Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Sunday, 22 July 2018

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Pikoko

Game: Pikoko

Publisher: Brain Games

Designer: Adam Porter

Year: 2018

Pikoko is a new trick-taking game from Adam Porter and Brain Games. I've often associated the designer with party games, like Doodle Rush or Big Bazaar, but Pikoko is actually a twist on the very traditional game of Whist. It's certainly a brightly coloured, fun looking game and we wanted to find out what it could bring to the trick-taking genre.

Trick-taking is a genre of gaming that we enjoy, but it's not one that gets to the table very often, due to most trick-taking games needs more than two players. Pikoko is no exception, playing with 3-5 players, but its appearance on the table means that there is no problem finding players who want to join a game!

3-D plastic peacocks are awesome, but they don't make a great game. In Pikoko they do serve the purpose of holding your cards (or tail feathers) so that you can't see them, but what's the game behind the distracting plumage?


Gameplay

At the start of a round of Pikoko everyone will be dealt a hand of 8 cards, each showing a colour and a number. You are not allowed to look at these cards however, and instead will fill your peacock shaped card holder with the cards so that everyone but you can see what you have, one card will then be dealt into the middle to determine the trump colour for the round. At this point you will bet on how many tricks you think each peacock will win, with points being rewarded for exact guesses and slightly less rewarded for being off by 1. Each player will then play 1 card: If you are feeling particularly confident about a peacock's chances then you can double down on them by playing a card that will give you bonus points should you be exactly correct, but lose you points if you aren't. Alternatively you can play it safe and play the +1 card, after all +1 point is far better than losing points!

Once all of this is done play can begin, players will take turns playing 1 card, not from their own peacock, but from the peacock to their left! determining a winner is fairly standard fair for a trick taking game, the first card played determines the colour for the trick, the next card played must match that colour, if able, and at the end of the trick the card with the highest numerical value is the winner. However if a player somehow can play a card of the trump colour then that card will win the trick instead. Play will continue until all the peacocks have been thoroughly plucked. Points will then be awarded not for the peacock who got the most wins, but for correct guesses, cards will then be revealed for bonus points (or penalties). A game of Pikoko consists of 3 rounds, after which the player with the highest number of points wins.



Amy’s Final Thoughts

Pikoko is a very different beast compared to your average trick taking game, instead of trying to engineer a situation where you win the most tricks possible you instead have little to no power over how many tricks you win, as you can't even see your cards! Instead you play cards of an opponent, seeking to manipulate the odds to make the peacocks you bet on win, but only win the amount that you bet they would!

As you play you will notice small alliances form as players who have bet the same amount on a peacock desperately try to make it win the right number of tricks, and no more! But these alliances can be very fleeting as you can't bet on your own peacock and they may well want yours to do well. Some people may find the lack of information frustrating, but you actually have more information than in a normal card game, instead of knowing 1 hand you know multiple! If you are smart you can engineer the way the round plays in a very subtle, but highly effective way. Unfortunately this isn't always possible due to the luck of the draw, or other player's choices.

There is certainly something to be said for the sheer beauty of the game. Pikoko took an inherently themeless genre and made it gorgeous just by adding plastic peacocks! However the plastic peacocks only allow the cards to be placed in them one way round else no-one cans see what your numbers are and can also be a little hard to draw the cards from. I have noticed that sometimes it can be far too safe to just bet 2 on each peacock, the odds of one peacock scoring 4 tricks are rather low. If you bet 2 so long as they score 1-3 tricks then you will get some reward. Of course it's a betting game and you are unlikely to win by playing it this safe, but if you manage to secure a good lead in the first couple of rounds you can easily cruise through round 3 like this.

There can also be situations where you have very little control over the game, by it's very nature the player with the most power over the round is the one choosing the first colour, they can look over what everyone has and decide which card would make for the best result for them. Should you not be in this position very often then you may find your ability to change the flow of events is relatively low. Conversely when you can manipulate things it feels absolutely great to see your plan come together, so you have to accept that as a mixed bag. Overall I'd highly recommend giving Pikoko a try, it's trick taking, but with a fresh new twist. 

Fi’s Final Thoughts

I'm typically not a fan of betting games, but Pikoko doesn't force you into it in a big way. If you don't want to double down, then you can just play a '+1' card to reduce your risk. If you don't want to take a big risk you can also bet the average number of tokens for every player. Players who want to take more risk can start to analyse the other peacocks to see who has high number cards or who has lots of trump cards and that might lead their betting. It is a slight downside that the player who bets average may well win the game without much effort.



One of the things I love about Pikoko is the pace of each round. If there's been pretty a fair deal, you'll initially have very little control over who wins a round, especially if you're early in the turn order. But if you're later in the round then you might be making some choices that are responsible for determining which peacock wins. Later on in the game, when you all have fewer feathers left, the player who goes first might have all of the control, possibly even knowing that their play is safe, based on what they've learnt about their own feathers.

Pikoko is mostly a relaxed game with moments of joy when you realise the influence you have and can see the round coming together just the way you need it too. Although trick-taking games are traditional, it may be too much of a twist for me to introduce to an audience familiar with card games, like my parents. However, it's a game with betting, which adds another audience and it's a rare game with betting that I enjoy. Pikoko looks great and is really pretty unique in our collection and I would definitely recommend it.

You Might Like...
  • Pikoko provides a real mental challenge as you try to manipulate who is likely to win each turn.
  • It's really interesting to watch alliances form, especially as each round draws to close. The pace of each round is really fun.
  • The game has fantastic production quality. We especially like that each peacock has their own personality and we gave them all nicknames straight away.
You Might Not Like...
  • There is a feeling of lack of control during some turns. The opportunities to make a clever move can be infrequent.
  • It takes a few rounds to understand Pikoko, and as a result, new players can be at a disadvantage.

The Verdict

7/10 Pikoko is a really interesting trick-taking game. It's perhaps not the most accessible for a new player at the table, but it really rewards repeat plays and gives you some great choices throughout the game. It's also one of the best card game productions we've ever seen!

Pikoko was a review copy kindly provided to us by Brain Games.

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