Billabong Boardgamers

Schotten Totten

Publisher: ASS
Players: 2
Reviewed by Debbie Pickett
Reproduced here with kind permission from Funagain Games.

Lost Cities meets Poker

Schotten-Totten is a two-player game in which you are essentially playing nine poker hands simultaneously. To make things easier, the hands are only three cards in size, and all cards on the table are visible to both players.

Not that this is how the game describes itself, because the theme is about two Scottish clans fighting over nine monoliths and the various possible poker hands have unintuitive names suggesting groups of clansmen. Still, like almost all Reiner Knizia games, you can safely ignore the theme and treat the game as an abstract entity. Which is what I'll do in this review.

The nine stones are laid out in a row between the players, who are dealt six cards each from the deck (containing six suits of cards from 1 to 9). Now each player in turn plays a card from his or her hand in front of one of the nine stones, and takes a replacement card from the deck. You can only put up to three cards in front of each stone.

Once both players have placed three cards by one stone, the two groups of three cards are examined as if they were reduced-size poker hands. Straight flushes beat everything, followed by three of a kind, followed by flush, then straight, then the highest sum of cards becomes the tie-breaker. The winner gets to keep the stone.

It is possible to claim a stone before your opponent has placed three cards on his or her side of the stone, if you can prove (using other cards already played on the table) that you cannot possibly lose the stone. Sometimes this is very important, as it can help you to win the game under some circumstances.

The game finishes when one player has taken five of the nine stones, or when one player has taken three stones in a row. It is this latter rule that makes placement of your sets of cards important.

And that's the game. In play, it feels very much like Lost Cities, with a little of a rummy element (despite the poker scoring, Schotten-Totten doesn't really have much of the feel of that game). Because you have seemingly more ways to win a stone, there is an illusion of you having more control over the game's outcome than in Lost Cities, which can occasionally be dreadfully luck-affected. Nevertheless, it is an illusion, and you really have far fewer choices than it seems: either you draw the card you need (and you will likely win), or your opponent does (and you will almost certainly lose). In the end, Schotten-Totten plays more like Lost Cities than it would initially seem.

The rules suggest that you play several hands - each of which can be played in ten minutes - and keep a cumulative score to determine the eventual winner. This is good advice given the large luck element.

For a light two-player card game, Schotten-Totten hits the mark perfectly. If you enjoy Lost Cities, you will enjoy this one, but stay away from both if you dislike games that can be dominated by chance.

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