By Rick Teverbaugh
The Herald Bulletin
— There often isn’t much of anything new to the trick-taking genre of card games other than different goals and a variety of card appearances.
That isn’t the case with Those Pesky Garden Gnomes from Rio Grande Games. The game was authored by JonMichael Rasmus, John Sams and Sean Weitner. The game is for three to five players 13 years of age and up and a typical game will likely take between 30 and 60 minutes.
With Those Pesky Garden Gnomes (TPGN) the allure isn’t that there is a different goal from other trick-taking games, but that the goal in this game changes from hand to hand and that each player has his or her own secret goal.
There are 10 different goal cards. Some goals involve trying to reach a certain number of points. The cards (50) that are dealt have values on them. They are in four colors with varying amounts in the deck. There are five green cards, 10 yellow cards, 15 blue cards and 20 red cards. They are numbered sequentially beginning with 1. But several of the cards have points on them, identified by positive and negative numbers inside red circles in the center of the card.
The goal for each player in a turn isn’t just determined by the goal card. There are 10 bid tokens, five with positive numbers and five with negative. When a hard is ready to be played, the bid tokens, which are randomized face down on the table and given to each player, are revealed. The player with the second highest number is the one to name the trump for that hand or to name no trump at all.
Each player has 10 cards so each hand with consist of 10 tricks being taken. The suit led must be followed and the high value in that suit takes the trick unless someone played trump and then the highest value in the trump suit takes the trick.
At the end of the 10 tricks, each player looks at what he or she has taken. If the goal card was points based, then the player combines the number on the goal card and the number on the bid token to see how far their score deviated from the number of points on the tricks he took. That score is recorded on the scoreboard with the gnome figure of their chosen color. If the score is greater than 10, then 10 is the score recorded. If the goal is card based, then the bid token is ignored and the player records the different between the goal and the number of cards taken.
When one player reaches 30 or more points, the game ends and the person with the low point total wins.
There is a game mechanic to help players remain competitive for the win even if they fall behind. When a player reaches 10 points, at the start of the next hand he or she may take either two goal cards or two big tokens. That player will pick one goal card and one bid token to keep and discard the rest. When that player reaches 20 points, he may pick two goal cards and two bid tokens and keep one of each. Those decisions are made after looking at the hand they have been dealt.
The game plays smoothly once players get the system and the difference between points and values.
TPGN isn’t without some problems. The rulebook is only four pages and the pages are small in size. The pages should have been larger to allow larger graphic display of the card examples. As it was, it took me three readings of the rules to really find out how the game was scored.
There is one combination a player can get that won’t be enjoyable. If a player draws a No Goal goal card, that player will automatically loses 10 or less points that hand no matter what they do. They can only play the role of the spoiler. Of course, once that player gets to 10 or 20 points, they can avoid getting stuck with that card.
The bid tokens need to be taken out of the cardboard holder VERY carefully. If any part of the token back is even the slightest bit torn in the removal, players will learn what that bid is and will go for it or avoid it. Rio Grande would do well to print more of these and offer them for people who have mishaps when punching these out.
The game was mountains of tactical options within each hand and nothing is ever left completely to chance except for the one odd combination mentioned above. This is a very good, light card game that is bound to provide a great deal of enjoyment for all fans of trick-taking games.