Year Published: 2015
Designer: Charles Ward
Publisher: EX1ST Games
Playtime: 10-20 minutes
One Sentence Synopsis: The King is Dead. Long live the King.
The monarch has died. Set forth in their final hours, their last edict decreed the selected sovereign leaders would observe three days of mourning, after which time a new ruler would emerge from among them. In Blood & Fortune, you are one such leader competing against three-five other hopefuls over the course of three game rounds. At the end, the leader who has accrued the most total influence will sit on the throne, but you must take care for every action you take to increase your own influence will also increase the renown of rival leaders.
Blood & Fortune is a light, fast-paced, abstract strategy card game of influence, deduction, and betrayal that plays in roughly 10-20 minutes. You represent one of the unique noble households depicted on crest cards dealt out at the start of the game, and receive a score-keeping card that also includes your house’s special ability that may let you draw an extra role card if you’re playing with that variant, or perhaps let you take an extra turn. The tracking setup itself is an easy way to keep score, and each of the special abilities is actually useful and decently balanced. They also function somewhat as a catch-up mechanism, becoming unusable after you hit a 15 point threshold. While I’m not generally a fan of catch-up mechanisms, this implementation isn’t so disruptive that you’ll notice large “rubber-banding” effects, but it’s enough to help take the edge off of someone who has managed to pull into a clear lead.
Blood & Fortune’s player interaction actually functions as a catch-up mechanism in itself, encouraging some degree of self correction from players if things start to become too lopsided. Each player has a suit of cards that has a unique crest for their noble house, but the same composition as everyone else’s: three “1s” and two “2s.” During the game’s three rounds, you’ll have three opportunities each round to offer two of those cards at a time to any player of your choice, and that person must take one card, place it in front of them to the right of any cards they’ve already received, and pass the other card back to you. If one person is pulling noticeably ahead, all other players have to do is stop offering them cards: it won’t completely tank their ability to gain points, but it will drastically impact their progress.
You’ll score influence at the end of each round based on the number values of all the cards in front of you, as well as the points on any of your cards in front of other players. First, however, each player must discard all of the “2” value cards in front of them except for the right-most “2” (the one received most recently). So, while giving away your “2s” and accepting “2s” from other players could potentially help you, it’s also likely it will help them: one of the main strategic elements in Blood & Fortune therefore involves deducing how soon in each round other players offered their “2s” in order to pass your own and potentially get theirs discarded, and determining when and if to take “2s” offered to you.
The basic variant really doesn’t offer you many choices throughout each round, and overall I found it very luck-based with your fortunes heavily tied to how other players interact with you. If other players aren’t feeding you cards then you aren’t going anywhere quickly, and that dependence on other people may be a sticking point for some groups: Blood & Fortune is heavily reliant on player interaction, and people who don’t play ball by acting in their own self interest can easily break the enjoyment for everyone else. Blood & Fortune also advertises itself as a negotiation game, but I really found very little incentive to ever enter into discussions with other players except to reiterate to newer players they shouldn’t be feeding cards to the current leader. With a more animated group I can potentially see that aspect really taking off, but be aware that your players may not really bring out that part of the game, and the game itself doesn’t do much to encourage that interaction.
Luckily, Blood & Fortune plays so quickly that if you have a bad game it’s not the end of the world, and you can set things back up within 30 seconds and be off and running for a rematch. An apt comparison might be to Guillotine or Citadels, which are also lighter filler games I’d say are dependent on the group for actual enjoyment. The thing is, a few bad games of Guillotine have made it something I don’t really care if I ever play again because it can take 30-45 minutes to end, whereas I’ve started taking Blood & Fortune with me to game nights twice a week just in case we need something that’s over in 10 minutes while we’re waiting on other players to finish something up, waiting for someone to eat, etc. Its short playtime and extremely simple rules give it a lot more utility than most other games I’d consider fillers.
If you want to up the strategic stakes a little, and I think most groups will, Blood & Fortune also includes role cards that are drawn at the start of each round. Each person draws two cards, choosing one to discard and placing the other in front of them for other players to take. Then, in turn order, each person takes one role card from any other player and adds it to their hand. Those role cards can be traded away or kept depending on what you think is best, and are resolved before scoring. Most of the cards have take-that style effects, so be aware that their inclusion adds some additional randomness and the ability for other people to adversely affect each other, and that some are definitely more useful than others. There are quite a lot of them also, so using the role cards bogs down scoring each round and may actually reduce overall enjoyment if your games start stretching to the 20-30 minute mark.
Blood & Fortune really shines in the component department, coming in a small, very sturdy square box that’s extremely portable. Even with its small size there’s a fair amount of wasted space, and if you wanted to you could ditch the box for added portability since the game itself is barely bigger than a normal deck of cards. The cards themselves are also sturdy, and the art is quite beautiful: dark, saturated colors with crest designs that are both simple and elegantly layered.
COG Takeaway: Blood & Fortune is a very simple, abstract strategy card game that functions decently as a 10-minute filler; its small table footprint, non-existent setup time, and easy rules makes it ideal for lunch-hour play even with people who have no prior hobby gaming experience. However, I will caution that playing with people who aren’t serious about doing what’s in their best interests can derail the experience, and scoring points for yourself is fairly dependent on other people’s actions. That being the case, Blood & Fortune may seem a little random to some groups who aren’t used to take-that style gameplay, and the lack of real strategic depth may be off-putting for anyone really looking for something as deep as games like Citadels or Guillotine, which are very light affairs in-and-of themselves.