Is a quirky card game by Tony Boydell, published by Surprised Stare Games Ltd. (UK) and distributed in the United States by FRED Distribution.
Playing Time: 60+ minutes
Scandaroon is at heart a card game, but it comes with a small set of other components including wooden bits, a board, and lots of reference material.
The Cards: A deck of 55 cards. They're medium-to-light weight and have a gloss finish.
51 of the cards form the main deck, including cards in four suits of various values. They feature some pretty plain artwork of the suit symbols (turbans, scimitars, moons, and what's apparently a "cross-tile"). Most of the cards also have icons which display their special powers. They're not the best icons I've ever seen, but I was getting used to them by the end of the game.
The other four cards depict the four suits, and show which one is currently trump.
Board: A small two-panel board. This includes spaces to mark which suit is trump, what the current value of each player's cards is, and who's won how many victory points. Like the cards, I find it somewhat plain, but it's also really useful. Being able to see at a glance how well everyone is doing both in the round and in the game is great.
Wooden Bits: These are all wooden bits painted in the four player colors (red, green, yellow, blue) or in white. The players each get 4 victory point cubes (which mark their scoring on the game board), a current score marker (also used on the game board), a pass marker and a score pile marker (which help them keep track of what they're doing), and an action piece (which can be redeemed for valuable prizes).
The 25 white "extra point" cubes are placed on cards to show when their value has increased due to other cards in play.
Overall, the game probably could have done without any of these components and instead just required players to keep track of things on paper. However including them makes the game vastly easier to play (and in fact, might make it playable, period). I particularly enjoyed the white extra point cubes. I don't think I've ever seen a game where your pieces could increase in value that gave you a way to easily mark that. Having these little cubes keeps you from constantly counting and recounting your points and instead lets you play the game.
Rules: A 16-page rulebook, half of which are the English rules. It's slightly illustrated and has examples and summaries to the side. Nonetheless, I still found the rules pretty hard to follow. Part of this is because the game is quite unique, and part is because of the careful delineation between the terms "ability" and "effect," which wasn't obvious at all to this first-time player. Overall, the rules could have been better.
Player Aids: Four player aids in English. These cardstock sheets list card effects and action piece uses on one side and card abilities on the other. It's a great reference which makes it a lot easier to play the game, though some of the players found it awkward to read. Part of the problem was that abilities were given in specifics rather than generalities (e.g., referring to a single suit rather than noting than an ability might appear similarly for all suits).
Overall, the components in Scandaroon are pretty average. The beauty might be to the lower side and the usability to the high side (other than rulebook problems), but I've averaged that out to give the game a "3" out of "5" for Style.
The object of Scandaroon is to earn the most points through four rounds of card play and usage.
Setup: A starting player is chosen and each player is dealt five cards. The deck of four trump cards is used to randomly select a trump for the first round of play. (As we'll see, this increases the value of cards in that suit.)
The Cards. The cards in Scandaroon are unique and help create much of the gameplay. There are four suits, and each suit has values from 0 to 7. However, more notably cards also feature effects, abilities, and other special elements.
Effects are permanent and constantly occur when a card is in play. Many effects modify the value of a card to the right or left (in a row of cards), but some instead stop those nearby cards from being discarded.
Abilities are special powers that can be used by discarding the card. There are many of them. They do things like let you draw cards, change trump, recover cards from the discard pile, discard other cards, etc.
Some cards (typically the 6s and 7s) also have a little red line around them. This means that they're the last cards you can play in the round.
Order of Play: On your turn you can do one of four things: play a card, use an ability, play your action piece, or pass.
Play a Card. You take one of your cards and put it in a row in front of you, to the right of other cards you've already played that round. The ultimate goal of each round is to total the highest value of cards, so playing good cards and/or cards that increase the value of your other cards is typically a good thing.
Use an Ability. You discard a card from your row to use its special ability.
Play Your Action Piece. This is a special one-time power you can use. You must also discard a card (from your hand or your row), then you get to improve your score pile (on which, more momentarily), replace cards in your hand, protect a card in play, or steal a card in play.
Pass. Once you pass, you're done with the round. It also protects your cards from being hosed by other players. You can still have cards in your hand when you pass, and if so you can carry them over to the next round. (Presumably if you kept cards it's because they're of high value or because they're likely to be trump in the future.)
Ending the Round: A round ends when all the players have passed. Now each player adds up his points. This is based on the value of each card, which may be increased by other nearby cards. The value of all trump cards are doubled. This all sounds easy, but it's not, because you'll have spent the round playing certain cards and activating card powers to make sure you're happy with the trump and that you've maximized your points while minimizing those of your opponents.
Now the players with the three highest points totals for the round get 3, 2, and 1 victory point respectively. There's also a special +2VP bonus given to the winner if the round either started or ended in no-trump.
There are also two end-game VP bonuses. At the end of each round, the tentative winner in these categories is shown.
One is based on the highest point total over all rounds. The winner of that will end up getting 2 VP.
The other is based on a score pile. Whenever you win a round, you get to put your highest card into your score pile. Whenever you come in second, you get to put in your lowest card. Whoever has the highest score pile total at the end (which could be supplemented by an Action Piece ability) gets 3 VPs, while the second highest gets 1 VP.
This all, by-the-by, is one of the things I find confusing in the rules: you score points during the round, but those are only used to see how players do toward scoring a few different types of VPs.
In any case, play now continues on to the next round.
Every player gets to draw back up to 5 cards, except for the last-place player who gets to draw up to 6.
In addition, a new trump is chosen. If the current trump is turbans, the next trump is no-trump, else it's selected randomly. (Note that this means that there are 5 trump possibilities, of which only 4 will appear in any game.)
Ending the Game: The game ends after four rounds of play. The definitive winners of those most-points and highest-score-pile VP bonuses are determined, then the player with the most total VPs wins.
Relationships to Other Games
Generally, Scandaroon is a highly original game. It plays pretty much nothing like a standard card game. You play in order, but that's it. There are no tricks and (oddly) no direct interaction among the cards played. The gameplay itself feels on the one hand like tactical resource management (as you both figure out how to make your cards interact best and whether to save cards from one round to the other) and on the other hand like take-that gameplay, as you can to a limited extent hose other players with your own card actions.
The Game Design
When you first read the rules for Scandaroon, they're pretty intimidating, and that's because the game is so original. However, that intimidation quickly goes away once you get started with the game. It's quick and simple: you play a card or you use a card, then you move on. Elements that I've already mentioned, such as the scoring cube, make that play even simpler by keeping track of stuff from you.
Though it's simple, Scandaroon still contains some good tactics. On the one hand, you're trying to figure out your most valuable plays, which includes playing some cards and using others for powers. On the other hand, you're constantly trying to watch for what your opponents might be doing. On the third hand, you have to measure laying cards out strong (to bluff) versus treading water (to try and see what other players are doing first).
I particularly liked the tension between going for a high score in an individual round and deciding that you need to save your cards for the future. Every turn you have to analyze whether your game has hit that point or not.
With all that said, there clearly is some randomness in the play. I'm not convinced that it's a major element, as most cards have some way in which you can take advantage of them, but it's definitely there since you may be drawing as few as 20 cards over the course of the game.
With the caveat that it's an unusual game that your players will have to get used to, I give Scandaroon a "4" out of "5" for Substance. It's an enjoyable tactical card game.
Scandaroon is a tactical card game with interesting and original play. It's sufficiently original that it might intimidate a bit, but if you can get past that, it's a fine game for folks who enjoy cards and want something new with depth.