This is a review of the card game Nile from Minion Games, designed by Daniel Callister with publisher editing by James Mathe.

Disclosure: James sent me a free review copy.

Summary: A light high-luck card game suitable and possibly more interesting to children, sort of enjoyable for grown ups, with poor quality components and rules.

Overview: James is enthusiastic about Nile, one of four games with which he has started his company Minion Games. It’s easy to see why from first glance. It’s a light and simple game, with quick decisions, potential for take-that moments, and a Knizia-style trackable but hidden scoring system.

The deck contains 5 types of resources, 10 types of “speculation” cards each featuring 2 of the 5 resources, and a plague “Plague of Locusts” card.

On your turn:

1. Flip the top card into the discard pile. This has three effects:

1A: If it is a resource card, the player with cards of that resource in play (“planted”) takes one of them and puts it into his score pile (“harvests”). Note that each resource can only be in play in front of one player at any one time. If the flipped card is a speculation card, both resources are “harvested”.

1B: If the previous player played any speculation cards, and these have not yet been discarded, that player draws three cards from the deck for each match between the symbols on his speculation cards and the flipped card. The speculation cards are discarded, even if they didn’t match anything.

1C: In step 3, the player may not plant any cards whose resources match the resources on the flipped card.

2. As many times as you like, trade two cards from your hand and/or score pile to receive a new card to your hand, or to repeat step 1.

3. Do only one of the following:

3A: “Plant” at least two cards of a single resource in front of you if a) it is does not match (either) resource of the card flipped in step 1 and b) you plant more cards of that resource than any other player has in play. If any other player had cards of that resource in play, these cards are discarded.

3B: Plant exactly two cards of two different resources. Again, you can’t plant a resource if it matches the flipped card from step 1 or if someone else already has cards of that resource in play.

3C: Add as many cards as you like to any/all resources you have in play. Again, you can’t plant a resource if it matches the flipped card from step 1.

3D: Play one or two speculation cards. Again, you can’t play a speculation card if either resource on the card matches (either) resource of the card flipped in step 1.

4. Draw two cards.

Continue until exhausting the deck as many times as there are players. When the plague card is turned up, as it will once during each run through the deck, the biggest pile(s) of resources in play is discarded. The plague card is discarded and the player draws a card to replace it.

The winner is the player whose score pile contains the most sets of resources of all five types. Or, to put it in more complicated terms, everyone sorts their scored resources into piles, from least (this may be 0 cards) to most. The player with the most cards in the resource in which he has the least cards in the winner. If there is a tie, the tied players then compare their next lowest resources, and so on.

Components: Suck. The cards are poor quality; after a few plays, mine are falling apart (faces separating from backs by the edges). The graphics of the resource cards are nice enough, but the speculation cards are hard to read, so everyone squints at them when they are flipped up to see what resources they contain. There is a “flood” card that serves no purpose but to distinguish between the “flipped cards” discard pile and a separate discard pile for cards actually discarded. It’s not necessary, and in fact tends to get mixed back into the deck by accident.

Luckily I don’t care much about component quality.

Rules: Eh. My summary above is clearer than the two pages of rules that come with the game. The rules are not organized well and can appear to be contradictory. For instance, on one page it says that you can’t plant a resource that another player already has. On the next page, it says that you can’t plant a resource that another player already has unless you play more cards than they have in play.

Other clarity problems abound, but in the end, the rules are short and can eventually be deciphered.

Play: So how does it play? Eh. I played the game with 3 to 5 players. Another blogger recommended that I try it with 2 players; James says that 3 or 4 is best. As a rule, the younger players, aged 8 to 14, liked the game. The older players’ feelings ranged from “ok” to “too random” to “no thanks”. I fall kind of in the middle.

It’s certainly very luck driven: when you can plant cards, and when you get to harvest cards. You get the feeling that step 2 – trading – was added to mitigate that luck, which it does to some extent. But the plague card wipes away that mitigation, causing the player who actually planned and played well to suffer for having done so.

Once people grasp the four actions permitted in step 3 (for some reason, they took a lot of repeating to sink in), rounds play quickly. Lighter and quicker games get some leeway for having more luck, but this one was too far on the lack of control side. There was some enjoyment from the chaos of an occasional turnaround: one player played a lot of cards of one resource, causing another player to lose his resources, or a plague wiped out someone’s large resource planting just after he planted it. But  we didn’t feel that you had a real chance to win unless you picked just the right cards at the right time.

People who enjoy light, chaotic games that our group doesn’t, such as Take 6, will enjoy the game.