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[Review] Rage

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Joined: 03/23/2011

Quite a few games inspire anger in those playing - often directed at others involved. Now occasionally this means a game won’t be played often, if ever (i.e. Diplomacy), because the fits of rage and irritation can last far beyond the actual game play. When I first heard about Rage! (Amigo, 2000 - no designer accredited, other versions go back as far as 1985), I was initially interested because it was one of the top selling items as Funagain Games, a large online game retailer. But the title of the game sounded as if people would get upset playing the game, so I purchased it with some trepidation.

This opinion was, well, quite unfounded. I have seen some irritation of people playing Rage - but either at the game mechanics (they aren’t too fond of them), or temporarily “screwage” by another player. But the annoyance doesn’t last very long. The game is an extremely fun trick-taking game, with the added ability of being able to support up to eight players. When I have a large group of people willing to play a fun, light game, this is one of my top choices. There’s probably more randomness than other card games, but this one certainly invokes the “fun factor” than any other trick-taking card game I own.

A large deck of 115 cards is shuffled for use in game play. The deck is made up of 16 cards, numbered “0” to “15”, in six different colors: red, yellow, purple, green, blue, and orange. In addition, the deck includes sixteen action cards of five different types. A score sheet is prepared (can be copied from the instructions), and the first of ten rounds is begun. In the first round, ten cards are dealt to each player, with nine cards the second round, and so on - until the tenth round, in which only a single card is dealt to each player. The remainder of the cards is set in the middle of the table, and the top card is turned over, until a colored card is revealed. The color revealed is the trump color for this round.

At the beginning of each round, after the trump color is revealed, players examine their hands and, starting with the first player, declare how many tricks they will win this round - this number being recorded on the score sheet. The player to the left of the dealer goes first, and plays the first card of the first trick (there being ten tricks in the first round, nine in the second, etc.) Each player, in clockwise order, must play a card of the color led, if they have one in their hand. Otherwise, they may play any card in their hand, including action cards. The player who played the highest card in the color led wins the trick, UNLESS trump colored cards are on the table, in which case the highest of them wins. All the cards played are placed in a stack in front of the player who won them, who keeps such stacks separately, in order to show how many tricks they won. The winner of the trick plays the lead card of the next trick, and so on - until all cards have been played. If the first person in a trick plays an action card, then the second player (or possibly third, etc.) determines the lead color for that trick.

What distinguishes Rage from generic card games are the special cards, which do the following: (number in parenthesis is how many are included in the deck.)
- “Joker” (2) - is a wild card, and can be whatever the player declares it to be. The second Joker is considered a higher value than the first.
- “X” (4) - This card “Without Trump” cancels the trump color for the current trick. After the trick is over, a new card is drawn, possibly changing the color of trump.
- “!” (4) - This card, “Change Trump” cancels the trump color, changing it immediately, drawing the top card for possibly a new color.
- “+5” (3) - Whoever wins this trick gains five points.
- “-5” (3) - Whoever wins this trick loses five points.

After a round is over, each player scores points according to a few factors. If they were correct in their proclamation on how many tricks they would win, they gain 10 points. Otherwise, they lose five points. Either way, they gain one point for each trick they took and gaining (or losing) bonus points for each bonus card they took in one of their tricks. The scores are tallied on the sheet, and play proceeds to the next round, with the dealer passing to the right. After the tenth round, the player with the highest total score is the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The cards are of extremely high quality, and fit (just barely) in the box - which is one that I like - having a lid, rather than one that opens at the top. The box and card backs are attractive, and while they don’t have a lot to do with the game - does any theme in a card game? The card fronts are very distinguishable, both with numbers and colors - except that a colorblind person will not be able to play the game, as several of the colors are extremely similar.

2.) Rules: The rules for the Amigo version are only in German, but the English rules are easily downloadable off the net. The game is very easy to teach - immensely so to those who are already big fans of trick-taking games.

3.) Rook: When I was in college, Rook was the rage, and everywhere you went, you could find people playing it. My brother-in-law was himself a huge fan of it, and we spent some arguments over whether the game was skill based or luck based - I stated that a logical person could do well, regardless of experience. To prove my point, I entered the Rook tournament, and managed to get in the same bracket as him. When we and our partners met, I won - one of my most satisfactory wins ever. I was then taken out by my girlfriend (now wife) who wouldn’t even play on my team, because she agreed with her brother. Her trophy for winning the whole tournament is now proudly sitting on our game shelf. I say all this to say that Rage is extremely similar to Rook - with the two extra colors, lack of bidding, and special cards being the main differences. That is not to say that those three things don’t change the game - they do! But most Rook fans I’ve taught the game to enjoy it, although it’s not as “pure” as Rook. I’ve also read that this game is a variant of the game “Oh Hell”, although I don’t know enough about that game to compare.

4.) Variants: There are a great many variants available for the game, with a few of them even included in the rules. My favorite one is where in the last round, players stick the card they draw to their head - seeing everyone else’s card but their own. This can turn the last hand into a total crapshoot, but makes it so much fun. Secret trick bidding, getting two points if you win ALL the bids - all these variants make the game more interesting, when used sparingly.

5.) Chaos: The game is certainly not more chaotic. Even with all eight players drawing ten cards in the first round, there are still 35 cards that aren’t used. This makes card counting impossible, and players have no idea what’s in the deck. The two jokers also add a degree of unpredictability, but the main source of chaos is from the two different cards that change trump. Both of them have an extreme effect on the game, and can really destroy someone’s battle plan. Some people really dislike these cards, as it makes it harder to plan (this is where the Rage comes in, I guess) - but I think that they add a lot of fun to the game.

6.) Fun Factor: As I mentioned in the previous point, the special cards add a lot of chaos to the game. This may turn some off from the game, as it doesn’t really make the game that much more strategic. From a pure strategy, good game play point of view, Rage doesn’t rate up there that highly. So what makes it so fun? Well, it can handle up to eight players for one - and how many games do that successfully? The laughter that accompanies a change in trump, someone being forced to play a card when they don’t want to - seeing someone play a Joker to win a trick, only to see two others throw down “-5” cards - all of this makes the game a rollicking good time.

But it’s not a “gamer’s” game. Of course, some - like myself, prefer a fun game to a mechanically sound one. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll enjoy a Die Macher game with the rest of them - but there is a time and a place for fun and levity, and Rage fits the bill quite nicely. With its 45 minute time slot and its ability to work in large crowds Rage often is played in my house and game clubs. I found that it’s a great introduction to get people who normally only played games such as Uno to realize that there are other great games out there. If you have a chance to get Rage - do so, it’s a good deal for how inexpensive it is. There are better card games, but not too many games that are more fun.

Tom Vasel

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