Tuesday 10 February 2015

Potato Man

Potato man!

With a name and cover like that, what else is there to say to get you interested?

Zoch advertises this game as follows: "Following an old proverb often the dumbest farmers have the biggest potatoes. Superhero “Potato Man”, however, decided to end this inequality. Starched like a potato he brakes away from the rest of the field to save the most enslaved conks. Therefore, tasty little potatoes are the most treasured in this trick-taking game..."

Name: Potato Man (2013)

Designer: Victor Boden

Publisher: Zoch-Verlag

Players: 2 to 5

Age: 10+

Time to play: 40 mins

Price Range (AUD): $20 to $30 (Lower end of this price range is slightly high - but alright)

Availability: Not exactly rare but somewhat hard to find - can certainly be found online with a bit of searching.

  • Novelty 
  • Trick-taking and Trumps (Compare with Sticheln and Diamonds)
  • Card
  • Random

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

6.4+/- out of 10. (An alright and somewhat interesting but unusual trick-taking game - See my Rating Scale)

If you enjoy trick-taking games like Bridge, Hearts, 500, Spades etc (as I very much do) - you may be interested in this game. But the key word is may. I honestly can't guarantee it, because the game itself is a bit strange. I do quite like its novelty and what it aims to do but I feel like Potato Man falls short in a couple of important respects.

Potato Man has an interesting concept. There are 4 suits or colours. Each colour has a specified range of values. For example, the Red suit has the highest range with values 5 to 18. Thus, the Red Suit contains the most powerful cards. The Yellow suit on the other hand has the lowest range of values, from 1 to 13. The Blue and Green Suits are somewhere in-between. The higher the number, the stronger the card. A value of 7 for example will beat a value of 6.

Now, Potato Man rewards players for winning tricks with suits that are 'harder to win with'. Thus, winning a trick with the Yellow suit is quite hard as the values in that suit are low and tend to be dominated by other suits.

For example, if you win a trick with the Yellow suit you get 4 points. If you win a trick with the strongest suit, the Red suit, you only get 1 point.

Essentially, the game does not reward you well when you are expected to win. In this respect, Potato Man does offer a degree of strategy that will keep lovers of trick-taking games interested for a while as the aim is to try to win tricks with lower-ranked or weaker suits. This is a fantastic concept. There is also another layer of strategy because a player who scores the 4th trick (and above) of a certain colour will obtain 5 points per trick in that colour. Thus, you can use the high values of the red suit to your advantage late in the game. This will be elucidated further in the rules below.

The other interesting facet of Potato Man is the Potato Man card itself. The values 16 to 18 in  the Red suit have a picture of Evil Potato. The values of 1 to 3 in the Yellow Suit are Potato Man. The extra rule is a David and Goliath rule in that Potato Man always beats Evil Potato. Therefore, some crazy things can happen where, even if you possess a really low number in the Yellow suit (values 1 to 3), you can still play it down beat the Red Suit. This makes owners of high values in the Red suit think twice about playing Evil Potato (See below rules).

The main thing about Potato Man I don't quite like is the fact that, more often than not, those last in the turn order will generally be forced into playing a particular colour of card. This is a direct consequence of a rule that says that, in a 4-player game, a player may not play a colour that has already been played. It many cases there seems to be very little strategy for those who are sitting furthest away from the player leading a suit. This is the main gripe I have with this game. It does to a large extent ruin the strategic depth proffered by the rules I have already described above as if you are the 3rd last, 4th last, or last player, you have increasingly less choices [especially given the random distribution of cards].

In fact, it is also possible for the game to end early: say Red, Green and Yellow have been played and it is the 4th player's turn. If the 4th player does not have a Blue card, the game ends prematurely. This puts a sour taste in my mouth. I think, perhaps, the game should have included more cards if they really wanted to pursue this one-colour-per-player rule.

Overall, Potato Man had the potential to be a decent, if not good trick-taking game but I am not so sure it meets that cut in its present state. I have not given a lot of thought as to how the game's designers could have remedied the game but perhaps I will leave that for another day.

The Good:
  • Interesting game mechanics of scoring more points if you win tricks with "bad" or "weaker" suits.
  • Novel concept of Yellow Potato Man (who has the lowest values in the game) being able to beat Red Evil Potato (who has the highest values in the game). This reminds me of the trick-taking and trump card game David and Goliath.
  • Funny cards - somewhat interesting artwork
  • Different and somewhat unique twist to trick-taking games.

The Bad:
  • The one-colour-per-player rule (for 5-players one colour is allowed to be repeated) I personally dislike. It can make the game significantly shorter and it reduces the options of the last player significantly. These are the main gripes I have with this game.
  • Do not get if you do not like trick-taking games.
  • Even lovers of trick-taking games may only be interested for a short time (arguably)

What makes this game fun? 
The novel idea of Potato Man defeating Evil Potato, couples with some interesting gameplay concepts of scoring points off the 'weaker' suits, makes for a somewhat interesting game.

- This concludes the basic overview of the game.
If you are interested in reading about the components & rules to the game, please read on -

Rules & Components (Photos courtesy of my mum, Joanne)

[I assume people know what tricks are when I explain this game - perhaps I will write up a separate post dealing with the basics of trick-taking games another time]

For simplicity's sake, I will explain how a 4-player game works.

There are two different types of cards.

The whole deck of 52 potato cards gets distributed to everyone equally. You can of course play with different numbers of people, and the rules explain how the cards are distributed in those situations.

Potato Sack Point Cards ('Potato Sacks'): Collecting them is the way to score points

Meanwhile, the point (potato sack) cards should be laid out for everyone to see.
Each pile contains 3 cards only, so they are in limited supply.

Notice that, in the top left corner, the Red potato sack card only gives 1 Point or 1 Potato Sack.

Notice also that the Yellow potato sack, in the bottom left corner, gives a massive 4 Points or 4 Potato Sacks.

Ignore the Golden Potato Sacks (in the middle) for the time being.

Why the colours have different numbers of sacks

There is a reason for this. Notice that on the corners of each of the sack cards above there is a range of numbers. Red has the highest range (5-18) whilst Yellow has the lowest (1-13).

These numbers reflect the values on the cards for each of the Colours. As you would expect, the higher the value of a card is, the stronger the card is, irrespective of Colour.

Therefore, in the Red Suit, there are 14 cards where each card has a value (occurring only once) from 5 to 18. In the Blue Suit there are 13 cards with each card possessing a value (occurring only once) from 4 to 16. Therefore the Yellow suit is the weakest suit because its value range is only from 1 to 13.

Therefore it can be seen that the Red Suit is the most powerful suit and, on average, more tricks should be won with the Red Suit as it contains the higher numbers

Bigger expectation = Less Reward
[If you are expected to win, you won't score as much]

If you win a trick with a Red card, you will only get 1 Potato Sack because you used the most powerful suit to win the trick - and thus your reward is lower because you are expected to win that trick.

Conversely, if you win a trick with a Yellow card - the weakest suit - your reward is higher with 4 Potato Sacks because you are not expected to win that trick with such low values - and arguably more strategy is required to do so.

In clockwise order, Red gives 1 Sack; Blue gives 2 Sacks; Green gives 3 Sacks; Yellow gives 4 sacks.

Gameplay Rules with Example

Randomly decide the starting player. That player may lead with any card.

The only rule that must be followed from now on is this: On any given trick, each colour may only be played once.

When all cards are played for that trick one potato sack card is distributed to the winner. Whoever won that trick also leads the next trick.

In the below example, the Left player leads with Blue 5

The Top player now has a choice of playing Yellow, Red or Green. She opts to play Yellow 6.

Right now plays Red 15.

The Bottom player has no choice but to play Green, so he chooses to play Green 9.

15 > 9 > 6 > 5 so Red wins - He gets 1 Red Potato Sack point card; a just reward for using the strongest suit.

In cases of a tie, the person who plays the tied card last wins.

Therefore, in this example below, assuming Green went first, Yellow would win as Yellow played their 12 card later than Green. Yellow gets a Potato Sack Point card - worth 4 points as Yellow is the weakest suit.

Special Rules

Special Rule #1: Potato man ALWAYS beats Evil Potato.

This is an interesting twist. Potato Man exists in the Yellow Suit as numbers 1, 2 and 3. Under normal circumstances, given the usual rule above of higher values being stronger, there is no way a value of 1 could win.

However, so long as an Evil Potato (a Red 16, 17 or 18) is played on that trick, Potato Man always wins the trick.

Special Rule #2: When a pile of Potato Sack Point cards runs out, then a Golden Potato sack point card is awarded instead.

So if any of the piles of potato sacks is depleted for a given colour, a Golden Potato Sack Card is awarded for winning a trick of that colour (which gives 5 potato sacks!)

Special Rule Example

In this example below the Evil Potato 18 and Potato Man 1 have been played.

This means the Left player wins. However, all the Yellow Potato Sack Cards have run out. Therefore, Left receives a Golden Potato Sack worth 5 points.

Therefore, whilst the Red Suit only produces 1 Point per Red Potato Sack Point Card, if you keep your higher Red cards for late in the game, you could score some massive points (assuming you aren't thwarted by Potato Man!). Same strategy works for the Blue Suit too, which is the second lowest-scoring suit.

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