I think I need a break from sixty dollar games for a little while. Here's something a bit more affordable and what's more, it's good for the younger kids and pretty lively as well.
Playroom Entertainment is planning on publishing Ligretto in the next few months. This is a card game with a fairly long history, allegedly being invented by a German immigrant in Pennsylvania several centuries ago. The game is also known as "Dutch Blitz" and a variant is called Nertz. Ligretto has been available in Europe for some time so some readers may have encountered it in one or more of these incarnations.
Ligretto is a game in which you try and discard the cards in your hand before the other players can discard theirs. Players begin the game with a deck of cards. They lay some in a row before them, they make a short stack of cards to their left (the "Ligretto" pile), and the remainder stays in a pile in their hand. When the game begins any player with a "1" card visible (either in the row or on the top of the Ligretto pile) places the card in the center of the table.
At this point Ligretto becomes pretty frantic. There are no turns per se, players just act as quickly as they can. You can place a card on top of one of the stacks in the middle of the table if the number on it is one higher (in other words, you can place a "3" on top of a "2"). If you have no visible cards that can be placed in the center of the board you deal a new group onto the row before you from the pile in your hand or from the Ligretto pile. The general process is to send the cards from your hand onto the piles in the center of the table. The game ends when one player has exhausted all the cards from their Ligretto pile. At that point players get points for cards in the center of the table and lose points for any cards left in their Ligretto stacks.
Ligretto reminds me of Crazy 8's, which I used to love. It's fun to discard cards and feel like you're racking up the points each time you drop off another. Ligretto's turnless system has the potential to be either very fun or a big fist fight in the making. A gang of kids throwing down cards simultaneously can go either way and parents will just have to use their judgment as to whether that level of mayhem is exciting or likely to incite a riot.
I think Ligretto has a lot going for it. The basic concept of "put a four on top of a three card" is simple. The deck system adds lots of movement and action. I don't think there is likely to be any great strategic thinking going on in this game which also means that no one is going to feel too bad if they don't win- it's not like losing at checkers, which is devastating. Finally, the price is right and the game is inherently portable and good for vacations and visits to relatives.
Ligretto should be available after August 2009.
Pros: simple, cheap, exciting
Cons: Maybe too exciting
Beyond the Basics: not a lot, this is a pretty basic game