“Wow, that sure is shiny.”
“Those cards are crazy shiny!”
I had 9 different people from various game groups join me to play the trick-taking game Anansi, from HeidelBӒR Games, and every single one of them commented first on the sheen of the deck of cards included in the box.
And they are shiny. Like, REALLY shiny.
Luckily, the game that goes along with that sheen shines as bright as the sun…or as bright as the series of games Anansi belongs to, the aptly-named Radiant Culture Series. HeidelBӒR worked with game designers and, maybe more importantly, artists from across the globe to build 4 quick card games which highlight various cultures in fun ways: Spicy, Blaze, Anansi and Coyote.
We’ll tackle the other games in the series soon. For now, does HeidelBӒR succeed with Anansi?
Trick-taking games are a long-standing fave here in my household. Even though The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine is always top-of-mind nowadays, I played Spades every night in college and Hearts was another family favorite for years.
Anansi, designed by Cyril Blondel and Jim Dratma (and based on the mechanics of their earlier design, Eternity), breaks free from standard trick-taking games by changing up just a few of the rules you may know from the trick takers you’ve played in the past.
That starts with having a story. That’s right: a story! Anansi is a man; no wait, he is a spider? No matter what, he’s a trickster and a man known as the “Keeper of Stories.” Anansi has so many stories that he has stored up over the years that now, he needs followers to share those stories with the world.
That’s where the players come in. Over 3 rounds, players are dealt a hand of 8-10 cards in 3 different suits of 14 cards each—Hornet, Leopard and Snake—and to win, they will need to win just the right amount of tricks while also recruiting just the right number of Followers to tell those stories to the people of the world.
Those Followers are represented by Follower cards: one side represents a sad and tired-looking man, while the other is a vibrant, happy and inspired-looking guy. On a turn, one player leads the trick by playing any card from their hand. Other players have to follow suit if they can, but one player—or 2 players in a 5-player game—can throw any card into the center of the table to recruit a certain number of Followers into their play area (0, 1 or 2, as indicated by the number of heads on the discarded card), to match with tricks they have acquired during that round.
Imagine that those sad-looking Followers are sitting in your play area; then, you win a trick. Turn that frown upside down and now they are placed inspired-side up on top of that trick, making it a story for the masses.
Since Anansi is a trick-taking game, one of the 3 suits is always trump, meaning that suit’s cards will best any other cards played in a trick.
To start a round, a couple of cards are placed into the “Trump Display.” So, randomly, Leopard might start the round as the trump suit because it has the most cards in the Display. But that’s where Anansi gets spicy: whenever players toss a card away to gain Followers, that card is added to the Trump Display. This means that over the course of a round, the trump suit may be constantly changing; staying in front of these changes by affecting the trump suit yourself can be a critical success factor in Anansi.
Similar to bidding the exact number of tricks you and a partner have to take in a game of Spades, Anansi asks players to do the same thing. If you are able to take exactly the number of tricks that match up with your recruited Followers, you’ll get a round bonus in addition to scoring a single point for every inspired Follower. (Remember, tricks are “Stories” in Anansi parlance.) These round bonuses dictate the difference between winning and losing. Also, if you ever end a round with more uninspired Followers than tricks, you don’t score any of your inspired Followers!!
I love Anansi. The cardplay is slick, and I love trick-taking games. The artwork is magnificent, truly spectacular, with African artists Dayo Baiyegunhi and Emmanuel Mdlalose providing slick-looking pictures for each suit of Story cards. Even though there are only 3 unique pictures per suit (for example, cards 1-4 in Hornet have the same picture, 5-9 a different one, etc.), the art style mixed with the metallic sheen on each one makes each card really stand out.
And these cards feel good in the hands. For such a quick and simple game, Anansi feels like a luxury product.
Anansi’s story, rich artwork and clever trick-taking mechanics make for an elevated casual experience with friends. While I always wish gamers would want to look behind the curtain with how games culturally land with an audience, I know that some will only focus on the quick gameplay. However, I appreciate the work HeidelBӒR put in to shake up the experience!