|From: FX Schmid Cost: $18 Players: 3-5 Playing Time: 45 minutes Type of game: Card Skill level: 7 Complexity: 2 Reviewed by: Brian Bankler, Issue 5.1 (17), Winter 1997|
Zum Kuckuck! is another of the seemingly endless parade of card games with a meaningless theme tacked on to come out of Germany. I am constantly amazed at the bizarreness of the underlying theme. Anyway, Zum Kuckuck is apparently a pun or play on words or something idiomatic that doesn't translate. I'm also not sure about the theme. Apparently you are a happy bird couple trying to raise some chicks, but the evil bird (crows?) have also laid their eggs and mixed them up with yours and does it really matter? No. This game is as much about birds as Bohnanza is about beans. (Maybe even less so, if you can imagine that). Birds just happen to be the images on the cards.
Anyway, there are three decks of cards to this game: One deck is simply numbered 1-60, one deck is numbered 1-12 twice (so 24 cards) and then you get a bunch of chick cards. You deal out the cards from the 60 card deck. Each card in the deck has some number of chicks showing (zero, one half, or one). You add up your hand's "chick value" and then get that number of chicks (we play that you round up if you have a half, but I'm not sure of the official rule [the official rule is to round downó Ed]). The deck of 24 cards (I'll call them Egg cards for clarity) are shuffled and dealt into two piles of twelve. The top card of each pile is flipped up and each player then plays a card simultaneously and everyone reveals. The highest card played gets the lower of the two Egg cards. The second highest card played gets the remaining Egg. Then, the person who has the highest Egg showing has one of their chicks go bad (which they mark by flipping a chick over to a crow). If you get an egg card and you already had one, only the most recent matters. Confused? An example might be better.
I get my hand and discover I have 5 chicks, everyone else takes the proper amount. The Egg piles flip over an 8 and a 5. I decide to play the middle card, a thirty. The high card played is a thirty-five, so Peter (who played the card) gets the 5, I'm stuck in second so I take the 8. The 8 is the highest Egg showing, so I lose a chick (I have four left). The next two eggs are 1 and 2. I decide to play my high card, a 58. That's good enough for second: Kurt played the 60. Kurt gets the 1, I get the two. Now Peter has the high egg showing (the 5 from last trick) and loses one of his chicks. We flip over the next two cards...
You keep going until you've gone through 12 cards. Then, everyone counts up how many chicks they have left. You get one point for each survivor. You also get a point if you have the low egg showing (anyone who didn't take any eggs gets a value of zero...but it is difficult to avoid taking any eggs, as you can guess). If you aren't careful you can get a negative score if you have to lose a chick and don't have it (you get a score of negative one for the round). After you finish a round, you then take your hand (you keep your own discards) and all your chicks and pass it to the player to the left. You then play another round (re-shuffling the 24 Egg cards). Once everyone has played every hand, the low score wins.
I thought Zum Kuckuck! was a decent game while I was playing my first round... it's a psychological "Which card do I play to stay safe" game, much like 6 Nimmt! There were a few points in it's favor: There were no 'dead rounds' (like there occasionally are for the first few plays of 6 Nimmt!), every card played will result in someone losing a point. But the new twists that this game has are the passing of hands and the rating of hands. I've already mentioned hand passing, but the hands are also rated...the 60 card deck is divided into 5ths. The high and low fifth are the most valuable (letting you take eggs when you need it or to duck the trick), so those are worth 0 chicks. The middle 5th (25-36) are very dangerous, and worth a chick. The other two quintiles are worth half a chick. This means that if you get dealt a hand that's fairly easy to play, you have few chicks (points) at the beginning of the round...but presumably they'll be easier to keep. And finally, you get to play each hand once. The shuffling of the Egg deck still means there is a lot of randomness, but you can also know quite a bit after the first hand...if you can pay attention to everything at once. For instance, some player has a high Egg (which means that player is probably desperately trying to get the low egg...and even getting the high egg might help for the next card) you can expect a high card. Now, if you know that player has the 60, well, that's helpful. Even on the first deal you can size up the hands somewhat by how many points each hand is worth.
Now, I don't want to give the mistaken impression that there is strategy galore, because there isn't. The game is very much a psychological game and I personally don't take the effort to card count (I just note a few trends and try to remember the top few cards). The luck of the egg deck can really make a difference. Once someone gets stuck with a twelve egg other players can start trying to take either the first or the second egg (hoping to eliminate the unfortunate who is losing one chick a round until he wins a better egg). But, I think this game is an improvement on 6 nimmt!, although the fact that it can only be played with up to 5 players is a big limitation. I feel like I have more to think about, the decisions aren't trivial and there are short term versus long term choices. But Zum Kuckuck! isn't going to be anywhere near the hit that Bohnanza is. It is an evolutionary improvement on games that we've seen before: an above average card game, worth playing, but not one of those games that you are likely to play several times in one sittng. It just didn't grab me with the "let's play it again" feeling.
I don't often do this, but I'd like to kick in a dissenting opinion. I love this game, and think it's the best of the simultaneous cardplay Hol's der Geier derivations. The duplicate aspect of the game is what wins me over. As the hands pass around, you can watch the light dawn as people realize why you were having such trouble with a particular set of cards. We track how each player does with each hand, which adds a little kicker to gameplay. Recommended. -Ed