Posted by: gschloesser | August 1, 2011

Der Elefant im Porzellanladen

Designer:  Michael Schacht
Publisher:  Amigo
3 – 4 Players, 30 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser  

NOTE:  This review first appeared in Counter magazine. 

The literal translation of this Michael Schacht card game would be “The Elephant in a Porcelain shop”.  Clearly, in English, the corresponding phrase would be “Bull in a China Shop”, which has the meaning of bumbling around and making a mess of things.  Indeed, the latest version of the game from Playroom Games has this name.  Surprisingly, the theme is not a complete stretch, as it is woven into the mechanics, albeit a bit loosely. 

The basic idea of the game is to collect china and avoid having elephants destroy your most valuable pieces.  The problem is that players cannot completely avoid elephants, so they must accept the fact that some of collection will be destroyed on a regular basis.  The idea is to properly time the taking of elephants so as to minimize the damage to your collection.  This is FAR easier said than done!

China cards are valued 3 – 8 in three suits, with multiples of each value.  Each player receives two pre-designated cards to begin, along with a single money card and one “push” card.  Each player places his china cards face-up, sorted by suit.  Five china and five elephant cards are revealed, and play begins. 

A player’s turn is quite simple:  take a china card, take an elephant card, or use his push card to pass.  

Take a china card.  The player takes one of the face-up china cards and adds it to his face-up cards, sorted by suit.  He must pay one gold card to take a china card.  If a player has two gold cards, he MUST take a china card. 

Take an elephant card.  The player takes one of the face-up elephant cards.  These cards will depict one or more elephants, either colored to match one of the suits or neutral gray.  The player must discard china cards matching the number and color of the elephants.  As compensation, a player takes one gold card from supply. 

Push.  Once per game, the player may play his push card and pass.  This passes the round to the next player.  This can be an extremely valuable tactic when there are only extremely harmful elephant cards available to take.  However, since the card can only be used once per game, deciding when to use it is a tough decision. 

An important aspect of the game is that the line of available china and elephant cards are not replenished each player turn.  Rather, they are only replaced once all five have been taken.  So, an undesirable elephant card may still be there when your turn comes around again.  Sometimes it is better to suffer the pain now, hoping the cards will be replaced by the time your turn comes around again.  Further, since each player’s money cards are public knowledge, you can sometimes accurately judge whether opponents will be forced to take elephant or china cards … or even force that issue on your opponents.  Indeed, this is a critical aspect of game play.  

There are four scoring cards in the china deck, one appearing after every ten china cards have been taken.  When they appear, players must make a choice on how to score the china cards they possess.  They must score one of the following four categories: 

  • The smallest card in each suit
  • The highest card in each suit
  • All cards of one suit
  • All cards 

A player must score a different category each time a scoring card surfaces.  Choosing which one to score can be a difficult choice. 

There is no denying that the game has a considerable amount of randomness to it.  Further, on many turns, a player’s options are limited, and choices are easy.  Still, there are enough turns wherein choices are difficult to keep the game interesting.  I also enjoy the scoring choices a player must make, and players can plan their choices accordingly.  I am not really sure just how much control is present, but the game does give one the feeling of making important decisions.  I am just not sure if that feeling is illusory or not!  In either case, the game is fun.  So, while Elefant likely won’t set the gaming world afire, it makes for a fun filler and is also a good selection when gaming in a family environment.

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