Cobras: Preview

“Why did it have to be snakes?” And, even worse, why did it have to be a basket full of cobras!  Today, Fairway takes a look at the new Kickstarter game, Cobras, by Suzanne Kabrt-Zinsli and Christopher Zinsli.  See if he can charm this quick trick taking game or if he gets bit.  It’s live on Kickstarter, right now!

Cobras is a one- to five-player trick-taking, card game about gathering the right number of snakes in a basket to score the most points.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. The game is deceptively simple to play. It definitely took a hand or two to figure out the “why” of your choices.
  2. The tricky scoring mechanism is a real treat.
  3. It’s not enough to win tricks in this game. You have to plan your bids, your wins and your losses.

Game play ^

Cobras is a trick-taking game played with a custom deck of cards. The object of the game is to score the most points. The number of points is determined by the number of cobras you have in your basket at the time you win a trick.

The main portion of the deck consists of four different colored suits of cobra cards. Each suit then has cards values one to thirteen.  Each card also has a number of cobras from one to three.  These cards are shuffled and form the cobra card deck

The game is played over a series of hands which is divided into rounds.  At the start of a hand, you’re given a basket card, a king cobra card, and an equal share of all the cobra card deck. Now the you’re ready to play.

At the start of the round, each player simultaneously selects one card from their hand to play for its cobra value (from one to three) and places it face down. Once everyone makes the selection, the cards are revealed and a number of cobra tokens is added to the player’s basket based on the cobras bid by that player. The number of cobras in your basket indicates the number of points you can score that round.  Have too few or too many, and you’ll score very little. Apparently, the ideal number of snakes in a basket is 7, which scores 21 points.  The used cards are discarded — if any triple cobra cards were played they’re set in a pile (the current hand ends when ten triples are used in a hand).

You’ll also add to the number of snakes in your basket at the end of any round in which you don’t take the trick.

Once the tokens have been added, starting with a lead player, you play a somewhat traditional trick taking round.  The lead player picks a card from their hand and plays it to the center of the table. Other players must play a card from their hand and follow suit, if they can.  After everyone plays, the player with the highest on-suit card wins the trick.

The winner of the trick scores the points based on the number of cobra tokens in the basket and returns the tokens to the pot. The score is recorded on a piece of paper.

The losers of the trick look at the number of cobras on the played cards and will divide the total among all the losing players evenly. Each losing player then adds that many cobra tokens to their basket. Any remainder is left in the middle of the table for the next round.

The played cards are discarded. If any triple cobra cards were played, they’re added to the triple cobra pile. If there’s fewer than ten triples, a new round begins with the winner of the previous round leading. However, once ten triple cobras have been played/used, the hand ends.  At the end of the hand, any snakes left in your basket count for negative one point each.

Finally, each player has a single King Cobra card that he or she can play once per hand. The King Cobra card can be used in one of two ways to “share in the win” or “share in the loss” of any round. If you share in the win, you and the true winner will score your points. If you share in the loss, you will collect cobra tokens.

On the green ^

Subtle Strategy.  There’s a very subtle strategy to this game. Unlike many trick takers, it’s not simply a matter of winning the most tricks. The addition of tiered scores, a bidding round, a playing round, and a consolation prize makes for some nifty mental gymnastics. Clearly players want to get to seven snakes in a basket but that inevitably means losing some rounds intentionally and planning for unexpected cobra acquisition. We had a lot of fun with this.

Play time and ease.  The game plays at a decent clip. Once players figured out how to bid their cobras and preserve opportunities to win, there wasn’t much down time.  Teaching the game will be easy for those familiar with other trick taking games. The additions of cobras and the scoring basket could be tricky, but a few demo rounds help a lot.

Wide range of player counts.  The game has a solo and duel mode. I tried the solo and it’s a sort of ghost player mode. It’s nice that it’s available, but that’s not really where this game shines.

Where it comes up short ^

The game is a clever twist on the standard trick taking game. We played a number of times and there definitely seemed to be a repeated pattern across hands that a player that jumped out to a lead stayed in the lead and some players don’t ever recover.  I’m not sure we ever really worked out the actual “pattern” or strategy that caused this to happen, but we had many hands with divergent scores that had seemingly little to do with the player or their strategy.

In the hole ^

Cobras is a clever, little trick-taking game. Players who enjoy trick taking game will find the subtle bidding mechanic and snake-count-based scoring a nice change of pace. Cobras is also small enough and plays quickly enough to make a great addition to your to-go games. Of course, if you’re deathly afraid of snakes, this game might not be for you.

Cobras is in the hole for a Par! ^

Fairway was provided a copy of the pre-production version of this game to write this preview but was otherwise not compensated.



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