Review: The Game of 49

Board games are becoming monstrous these days. On Kickstarter you can always find $100 games with dozens of miniatures, complex rules systems, and gameplay that lasts for several hours. Genre lines are often blurred, and you end up with a dice-rolling, card-flipping, worker placement cooperative asymmetrical storytelling game with bonus maps! While I have enjoyed some of these games, it feels like many end up serving as a “jack of all trades, master of none” experience that’s just not overly satisfying.

The Game of 49

The Game of 49 doesn’t take that approach at all. Instead, it chooses one basic rule set and runs with it. You’ll have a board, plastic chips, some money, and a deck of cards. Yet within this basic setup is a game that will have you developing deep strategies that are several moves in advance, bluffing other players’ socks off, and anxiously praying that the next card flip goes your way. All of those elements come together to make a pretty solid game.

Connect Four

The premise is simple: you and two to four of your friends (the box says it plays two player – don’t do it) are competing to be the first person to cover four spaces in a row on a 7×7 grid. On a turn, one player flips over a card from the deck that mostly consists of single numbers that correspond to a place on the grid. You will then go around the table, bidding on that space. The winner takes the card and places their chip on the space.

The Game of 49 cards

From time to time, special cards will come up that allow you to place a chip anywhere on a particular set of tiles on the board. After these are purchased, a payment round takes place in which every player is awarded cash based on how many spaces on the board they currently occupy. The center square, 49, is the most special, as it is the only space that is represented by multiple cards in the deck. As a result, the center space goes up for auction several times during the game, leading to its owner possibly being changed as the game moves on.

At first glance, the rules almost seem too light – won’t people just buy the chips they need and then whoever happens to find the first set of four in a row will win? Not quite. The key element to this game is that you keep your money secret the entire time.

Sarah’s makeshift Fort Knox.

So, as someone is buying up spots and getting close to that four in a row, another player may just be biding their time. When a card comes up that could lead to victory, an opponent might swoop in and bid more money than you can afford, thus ruining your chances. There are no refunds, so if you put all your strategy into just one spot on the board, you might have to start from scratch to have any hope of winning. Your opponent may not celebrate for long, though, because they have spent all of their money just to ruin your plans and keep the game going. They’re now in the same boat as you – broke and possibly without much of a plan.

Money Money Money Money…. MONEY!

I live for gaming moments, and The Game of 49 delivers those within a simple framework. Everyone knows when the card that comes up will let another player win, and they will look down at their money stack and wonder if they can stop it. As the price of that card goes up, people will be dropping out, their heads hung low. Soon enough it comes down to two, and a smile begins to creep across the near winner’s face, who eventually throws down a bid of all their money. Their opponent stays stone-faced, then slowly announces a higher bid. One player is downcast, while all the others high five and celebrate as one of their opponents has become their game savior. Give it a few turns, though, and all those roles will switch around.

Sure, they’re smiling now…

The rules are simple and can be mastered within a minute. The randomness of the cards evens the playing field for various levels of strategy-making. Plus, the game can often be found for pretty cheap. I bought it at Target on clearance, and while I think their supply is beginning to run out, I have still seen it at several retail locations and online at a very affordable price. I don’t think that it will be anyone’s favorite game – it probably doesn’t hit my top 20. It’s not going to be action packed every single turn. However, if anyone asks me to play it, I’d probably be up for it, and I’ll enjoy it while I play. And I’ll especially enjoy the lack of 30 minutes of setup and cleanup.

Highs

  • Simple setup, simple rules
  • Usually an even playing field for gamers of all levels
  • Low price

Lows

  • Games may get repetitive
  • There might be several turns where you’re not involved