Trick-taking games always need some kind of gimmick to make them interesting, to me at least. There’s so many of them that a game has to have some new and unusual mechanic for me to sit up and take notice. Most of the best trick-taking games work with only four players, so one that’s tailored to five people catches my interest. Farfalia (daVinci Games, 2004 - Derek Carver) not only was very playable by five people, but it also had an interesting mechanic - that of collecting a set. This made Farfalia not only a trick-taking game, but also a set collection game - the first card game I’ve played that straddled both categories.
The game was very quick, and very fun. It has perfect knowledge - something I’m fond of in a card game, and has several variations included in the rules. The game works well for two or three (okay) and four (good) players, but is at its best with five. It plays fairly quickly and isn’t a real brain burner. I enjoyed it, because the strategy was evident; but the game still felt fairly “light”. It’s one of the better candidates I’ve had to introduce amateurs to the “trick-taking” genre.
A deck of fifty-two cards is shuffled, made up of four suites - each numbered “1” through “13”. Each suit is of a different color (red, green, blue, and orange) with each color having a matching symbol on it (strawberry, leaf, fish, and shell respectively.) The only exceptions are the “8”, “10”, and “12” of each color, which have symbols of a butterfly on them. One player is randomly chosen to be the dealer, and three teams are formed. The dealer makes up one team by themselves, with the other four players forming two teams of two. Scoring cards with different colors are given to the players to identify what team they’re on. The entire deck is dealt, ten cards to every player except the dealer, who gets twelve. The dealer chooses two of these cards to remove from the round secretly and also declares which suit is “Trump” (the dealer can declare that there is no trump). Twenty-five symbol cards (with five cards for each symbol) are shuffled, and five of them laid face up in a row on the table, forming the “Farfalia” set (some nonsense about a magazine needing pictures of wildlife). The round is ready to begin, starting with the player to the left of the dealer.
The leading player plays any card from their hand, with play proceeding clockwise around the table. Players must play a card from the same suit if possible; otherwise, they can play any card from their hand. The player who plays the highest card in the color that was led takes the trick, unless a trump card was played, in which case the highest trump card wins the trick. When the player wins the trick, they may take one card from the trick of their choosing to try and match the “Farfalia” set. A player may only take a card if it matches one of the “Farfalia” set AND they don’t already have one of that type. The player who won the trick leads in the next trick, and the round continues for ten hands. At the end of the round, each player checks the number of cards they have that match the “Farfalia” set. (Partners count as one person for this purpose.) Players receive points depending on how many matches they’ve gotten (1 match = 1 point; 2 matches = 3 points; 3 = 6; 4 = 10; 5 = 15). The player who has the least points becomes the new dealer and reshuffles both decks, playing another round the exact same way, with different teams and a different “Farfalia” set. After three rounds, the player with the highest score is the winner!
A four-player game is played the same as a five-player, with two exceptions. The partners are permanent, and no cards may be taken from the first three tricks played. Two or three players play the same as a four player, but with a dummy player which has half of their cards exposed. There are also ten wild cards included with the game that allow players to use one of several variants listed in the book and at the web site (www.davincigames.com).
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: As always, I enjoy the way daVinci packages their small, boxed card games, putting them in a small plastic frame that holds the cards easily in a box that measures about 4” by 6”. The cards are of excellent quality, able to take a real beating (mine went through the toddler test and survived.) The symbols and colors are very clear and easy to tell apart, and there’s very little clutter on the cards. The only thing I really didn’t like was the generic background of the cards - it’s simply the daVinci logo. Having the little scoring cards is unnecessary, but nice - and they certainly help remind who’s on what team. A couple blank cards are included in case some cards DON’T pass the toddler test.
2.) Rules: For a very simple game, the rules were quite lengthy. This is because they assume nothing, taking into account that perhaps the reader has never in their life played a trick-taking game before. Small illustrations and examples are included throughout for ease of play. The instructions are translated from Italian, but you would never know it; they are well written. All the variants included are nice - I don’t mind going to a website, but I’d prefer to have them written in the rules - and they are in this game. The rules are fairly simple; people who have played trick-taking games before will pick up on the game immediately, and those who haven’t should have no problems either.
3.) Strategy and Simplicity: Sometimes simple is the best way to go. When I first read the rules, I thought, “Is that all?”, as it seemed like the game really didn’t have a lot of “meat.” After a couple plays; however, I realized that the game really offered more choices than were first apparent. When playing the game, the card to play often seems obvious, but only if you want to win the trick. Winning a trick is useful because it allows a player to control the next trick, but at the same time is only really nice if the trick won allows the player to take one of the cards needed for the set. The dealer seems to be at a disadvantage, because they have no partner, but choosing ten out of twelve cards and the color of trump suit is a very big deal and can give them a huge advantage. Most of the rounds we played were very close.
4.) Card counting: Because the game has almost perfect knowledge (in a five-player game, two cards are removed), players rely on watching which cards are played to help them plan their tactics. This obviously gives players who have better memories a larger advantage. This isn’t much different from other common trick-taking games, so I don’t see that fans would be annoyed - but some people dislike this aspect of these type of games, so I thought I’d mention it.
5.) Players: Playing with a dummy hand makes for an interesting exercise, but I really don’t like playing with a “computer” opponent like that; so my preferred number is four or five. Farfalia makes a decent game for four, but with five players - the game really shines. Having switching partners and more cards played per trick really changes the game. I played my initial playing with four players and had a lukewarm feeling about the game. Playing with five changed my opinion to a much higher one - the interaction was much different.
6.) Fun Factor: The game doesn’t have the “take that!” factor of some trick-taking games, as there are no negative cards. The idea is to win tricks so you can match your set. This can lead to howls of dismay, when a player does not get the trick they need or win a trick that is useless to them; and that always provides at least the other players with a good time. The game isn’t rip-roaring fun but does make for a pleasant diversion.
I like Farfalia. The theme is pasted on like a cheap tube of glue, and there are no complicated rules; but the game is solid, and completes its purpose. Because the game lasts only a few rounds (taking about thirty minutes), it acts as an excellent lead-in to a game night. I find that although there is a decent amount of strategy in the game, it doesn’t require a lot of thought, making for an excellent “conversation” game. Of course, you can take the game seriously if you want; but if you’re looking for a light, interesting trick-taking game, Farfalia is not a bad choice.
“Real men play board games.”