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One of my favorite things about being a gamer, specifically a tabletop gamer, is being introduced to new games and playing them with friends. As such, I was delighted when I had the opportunity this weekend to demo a card game called Chalice that is currently working on getting funded through Kickstarter. The idea of the game is the classic battle of wits and poison where several heirs to the crown sit down to have a drink together under the pretense of being friends, but only one will stand back up to claim the kingdom.
Now I will be right upfront here with a disclaimer, ethics in gaming journalism being the hot button issue that it has been lately. I am decidedly biased towards this game. The creator is my oldest friend. We’ve known each other since we were both in diapers, and we’d meet almost weekly when our parents played D&D together. I will do my best to keep my bias in check, but I do understand if you consider this to be less of a review and more of a signal boost for a friend’s Kickstarter project. Okay, disclaimer over.
Chalice is a game that combines strategy and deception. The goal of the game, as the Kickstarter page proclaims, is to not die, but mechanics-wise the point of the game is to reach a certain hand size. At the beginning of each round, each player is given a cup card face down that contains either wine, water, or a type of poison. All players know how many cups of each type are on the table, but only the dealer knows what has been given to each player. Further, everyone has action cards that they can play to try and figure out who has what drink and decide whether they should drink what’s in front of them, or even switch drinks with other players or force them to drink their drinks. Wine will give you extra action cards, while poison will make you discard them. Now the strategy part comes in because action cards are essentially victory points. It’s not worth it to spend more actions cards than you will gain to make sure you drink wine… unless it’s more beneficial to spend those points to make sure your opponent doesn’t get it, or better yet drinks poison.
I think my favorite part of this game is its elegance. It is remarkably simple and easy to learn, while still being subtly complex and strategic. Even more, I found that it is less “stressful” than other bluffing games like The Resistance, Good Cop-Bad Cop, or Battlestar Galactica, which certain people find utterly exhausting. I think the reason for this is that you have no one accusing anyone of anything. It is a more a battle of wits, than a battle of poker-faces.
I have only played the game with four players so far, but from what I can tell playing with different numbers of players changes the game considerably. Playing with only three players means that it’s easy to figure out who has what card, but the hand-size needed to win goes up, which means the number of rounds goes up along with your likelihood of drinking poison. Playing with five or six players, however, means that it’s much harder to figure out what cups are in play, and so you need to adjust your strategy accordingly.
Chalice is fast-paced with rounds going quickly, each one requiring a different strategy, preventing the game from ever getting stale. But moreover, it is just fun. Because of its low-key bluffing and strategy, the game never gets too heavy or intense so it’s perfect for gamers ranging from casual players to strategy nuts. It would make a delightful addition to any game collection and I look forward to getting my own copy when the game is released.