May 11th, 2006
I used to have a website devoted to boardgames, where I often reviewed games of such length and complexity that they would likely only be of interested to fellow gamers. Now I write this blog, which is read by a lot of people who don’t have the slightest interest in boardgames. I still like to write about games from time to time, but now I tend to showcase titles that I think will appeal to even the non-games in the crowd. That means games that are fun, short, and easy to play and learn.
Perhaps no game has ever fit that description better than No Thanks!. It’s tense and exciting, an entire game only takes 10 minutes, and it’s so simple that I often introduce it to people as “The One Rule Game.”
The game is played with a deck of 33 cards (ranked 3 through 35) and each player is given 11 poker chips. Before play the cards are shuffled, nine are removed and set aside unseen, and the deck is placed facedown in the center of the table. A start player is named, and the fun begins.
A round begins with a player flipping over the top card from the draw deck. Then (here’s the One Rule, pay attention) each player in turn has the option to do one of two things: pass (by placing one of their chips onto the card) or take the card (and all the chips on it). Play may go around the table several times (the pile of chips on the card accumulating all the while) before someone finally bites the bullet, takes the card, and starts the next round by flipping over the next card from the deck. The game ends after the last card has been claimed.
Why the reluctance to take cards? Because at the end of a round you receive points equal to the value of all the cards you took — and points are bad. Chips, meanwhile, are worth negative points. So Joe ends the game with the 5 card, the 25 card, the 27 card, and seven chips, his final score would be (5 + 25 + 27) – 7 = 50 points. The player with the fewest points wins.
Games this simple usually need a twist to make them interesting; No Thanks! has one and, man, it’s a doozy. If you have two or more cards with consecutive values, you only score for the lowest valued card in the run. If Joe had also managed to acquire the 26 card, his final score would be (5 + 25) – 7 = 37 — the 25-26-27 run would score 25 points total. So while you are generally trying to avoid taking cards in No Thanks! (hence the name), taking a specific card can occasionally save your hide. Of course, there’s no guarantee the card you need is even in the deck, or that the player before you won’t snap it up just to spite you. If you take the 31 card and the 33 card early in the game, you’ll be a nervous wreck until the 32 makes its appearance (and dead in the water if it never does).
No Thanks! is such a great game for non-gamers (and gamers alike) that I usually pick up a few decks every time I place a game order and give them out as gifts. You could argue that $8 is a bit much to pay for 33 cards and a handful of chips, but I have plenty of games on my shelf that cost three times that and aren’t half as fun. If you consider yourself the sort of person who “doesn’t really like games,” pick up a copy of No Thanks! — after a few rounds you are likely to reconsider.