Trick taking games are not usually a genre I go mad for. Looking at my collection I actually don’t have one there at all. Nothing, I’m not joking. It’s not that I don’t like them, they just don’t seem to provide me with enough entertainment to make them stand the test of time, though to be fair I’ve not played Diamonds yet. They’re good for an occasional play, but Top 100 or even 150 material? Not usually. So, let’s look at Indulgence.
However, short, quick, easy to learn games always pique my interest given I deal with the Average Joe gamer more often than say the elitist gamer who plays the same Euro game 100 times to shave off those precious minutes on the game length. And in this case in particular, the publisher involved has certainly poked my curiosity receptors. Restoration Games, a publisher devoted to restoring old games from the last century and giving them a cosmetic makeover with only minor streamlining tweaks to game play. This is a concept I can get behind, maybe I’m heading towards Cult of the Old status here. Seriously I swear modern games are running out of ideas these days to really impress as opposed to just being “good”.
I’m going to also look at Downforce in the next review to give the opening games of this publisher a good going over.
Designer: Jerry D’Arcy, Rob Daviau, Justin Jacobson
Publisher: Restoration Games
Time: 45-60 Minutes
From Restoration Games:
You are the leader of one of the great Italian families. You have ambitions. You take what is yours when you can. Sometimes it’s best to follow along. Other times, you must be willing to do what’s wrong to get what you want. Indulgence is our restoration of 1982’s Dragonmaster and 1966’s Coup d’État, a card game where you can follow the leader’s rules to avoid paying a penalty or try to undermine them for a big reward. This trick-taking game let the players revel in ambition.
Our restoration moves the game to Renaissance Italy, another setting where power plays were fierce. Players take turns choosing to abide by the edict or attempt to sin—break the rule and take all the forbidden cards. To help them, sinners can use the Indulgence, a ring that lets them turn any card into a 10. Or, if they really want to up the ante, they can play their papal bull, which puts a whole set of edicts into play.
Bless Me Father For I Have Sinned
In Indulgence, the deck is played with 36 “family” cards consisting of 1-9 in four suits. Each family is represented by a different suit. The cards are dealt out evenly, and each player is given 30 florins which you’ll quickly start calling bucks or gold because who remembers “florins” as a term?
Many of the rules of Indulgence are standard trick taking fare that even the most casual of trick takers will have come across at some stage – players must follow suit if possible, highest card of suit led wins, and the winner of the trick leads the next trick. The only exception is that there isn’t a trump card per se, but occasionally one might appear.
Each player takes it in turns to to play as the “ruler” – Ruler essentially meaning “Dealer” in this instance. Each time you’re the ruler, you get to pick from three face-up edicts (laws). The edicts say things like “Don’t take any 6s” or “Don’t take the last Borgia” (the suits are families remember) or “Don’t take any even Sforzas”. If you violate the edict, you have to pay the ruler a set amount per card at the end of the hand. So basically rather than winning a load of tricks, you’re trying to avoid winning the wrong tricks.
However after the edict is declared, starting with the player to the ruler’s left, each player gets the chance to declare that they’ll become a “Sinner”, with a limit of once per round. Typically the sin is the exact opposite of the original edict – for example if previously you weren’t make to take any 5’s, now you suddenly want all the 5’s. If the player succeeds, he typically gets payment from all other players. If he fails, he pays the ruler at the end of the hand. The sinner also gets the indulgence ring. The sinning player may play it on top of one card in that hand, and it becomes a ’10’ in the same suit they played for the purposes of winning the trick. It doesn’t affect scoring, but it’s basically a ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card for that trick where you may have messed up.
The game ends after everybody has been the ruler three times, or as soon as one player runs out of money and still has a debt to pay, you’d be surprised how often this can happen.
There’s also an advanced variant in the box, which to be honest you should just use from the get-go. As well as adding a bunch of new edicts that have more interesting variations you also receive a “papal bull” (yeah Google that one), which allows a player to introduce all 3 edicts at once for the hopes of getting extra cash. Of course if someone sins during this time, they have to accomplish all 3 sins. Sounds hard (and dare I say impossible, more on that later), but if they succeed, they automatically win the game. Failure means losing 18 florins to the ruler, which typically tends to result in a game end anyway.
The Church Is Loaded
The production quality of Indulgence is really good, in fact more than a typical trick taking game should be. After all, what does a trick taking game usually consist of? A deck of cards so how much can you do? Well you can make those cads Tarot sized, coat them in a linen finish and give them colourful artwork (which is good though not my style subjectively). Warning for left-handed players, they don’t cater for that unfortunately.
And then to top it off, stick in plastic gems for currency and a large metal ring for the Indulgence ring mentioned earlier. Seriously? I think most people would have been happy with a token or something, but kudos to Restoration Games here, they are certainly sticking to their word of “restoring” here. It’s over-produced beyond a doubt, but I’m not going to knock that. If this is how they treat a simple trick taking game, I can’t wait to see what happens when they tackle a fully fledged board game.
Having a new edict every turn means each hand will play differently from the last, which keeps gameplay fresh throughout, however at the end of the day they’re just simple variations of each other. One round you must avoid all greens, the other you must avoid all reds, whoop-di-do, but it’s better than being stale every round. It’s refreshing however that Indulgence becomes more of a trick avoidance game then a classic trick taking game. Rather than win a ton of tricks, you’re trying to be choosy in what tricks you win. Suddenly low cards aren’t all just duds any more and running your hand out of a particular suit can be a viable tactic.
The game is most fun when you’re the ruler, since that is your best chance to maximize your score. The strategy is to pick an edict that you believe others will mess up based on your opening hand, given that there is perfect information in Indulgence. No cards are left out of the round so you know every card exists somewhere.
The choice of whether to follow the edict or “sin” is a fun one to make, however Indulgence suffers from a problem. It functions fine as a potential catch up mechanism, but sinning and actually succeeding is hard, and I mean REALLY hard. You only have to mess up one trick for the whole plot to fail, meaning that sinning is not something players are willing to do unless they’re already losing badly. Some edicts are just downright impossible to achieve with sinning. It’s easier with 3 players as you only have 2 other players to think of, but in 4 player, I’d rather not sin the whole game and just do well that way. The risk of failure is just too severe. Players will sin just to try something new, which is fine and all, but I can count the number of times someone has succeeded in a sin without even reaching my middle finger.
And don’t get me started on the “shoot the moon” mechanic with trying to pass 3 sins for the auto-game win. This has never been achieved. I’ve never heard of it being achieved. I’m not convinced it ever can be achieved. If you deny this, I want video evidence submitted to prove it. The odds of succeeding at this are so low, you actually have more chance of literally shooting the moon with the nearest projectile weapon you can find. And the amount of florins that player will lose generally hands the ruler the game as 18 is such a high number. If I’m the ruler and someone attempts to shoot the moon, I just sit back and wait for the money to roll in.
ANYONE CAN JOIN
A big thing going for Indulgence is its accessibility. It’s very simple to learn whether you’re a trick taking enthusiast or a complete newbie to the genre. Most of the changing rules are explained on the cards so as long as you know how a typical “trick” is won, you’re pretty much there.
However you are limited to only 3 or 4 players and with 4 the game length can go a bit too long, closer to an hour or over. That’s not a long time in itself, but for a trick taking card game, that’s outstaying its welcome. You can house rule to only 2 rulings per player, but this means that it’s more swingy with the sin outcomes.
Indulgence is a great introduction to the trick-taking genre for those that are keen to try it out. Not complex at all, but with changing rules each hand and some push your luck mechanics for good measure, even if the chances of achieving them are too low for my liking, which for me is a big negative, but many players like to make insane gambles in games so this is perfect for them.
It’s very well produced for a game that didn’t need to be, but that’s never a bad thing and showcases that Restoration Games are likely to do a stellar job resurrecting other games that require more table presence. The cards themselves are great and everyone loves to wear that ring when deciding to be a sinner.
Indulgence I feel is going to appeal to many and I’m going to hang on to it for now, but I fear the issue with sinning being so hard to achieve is going to make this falter in the long run for me. It is however a solid first step into restoring old games and one for fans of the genre definitely. I’m keen to see what else this publisher can do and Downforce is on my radar for a kick-off.
PERSONAL RATING – 7/10
YOU WILL LIKE INDULGENCE IF:
You’re already a fan of trick-taking games.
You enjoy extreme push your luck mechanics.
You’re looking for a trick taking game with decent production quality behind it.
YOU WILL NOT LIKE INDULGENCE IF:
You feel the odds of succeeding at a sin are too low to make it worthwhile.
You want something a bit more complex with more chaotic rule changes.
You want a game that allows more players or team play.
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I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.