Game Review: “Shenanigans” by Kazam Games

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At first blush, the cards in “Shenanigans” look a lot like a standard set of playing cards, with one major difference: there’s only one “suit,” and that’s lucky clovers. As luck would have it, the good folks over at Kazam Games gave 3-Sided-Die the chance to playtest and review a prototype of this new card game.

How do you win?

The goal of “Shenanigans” to have the least number of points among all players by the end of the game.

How do you play?

Each player is dealt nine cards. You arrange the cards into a three-by-three grid and turn any two of them face-up. The rest of the deck is put into the center of the table and becomes the “draw pile.” The top card of the draw pile is turned face up and put into a separate “discard pile.” The person to the dealer’s left starts the game.

When it’s your turn, you choose a card from the top of either the draw or discard piles. If you take a card from the draw pile, you can swap that card with any one of yours or put it into the discard pile and pass the turn to the next player. If you take a card from the discard pile, you have to swap it with one of yours. The card you swapped goes into the discard pile, and you pass the turn. It doesn’t matter whether you switch one of your face-up or face-down cards, but your new card is always turned face-up.

The three-by-three grid for a two-player game of "Shenanigans," with the draw and discard piles in between.

The three-by-three grid for a two-player game of “Shenanigans,” with the draw and discard piles in between.

Each of the cards in has a point value of 1 through 10. Kings, queens, and jacks are each worth 10 points, and the aces are worth one point. Jokers not only serve as a “wild card,” but have a negative value of -2 to drop your overall points. There are two cards unique to “Shenanigans”: a “pot of gold” card that’s sort of a “super joker,” worth -5 points as well as a wild card; and a “mischief” card that’s literally “good for nothing” … it’s worth zero points and is not wild.

The “pot of gold”: one of the unique new cards in “Shenanigans.”

Three cards with the same value across, up, or diagonally in your grid is a “three-of-a-kind,” which cancels out the points of those cards (totaling zero). To keep your points low, swap out your higher-point cards for lower-point cards, make as many three-of-a-kinds as you can, or (why not) both.

“Three-of-a-kind,” with the joker helping as a wild card. Together, these cards are worth -2 points (zero for the three-of-a-kind and -2 for the joker).

What can’t you do?

You can’t turn a card face-up without swapping it from the draw or discard piles, you can’t look at any of your face-down cards (sorry, this isn’t Magic: The Gathering, folks), and you can’t choose among the cards in the discard pile; you can only draw the one on top.

When does the game end?

The turns, or “rounds,” end when one of the players has swapped out all of their face-down cards. At that point, each of the other players gets one last chance to swap a card from the draw or discard piles. They then turn up any other face-down cards they have and count the total points on all of their cards. Whoever has the lowest number of points is the winner.

The end of a two-player game. My cards, at the bottom, totaled 5, while my opponent’s totaled 8.

We do enjoy making shenanigans!

Overall, we found “Shenanigans” to be a fast-based and rousing alternative to traditional card games. The setup and rules may sound daunting, but the game is deceptively simple, quick to learn, and a lot of fun to play.

What’s delightfully unexpected in “Shenanigans” is the tension. In the test games we played, there were a few times one of us drew a 10-point card and had to make the hard choice of soaking up the extra points or discarding it and give the next player a three-of-a-kind. Then there was the hope of pulling off a three-of-a-kind by swapping a card from the discard pile, only to find that the face-down card we swapped was the exact same value. These “shenanigans” had us howling with laughter, especially the turns of fate late in the game. The games went fast; a two-player game can easily be finished in five to 10 minutes, and rules say an average game lasts seven rounds.

The box top promised us “skill, luck, and frustration,” and it deftly delivered on all fronts. Give “Shenanigans” a go in your gaming circle … it might just be the “pot of gold” you’ve been questing for!

About brightmatrix

brightmatrix is a long-time casual gamer. His gaming journey has included Magic: the Gathering, the first, second, and fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the first wave White Wolf games from the late 90s. If you are a denizen of the Twitterverse, you can read his posts on Magic, web development, puns, and other shenanigans at @brightmatrix.

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