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[Review] Kathai

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Joined: 03/23/2011

I’m slowly collecting quite a few of the Adlung Spiele card games. They’re cheap, small, and provide excellent fillers for trading deals. When it comes to actually playing them, however, I’ve found them quite a mixed bag. Some of them are real gems, like Meuterer, while others are dreadful bores, like Ocean. Enough of them are worth it, fortunately, to take the chance on new ones, so I continue to pick them up. It was in this way that I got Kathai (Adlung Spiele, 2000 – Michael Andersch), a game I knew nothing about. I played it, curious to whether it would be a good game, or a stinker.

Kathai, I am happy to say, seems to fall on the more pleasant end of the scale. I really enjoy trading games, and this one is short and fast enough to be a very pleasant diversion. As often is the case with these card games, Kathai might possibly have profited from being a board game, as the setup and game play is not too far removed. And the mechanics of trading, as well as the whole game, are considerably lighter than other trading games, such as Chinatown – and therefore not quite as good. Still, for its price, it’s a nifty little trading game, and one I would recommend.

Cathay (the name in English) is based on trading in Cathay, a province in China, in the days of Marco Polo. Players are attempting to get the most money (victory points), which are kept track of on a separate sheet of paper. Five price cards are arranged in the middle of the table, in order of point value, with five commodity cards (Salt, Gold, Silk, Spices, and Tea) randomly placed – one under each. This shows the initial value of each type of good. Fifty-five trade cards are shuffled, and three are dealt to each player, with the remainder forming a draw pile in the middle of the table. The youngest player starts first, with each player then taking their turn in clockwise order.

On a player’s turn, the first thing they do is draw a card, but only if they have less than seven cards. They then can take one, and only one, of the following actions:
- Exchange Goods: They can trade cards from their hands with other players, making pretty much any deal they want. Each good card shows one to three goods on it, of two different types. All kinds of dealing and wheeling go on, until the player is finished trading. If they don’t wish to (or can’t) trade with anyone, they can put one of their cards face down on the bottom of the draw pile and draw the top card.
- Sell Goods: They can sell one type of their goods. Each good has a current value and demand listed on the card above it. The highest good, for example, has a value of +4, with a demand of seven; and the lowest good is worth nothing, having no demand. The player places all cards with the type of goods they are selling face up on the table. The amount of icons on the cards of that type of goods is counted – and must meet or exceed the “demand” number for that resource. The player then receives one point for each CARD (not icon) that they played, plus points equal to the value of the good. The good card is then moved to the end of the line, and all other goods moved accordingly (the market was flooded). The player takes one of the cards they played and places it face down in front of them, discarding the remainder resource cards out of the game.
- Bribe: The player can play one of their face-down resource cards between two of the good cards in the middle of the board, switching them, and their values. A player cannot reverse a previous bribe.
- Get additional Trade Cards: A player can discard one of their face-down cards to draw an additional card (as long as they have less than seven cards).
- Pass

After a player takes one of the above actions, their turn is over, and play passes to the next person. The game continues until the draw deck is depleted, and then after each player has taken two turns. The player with the most points is the winner!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: Card quality is good, pretty much standard for all of Adlung Spiele. The backs of the cards are in black and white – but for some reason it didn’t bother me that much (I do so love color). I really enjoyed the fronts of the resource cards. They have a picture of a solemn looking camel, as well as large pictures of the goods that card represents, as well as icons in both top-hand corners. The icons are very distinguishable from one another, although we often forgot their “proper” names, calling silk “towels”, tea “coal”, and spices “dirt”. It didn’t really matter, as long as we all knew what we were trading. I liked how the commodity cards moved according to how much they sold, but it would have been nice to have a board on which they moved. This is only an extremely minor quibble, however.

2.) Rules: The rule booklet in the game comes in three languages, but the English version wasn’t really translated very well. It took me a long time to figure out exactly how the game ended, and I finally found the answer on the epitome of answers –, where the designer posted the answer. Still, these kind of things should be caught in publication, sez I. Other than that, however, the rules are rather simple to understand. Trading comes naturally to most people, and the trading in this game is pretty straightforward. We found the game easy to pick up, and even young people adapt to it fairly quickly.

3.) Time: The game, once everybody knows what they are doing, can end fairly quickly. It was fun, but almost over before I really got into the game. The designer has suggested that you go through the deck twice, and I don’t mind this variant. However, because the game was so quick, it serves as an excellent filler that doesn’t “feel” like a filler, thus making it a game often pulled out.

4.) Players and Trading: Due to the fact that there is quite a bit of trading in the game, it certainly plays better with more players (up to five), but even at the minimum of three, the game flows fairly well. Because of the open trading, it’s usually pretty obvious what goods people are going for, but still, surprises can abound, for most of the resource cards have two types of goods on them – and can be used for either one.

5.) Strategy and Fun Factor: Most of the strategy in this game is obvious, so a lot of the game comes down to the cards one draws, and how well they trade them away. Still, knowing how to use the face-down cards is important – should one bribe – making their good more valuable, or take one more card? This, along with some raucous trading, made the game a lot of fun. And no one felt bad if they were far behind in the scoring, because the game was over quickly. For its price, this game delivers on fun, as long as you are a fan of the trading genre.

I recommend that you pick up Kathai. Sure, there are some rule ambiguities, but you just read this review, so they should be cleared up for you! And for its price, you get a good, solid filler game, one that can easily be taught in a short amount of time. There are better trading and negotiation games out there, but this one gives a decent bang for the buck, in a very short time. The theme fits it well, and you’ll enjoy it, so next time you purchase games, you just might want to add this inexpensive gem as “padding” to round out your order.

Tom Vasel

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