As far back as I can remember, I have always enjoyed sitting at a table with my family. A handful of cards in front of me. Brainstorming, which card to play to win the hand of cards already piled on the table. Contemplating the number of trick I had said that I would win to gain the maximum points. Yes, I'm talking about playing a game we use to call “Trumps.” Where players would start with a number of cards, a designated suit would be the trumping suit and we'd bid on the number of tricks we believed we would win with that hand. All from a standard 52 card deck.
Jump many years forward and my family still love playing that game. Although, this time I am what you'd call a gamer with my head filled with other ways of playing. I introduce The Great Dalmuti from the renowned Richard Garfeild. The guy who created Magic: The Gathering and Netrunner. Two very intricate card games that are so revered in our circles. Unlike those titles, Dalmuti is at it's core a very simple trick taking game, like Trumps, with no scoring but bucket loads of fun.
The funny thing is, I was introduced to a French tarot card game a few years before buying my copy of Dalmuti, that very much resembles it. This French version carries a slightly vulgar name with it, although that is part of the pleasure of it. In the forward to the rules, Garfield acknowledges that his game came from many traditional card games from around the world, that used these mechanisms. It's just that he took it and published it as his own. Very brave of you Richard.
One of the major differences of this printed version of the game is that it has a distinguished deck of cards. No suits, just numbers. Each numbered card contains that number of cards in the deck. Starting at 12 number 12 cards, 11 number 11, and so on. Just until the number one card, aptly named The Great Dalmuti. The most powerful card in the deck. There are also two Joker cards that have a hidden number of 13. The weakest cards, possibly. We'll talk about them a little later.
The deck is designed for 4 to 8 players, as the less of you there are, the bigger your hand of cards is. Not that this detriments your game. Playing as 4 or 8 the game scales and feels the same. Although, the position you sit at on the table may feel like a detriment. This is because this trick taking card game has more of an air of a party game. Before starting, players will draw a card from the deck to be allocated their position in the world. If you have the lowest card, you become the Dalmuti. ruler of your wonderful kingdoms and all it's subjects. The player with the second lowest becomes the Vice Dalmuti and sits to the left of their King. And so on around the table until the last player sits on the right of the esteemed leader. This player is the lowest of the low. The Peon. It is their job to deal out the cards and collect the cards in every round. Maybe even be told by the Dalmuti themselves, to bring everyone drinks or snacks. Or scratch a back or two.
It is the job of the Peon to elevate themselves into a position of power and for the Dalmuti to keep their own. This is done in a trick taking fashion. Be the fastest to discard your hand to become the Great Dalmuti, or the second fastest to become the Vice Dalmuti. So on and so on.
After the Peon has dealt out the whole deck, there is a taxation phase. The Peon is obliged to give 1 or 2 of their best cards, depending on the number of players, to the Dalmuti. While the Dalmuti does the opposite. Bare in mind, the low the card, the better it is. The Vice Dalmuti may have to do the same with the Vice Peon, if there are more players. So already, our Peon has got it hard. Collecting the rubbish from the top chair. In fact the Peon player may get down hearted by starting a game with a hand that they can never win a trick with. But with a little patience and timing, a Peon can jump into the number one spot. Or at least climb the food chain without the aid of luck.
As the Dalmuti, you'll lead the game by playing a card or a number of cards of the same value. Maybe 3 of the number 12 cards or 1 number 7 card. All players are inclined to play the same number of cards but of a lower value, or pass. It might be even advantageous to split a group of same value cards, just so you can play in that round. You may even decide to pass, while holding cards you could have played. This will continue around the table until everyone has pass, making the player who added the last cards to the pile the winner of the round. The Peon collects the played cards, and the winner starts a new round. As stated before, a player that empty's their hand is considered finish, gaining a position that for the next game. This is easier said than done with big groups, remember who finished third or fourth, but you can rely on the Dalmuti to sort out any conflicts as that player always knows when they have finished.
Card counting is a trick that you will utilise when your hand is not up to snuff. Where as if you're the Dalmuti, you can normally play the cards willy nilly and win. Judging when to pass and jump back in to snatch the win, making you the lead player is a skill that can be overlooked in all the fun. You'll need to be aware of how many cards the others have left, because if everyone passes, you may not get the chance to steal the lead. And you may even force the player to your right to win a round, just so they can start the new one with some higher cards, giving you the possibility of removing a few from your hand. There are so many slight little things that you can do that can swing the game in your direction, so the game doesn't feel like, the luck of the draw. You see one player is down to two cards and a possibility of becoming the next Dalmuti, you play you 11's. All four of them. You know that they wont be out this round. Then maybe someone else can hold that player up in the next round.
Power comes from the numbers. If you have been dealt a large number of one value, this can be great. As in one play, you remove a chunk of your hand in one swoop. Or it may not help at all as the other players play their sets of 2 or 3 cards, diminishing their hands slowly but surly. You'll then be tempted to break this large group of same numbered cards into smaller groups, just to you can play something this round. The Jokers do the reverse of this. A Joker can be added to a number of cards and disguise itself as that number. One minute you have three 3's in your hand, play it with the Joker and you now have four 3's. If your lucky to get a one of these, they add a little advantage but also a handicap. If played alone, they are a value of a 13. So saving them can hinder if that is the only card you have left. But sneaking them into another group, especially if it helps you win the round, is a great feeling. An even greater feeling that the Jokers can provide is a 'Revolution.'
In the Taxation phase, if a player has the pleasure of owning both Jokers, they can overthrow the government. If they wish. This throws the balance of power on it's head as all player change their position with the player of their polar opposite. In other word, the Peon becomes the Dalmuti and vice versa. And ever player in between does the same. Which is great if your at the low end of the food chain, but not so if you are in the higher echelons of power.
Leaving the game after playing your final cards will give you your position for the next hand. Being first will automatically make you the Dalmuti, second the Vice, all the way down to the last, who becomes the Peon. Or retains that same post, due to the bad hand of cards they couldn't get rid of. This game is a struggle for those at the bottom of this power struggle, but they will be totally overwhelmed to move up a post from hand to hand. Or even jump straight to the top position, without the help of a revolution. So far, so card game...
The party game part comes from the fact that the new Dalmuti gets to sit in their chair while the other players change places, depending on where they finished. A kind of musical chairs that places the new Peon on the right of the majestic “D” and then beckon to whatever they crave. And the fun can mount if insults are spray by those in power and if you inject props into the game. Giving the Dalmuti a crown and the Peon a baseball cap just adds the the ambiance.
All in all, as a family, we love this game. It's simplicity to play works great for the young players, who many not see the card counting as essential. While older players will grasp the concept as they have played similar traditional card games. We love this game. No scoring is necessary, we play it until we are bored. It's nothing much to look at though. It's cards. And they even deteriorate with multiple plays, much like mine in the images. The art itself is nothing spectacular and adds nothing to the game. The theme is weak if you play it flatly as a card game. You need the swap chairs. You need to role play. And you definitely need props. Shame there was none in the game, even if is was a badge or folded hat.
One of the greatest games on my shelf. One that I would drop anything in an instant to play. Shame it is not technically a great production, but some of the best games don't need to. Think, Werewolf.
Technical score 6/10
My BGG score 9/10
Combined score 7.5/10