The French makes it sound even more brutal
First published: 2004
Players: 3-5 (7 in 2011 edition)
Length: 20 minutes
Some short “filler” games (filler as they fill in small amounts of spare time or time in between longer games) try to shoehorn a theme into 15-20 minutes. “Yeah, so we’re building a city…IN TEN MINUTES!”… “We’ve got fifteen minutes, 30 cards and we’re going on a dungeon adventure together!”
Well sure, that’s all very well and good if the game works (and of course you’re going to be sacrificing depth of theme and gameplay to squeeze such a game into a short chunk of time). However, No Thanks is one of a number of filler card games that sits itself on the table and unapologetically says “I’m a card game. No theme, no fanciness. Take me as I am.”
If you can deal with that then No Thanks offers a pure and sneakily well-balanced gaming experience.
A little box, some rules, plastic chips and cards. Excitement.
So, here are the rules in a nutshell: Shuffle the 33 cards (numbered 3-35) and remove 9 cards face down. Each player receives 11 chips which they keep hidden from the other players. The 24 cards are put face down in a pile and the top card is turned over. Clockwise players take a turn. On their turn they can either put a chip on the card or take the card. If someone takes the card (and chips) they turn over the next card and start the chip/take process again. That’s it. You could explain that to a moose in a fedora.
Of course there are more rules but the core mechanism of the game is staggeringly simple. No Thanks shows that you don’t need layers of options and ideas to make a game clever, because clever it indeed is.
Ready for rules chunk 2? Cards are worth their face value in points and the chips that you hold at the end of the game are worth -1 each. The player with the lowest score when all the 24 cards have been taken is the winner.
Take the 27 with 6 chips on it or do I say “no thanks” and throw a chip on it?
We’re still in moose-level complexity here, so are you with me for the final rule? If you collect a run of cards then you only score the lowest card. So if you have the 18 and the 20 and then take the 19, you have a run of 18, 19 and 20 and score 18 points total for the three.
Wahey! Happy days!
So if the game is moose-like in its simplicity, where is the actual game?
The great joy in No Thanks comes from the balance (and sometimes surprising toughness) of the decisions. After all, in an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to take any cards whatsoever, quietly tossing a chip onto every card on your turn and cackling as everyone else gathers in card after card. Problem is, you don’t have enough chips to do that. You’re going to HAVE to take cards at some point. What is taking the 27 card worth to you? 6 chips? 10 chips? Or do you have the 28 card and so taking it will mean that you will score 27 for both of them combined? If so, do you let the card go “around again” in the hope that no-one will want it and it will come back to you with even more chips? What if you only have one chip left? Do you place it onto the card and hope that it gets back to you so you can pocket a handful of chips with it? What if someone else takes it and you have no chips when someone turns up the 35 – which you then have to take with a measly one or two chips on it?!
These are the dilemmas that No Thanks gives you. This is the RIGHT balance. A carefully balanced and strategic game hidden behind simple rules is far better than a boringly straightforward game stashed behind a 30 page rulebook. The nine cards randomly taken out before the start means that you may have the 16 and the 18 and spend all game holding out for the 17 that never comes. In a game that lasted an hour that would be frustrating and worsen the game, but in such a short game some luck and sense of the unknown works well and offers up a bigger chance of surprise victories and tension as you reach the final few cards in the deck.
So, I guess what I’m saying here is that No Thanks does what it should do and does it very very well. It’s easy to explain and easy to understand, but after a few games it can get cut-throat and nerve-wrecking. Quick and easy to play but with weighty decisions. Some, however, may be put off by the luck of the nine cards being removed, or by the general luck of the draw.
- Quick and simple
- Weighty decisions
- Some may not like the luck aspect
- Don’t play it with people who worry and fret over every single decision