Spookre: Preview

One o’clock, two o’clock… twelve o’clock!  Here we come! I hope everyone’s played ghosts in the graveyard, at least once. Because, today, Fairway looks at the upcoming Kickstarter, Spookre, a ghostly take on a traditional trick-taking game.

Spookre is a three- to five-player, trick-taking game by Twitch Factory and designer David Sheppard. Games are played over a series of three hands and it takes about twenty minutes.  The game is launching on Kickstarter this week.

Initial Impressions

  1. The ghosts are of a pretty unique artistic style featuring an eclectic set of ghosts: Mexican guitar players, priests, etc. We weren’t totally sure what graveyard would contain all of them.
  2. The rules were pretty simple, building on a traditional trick taker style but with some interesting target selection and win conditions.
  3. We liked the “aura” abilities that triggered if you played matching ghosts, but craved more variety.

How to play

Spookre consists of a deck of ghost cards with values from one to fifty.  Depending on the number of players, you’ll remove some number of higher value cards (e.g., for four players, you remove the 40-50). The game is played over a series of three hands — we thought of them as three different night shifts in the graveyard. Each hand consists of a series of five tricks. The object is collect the most target ghosts by the end of the game.

At the start of each night shift, the deck of ghost cards (plus any in the discard pile) are shuffled together. Each player is dealt five cards.  In the middle of the table, the remaining cards are set facedown in a draw pile. Then, the top five cards are flipped over and placed face up in a line to form the “graveyard.”

Then, the first player selects a target ghost in the graveyard by playing a card from their hand face up next to it. This is starts the trick or “meeting” in game-speak. Each player, going clockwise, will do the same: select a card and play it to the target ghost. In general, the player with the card whose value is the closest to the target without going over will collect the ghost.  All the non-winning cards are discarded and the winner will lead the next trick.

If no one was able to stay under the target card, then the highest overall card took the ghost.

In addition to just matching value, ghosts all have an “aura:” one of five different colored spirits. Playing a card from your hand to a target with a matching aura grants you the power  listed on the bottom of the card. Sometimes the power is as simple as looking at another player’s hands. However, the powers can also do things like reverse the scoring mechanic (mid-trick) or removing another ghost from the meeting (usually denying a player the win) or other similar things. There’s no such thing as a sure victory.

Finally, there’s a couple of Grim Reaper cards that when played act as a Trump card granting almost immediate victory to the player who sent it to the meeting. Another, later-played, Grim Reaper can snatch away the victory, though.

The game continues this way until three hands are played. The player with the most collected ghosts wins. Ties are broken in favor of the player who won the highest ghost.

On the green

The Graveyard. It’s hard to do interesting things in a traditional trick taking game, but Spookre managed to sneak in a pretty clever mechanism. By having the graveyard, players could plan how to play their cards in a way that gave them the best chance of taking ghosts. This public information (e.g., the target values and their auras) made for some interesting decision making.

The Ghosts.  We also liked the ghosts.  They were definitely an interesting art style, but most everyone found them happily, haunting.

Teachability and play time.  The game took no time to learn and play. Even at the higher player counts, it didn’t really seem to lag at all.  Almost all the concepts were familiar to the players at the table, but I’d wager that even for those who weren’t familiar with trick-taking, the game would be pretty simple to pick up.  After all, the core concept is play a card from your hand at the target and try to get closer than anyone else without going over. The Price is Right style!

Where it comes up short

We didn’t really have many issues with this game.

Aura variety. Perhaps it’s asking a bit much, but we wanted more aura-power variety. The auras were definitely a great addition and eschewed the traditional use for suits. But the powers didn’t feel as fleshed (can you say that in a game about ghosts?) out as we thought that they might be.  Things like “look at another player’s hand” often weren’t helpful enough to play just for the power.  Conversely, some were really fun/useful like flipping the scoring regime (e.g., the closest to the target without going under), but had limited opportunities to actually play it as both a matching power in a way that was helpful. There were also a number of times the powers just didn’t do anything (e.g., remove another ghost from the meeting) since they were played too soon or played when removing the card didn’t help.

All of that said, the issue with auras is just a minor concern. One that might benefit from input during the campaign about what other sorts of powers make sense.

Blending of the graphic design and illustration.  More than one player mentioned that the cards design wasn’t entirely consistent. The tombstone and in-laid font as well as the auras didn’t mesh with the overall design of the card. The aura’s and ghosts had a unique hand drawn appeal, whereas the grave and font was a real life texture and some drop shadow tricks. Not sure how to explain it other than “inconsistent.”

On the green

Spookre is a fun, little trick-taking game that everyone wanted to play again when we were done. Since the game consists of just a deck and very simple mechanics, it’s the kind of game you can take anywhere and play with very little setup or clean up. I understand the game will be around $12 on Kickstarter and, at that price, it’s worth snagging if you’re looking for a new card game.

Spookre is in the hole for a par.

Fairway was provided a pre-production version of the game in order to write this preview. He was not otherwise compensated for his opinion. He also played a very early prototype of game prior to this version.

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