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[Review] Sneeze

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tomvasel
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Joined: 03/23/2011

I first heard of Sneeze (Cambridge Games Factory, 2005 - Ed Carter and Carl Chudyk) from a review by Shannon Appelcline. He mentioned that it was a kids game that he enjoyed; and I was immediately interested, since Shannon's declaration of the game as a winner intrigued me. When I received the four different games that Cambridge Games Factory makes, also including Splat!, Glory to Rome, and Ice Pirates of Harbour Grace, I thought that Sneeze was probably the most lackluster themed of the group. But because of Shannon's good words (he is the best reviewer on the internet), I decided to play Sneeze first.

Then I played it again, and again. I was surprised at just how much fun the game really was! It was tremendously simple and is obviously meant to be played in a light-hearted, easy going way. Yet it worked well enough, and had a good amount of strategy in it - I was enamored enough to put it on my "Fillers to pull out any time, any place" list. It's one of the few games that actively helps those who fall behind; and although the very end of the game was slightly stagnant, overall, it was a very enjoyable experience; and I expect to play it many times this year.

Two decks of cards are shuffled and placed face down on the table - a pile of "Sneeze" cards next to thirty "And Now…." Cards. Each player receives one face up Sneeze card (smog, dogs, cats, pollen, or dust) in front of them to show what their allergy happens to be. A large wind card is placed a distance away from the sneeze pile, designating the "Upwind Sneeze Pool" - whose "Downwind" counterpart lies on the other side of the two draw decks. One player is chosen to go first.

On a player's turn, they must either flip the top Sneeze card into either of the two Sneeze Pool piles or play an "And Now…" card from their hand face up. They must declare what pile they are flipping the card into before turning it over. After the card is flipped over, the pool which is blowing in players' faces (at start - the Upwind pool) is compared to each pile. If there is a card in the pool that matches every card in front of a player (their allergies), then that person "sneezes". Both they and the player who made them sneeze draw one And Now… card. Also, the sneezing player must flip the top sneeze card and add it to their current allergies. Finally, all Sneeze cards that are in the pool are discarded.

It is possible to make more than one person sneeze at a time, which nets the current player an And Now… card for each of them. Players can even make themselves sneeze. If a player ever draws a Windy Day card from the Sneeze deck, the direction of the wind changes. The wind card is moved to face the other pool, and any cards there are immediately checked against players' allergies to see if any of them sneeze.

And Now… cards can always be played to play two Sneeze cards instead of one. Alternatively, each card has a special ability, such as removing certain cards from the Sneeze Pool, swapping allergy cards with an opponent, etc.

A player's maximum allergies is four; they can't have more than that. If they sneeze again, nothing happens except the clearing of the pool. If a person with four allergies makes another person sneeze, they give them one of their allergy cards instead of that person drawing from the deck. The last person to have fewer than four allergies with everyone else having four, is the winner!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: The game comes packaged in a large plastic bag. While this is functional, acceptable, and inexpensive, I must say that I like boxes a bit better, which is why I immediately transferred my game. The cards have humorous cartooney artwork on them and are of decent quality, although the non-rounded corners do bend a bit with heavy use. Each allergy card is a distinctly different color with associated picture; so the game is very easy visually, and matching allergies can be done in a blink.

2.) Rules: The fifteen page rulebook takes nothing for granted, even having some of the rules written in purple to clarify how the game can be played with children. The rulebook is actually quite nice and spends much time and color illustrations setting out examples and how exactly to play the game. There's even a description of each And Now… card, for further clarification. This almost seemed like overkill, because the game was honestly that simple. No one that I played with had even a remote problem understanding the rules; it's easier to show than tell them, and a quick demonstration satisfied all those I taught.

3.) Poor get Richer: One fascinating aspect of Sneeze is that every time one sneezes, it gets harder and harder for them to sneeze in the future. And, every time someone sneezes, they also receive an And Now… card, which have a variety of useful effects. Causing people to sneeze is nice; but once a person sneezes, it's not the end of the world, and they get a little stronger.

4.) Strategy: There really aren't any great depths of strategy here; you simply decide what pool to throw a card in. Sometimes the choice is obvious; it may be too dangerous for you to throw a card in the active pool, so one just throws a card into the off-wind pool, hoping that the wind changes soon. A good percentage of the time, one simply throws the top Sneeze card into the windy pool, hoping that it makes one or more person sneeze. Using And Now… cards, a player can often rearrange their own allergies, and I assume that one could figure out how many allergy cards of a certain type were left in the deck, giving them the best odds, but that seems highly unlikely.

5.) Fun Factor: Much of the game is luck - simply hoping that your allergy cards aren't flipped over and that other people's are. Yet the game works - it's fast, fun, and even though strategy is fairly minimal, people have a choice every turn; and the illusion that they can are making an important decision helps make the game more palatable. The sneezing theme is certainly unique (that I know of) and is lighthearted and fast enough to make the game a fun filler.

6.) Ending: I'm a little displeased with the ending of the game. Sometimes it seems like a merry-go-round, with players passing allergy cards around until finally one player gets lucky and wins. Shannon mentioned in his review that he thought that the allergy cards shouldn't be capped at four, and I agree. But this continuous loop style of play only happens occasionally, games mostly end in twenty minutes or so. Speed is part of the appeal of Sneeze.

For a light, fun card game from a brand new game publisher, Sneeze is a nice little package. The theme is harmless (I doubt any allergy-ridden folk will take offense); the game is fast, and there's a mite of strategy surrounded by luck. The game flow works rather well with each player announcing where they'll flip a card on their turn, and then flipping it. Checking to see who sneezes only takes a few seconds, and play continues. It's this smooth, fast play style that gives Sneeze it's charm and the reason I'm glad to own a copy.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
www.tomvasel.com

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