3 Chits, 3 Giggles

What’s your favourite type of board game? For clarification, I’m mostly talking about game mechanics here, not the theme (though that in itself is an interesting question but less specific to board games.) It’s a common question, and with no right or wrong answers everyone reading this would have a different response, as like our DNA our own is unique. For me, one of my favourites is the push your luck mechanic, as I’ve always been a bit of a risk taker when playing and I do like that build up of tension and the cheers/disappointment that come from an all-or-nothing card draw or dice roll. I’m also known to enjoy worker placement games for the decision tree style choices but also for the fact you can block an opponent’s move, depending on the game of course. Trick taking games though? Never really been that high up on the list. Until now.

Nyet! is a heavily Russian themed card game (hence the name, which is their word for ‘no’) that takes a basic mechanic and evolves it into more of a strategic board game, in which bad cards don’t necessarily mean the end for you. At its core is the game of Whist, a classic fifty two card game that originated in London in the 18th Century. Each player is dealt thirteen cards and must play them at the right time in order to claim ‘tricks’ which are worth points at the end. It’s simple to learn but it provided hours upon hours of entertainment in my teenage years at college, before I properly discovered this wonderful hobby of ours.

As a reminder, here’s how Whist works: after dealing, the first player plays any card they like from their hand, then all others in turn must follow suit by playing a single card of the same suit if they have one. Once all cards have been played, the highest value card takes all the cards played that round as a trick, worth a point at the end of the game, and they also get to go first next round. However, if somebody plays, say, a heart that round but you don’t have any left in your hand, you can play any other card you like. This is where the trump suit comes into play. At the beginning of the game, a suit is randomly chosen as the trump suit, and if you are allowed to play one of these in a round, it beats any other suit regardless of its value, but if two or more players play a trump suit card in a round, only the highest value wins the trick.

What Nyet! does differently though is to add meaningful choices at the start of the game to steer the rules to suit your dealt hand. It’s done by the process of elimination, with each player placing a token one at a time on the rules board to eliminate a choice until you’re left with one spot on each line, and these five choices become the rules of the current round. Rules include discarding or passing cards, trump suits and super trump cards (which are cards of value one, which make those cards the most valuable now, and is why there are three of each in the game). So, what if you are dealt a lot of green cards this round? Well then brother, why not make that colour the trump suit! Did somebody already eliminate that, rendering your original plan moot? Fret not young comrade, for you can make tricks worth negative points this round! That’ll show those duraks!

And this isn’t a game where each player is out for themselves the whole time, because with three or more players this becomes a team game, of sorts. That’s right, whoever becomes the first player, which is also chosen through the process of elimination and for that reason is possibly my favourite start player rule in existence right now, gets to set the teams. With three players you are two on one, while four is two against two and five is three versus two. In odd numbered teams, the smaller gets to double their points for one player, who is also chosen by the first player. With great power comes great... shenanigans.

Let’s talk about the artwork as well, because it is delectably stunning. As always, I’m an aesthetic snob. Colourful, detailed and perfectly apt for the subject matter, Nyet! gushes out theme without alienating the target market, and the fact that a solid game lies beneath its glossy surface means it has to be praised. In fact, during last years Spiel event, this was one of the few games to capture my attention on visuals alone, and with over 1000 games vying for your attention through posters and stands, that takes some doing. I hope you feel the same about this game. And the cards; those long, pristine cards that shuffle like the Russian Army lines up its soldiers, they feel so satisfying in your hand that it’s a shame to play them each round. When they vacate your palms it leaves them as cold as Oymakyon, the coldest populated place on Earth. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but how else was I to shoehorn in some Soviet references?

I genuinely credit Nyet! for my newfound love of trick taking games. Because each game and each round is different, even if you get screwed over during the pre round selection, you can still fight your way ahead and take revenge later in the game. It’s one of those games that feels balanced because you can gang up on people who are too far ahead, but luck still plays a part and for that reason it might not be high up on your list. With all the crazy news about Russia right now, it does feel a little strange to find a game that’s charmed me so much as one clearly Cold War-esque, but love can be found in the strangest of places. So it feels only appropriate to recommend this game by saying that in this case and this case alone, Nyet! means Yes.

Review by Russell Chapman

P.S: If you see the purple wolf player card, please can you comment below whether you think it’s a male or a female, as nothing has quite divided me and my friends and colleagues quite like this rather tame debate. Your help is very much appreciated!