’ll be hard, but you and I can beat Liam together, Daddy!” ~ Nyhus (age 5)
At which point, he stuck his tongue out at his older brother, his older brother responded with a flicked Cheerio (that hit me), and I gave both of them a look that could curdle milk. Let’s play Conundrum and see if it keeps everyone at the table entertained or leaves us feeling puzzled.
With all the Child Geeks we played Conundrum with, not a single player found the game to be anything less than “a lot of fun” and “terribly frustrating”. When the cards were being played in the Child Geek’s favor, it was nothing but sunshine, rainbows, and tra-la-la’s. When the cards and Play pile took a downward turn, so did the spirits of the Child Geeks. They became moody, despondent, and a bit belligerent. Of course, every round offers a swing in either emotional direction, and it was strangely amusing to watch the Child Geeks go through a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde transition round after round after round. No matter their emotional state after the game, all the Child Geeks agreed to approve of Conundrum.
I could best describe the Parent Geek’s level of enjoyment as a slightly more refined but no less exuberant state of love for the game. All the Parent Geeks we played the game with thought it to be an excellent time for their family and with their peers. Even the non-gamers were enjoying themselves and were playing as competitively as their more gamer geeky counterparts. According to one Parent Geek, “this is a great way to play a simple game of cards that changes each time we play it!” Conundrum was eagerly approved by the Parent Geeks.
The Gamer Geeks didn’t appreciate Conundrum as much as I had hopped. I had originally predicted that the gamer elitists would, at the very least, give the game a couple of plays because of how challenging it could be to attempt to pick the right rules. None of the Gamer Geeks wanted to play the game again after playing it once, however. They all recognized it as a good card game, but not for them. According to one Gamer Geek, “this is just a game where you play your hand differently each time. That isn’t all that interesting to me.” That was more or less the same level of thought around the gaming table. The Gamer Geeks didn’t endorse Conundrum as a result.
Conundrum, while certainly not scoring high marks with the Gamer Geek elitists, did exceptionally well with the Child and Parent Geeks, including the non-gamers and the more traditional card players. The games are fast, fun, and best of all, challenging. The amount of tension that is in the air each round can be measured exponentially as the game progresses. By the time the final Rule card is played, players either know they have it in the bag or will be biting their fingernails in nervous anticipation of the final score. More times than not, games are close and the difference between first place and second is only a few points.
I am very pleased with Conundrum. I wouldn’t bring it to a Gamer Geek elitists night or to a gathering of gamers, but I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest it to family and friends, pack it with me on a trip to the lake, or to bring to a dinner party. The game is wonderfully simple to teach and a great deal of fun to play. Best of all, the game is highly accessible to a wide age range, diverse skill groups, and accommodates a large number of people. Simply wonderful and a fresh new way to play with those boring old standard deck of cards that seldom get much love. Do check out Conundrum when you have a chance.
This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.