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Matches - Card Game Review

This is a review of the card game Matches by Thing 12 Games. The publisher sent me a copy of the game and its predecessor to review. I took a quick look at the rules before agreeing to review the game and thought it might be a good fit for this site. My opinions are my own.


The first thing I thought when opening the box and checking out the game was that this company had spared no expense in the making of what was a fairly simple card game. The box has a faux strike panel as if it is an oversized match box. The spot gloss treatment of a box filled with cards, seemingly extraneous content, and large plastic crystal tokens looked as if every detail had been thought of in production.


The cover of Matches shows two yellow and red yes on a black background in what looks like an oversized match box and red and yellow flames at the bottom of the illustration.

My kids were eager to play the game too as they like simple to learn, hard to master card games. What we found in the gameplay led us to play several games quickly, both with the included mini expansion and without. Over the course of the last month or so, I have now played over twenty games.

red and orange plastic tokens in the shape of crystals come in a velvet bag along with a large wooden match tokens and linen cards

Matches presents itself as a trick-taking adjacent game, but in reality it is a more of push your luck, bluffing game. The main conceit is whether I can trick other people into placing tokens on the starting blaze card by playing more matching cards. Each round starts with a player playing a blaze card and placing a single token on it. Tokens are worth points. If I play a 7, every other player can choose to keep playing by playing a 7 card, something that adds up to 7, or a wild card. They can also choose to play cards face down and these to number cards. In this case, the face down cards are worth one point each.


If players play a matching card or a wild card (a Flare card) this can also add to the blaze points. If at any point, a player decides to pass and burn out, then if they were the first one they gain a token and the first player marker, otherwise they will get a point for each matching pair of cards they played.


A ten card with 3 blaze tokens and a flare card next to it

In addition, there is a player balancing mechanic which gives tokens to people who are not the first player.


I played about 88 different trick-taking or shedding games in 2022. I'm not going to debate here what constitutes a trick-taking game, but my personal definition is pretty liberal. Matches wants to be one of those games. But it's not. It's close and feels close. But the tempo and manner of playing cards is just enough off that you will get burned in this game.


Skill should be an absolute part of trick taking games. It doesn't have to be all, or even the majority of the game. However, this game leaves too much latitude for the draw to allow skill to flourish. And to make it worse, there is a buy in for what should be an equalizer - the Burn Cards. These cards add special powers and randomly dealt out but have a random cost based on the proximity to the deck? What? Why? Not all powers are created equal, but a worse power can end up costing more than a better power.


a pile of burn cards along with 4 burns cards to the side of it showing that the closest burn card is the cheapest and the farthest one is the most expensive


In addition, the ability to use cards face down doesn't feel balanced. Or even play tested. If a player can use a card to add, why not also use a face down card to subtract? Cards placed above could have been addends and cards placed below played cards could have been subtrahends. It's just another random rule that might be slightly thematic, but leads to poor gameplay when implemented that facedown cards only add.


The starting player may be at a severe advantage with the correct low hand in this game, and it has nothing to do with their choices. In this case, it behooves the other players to not interact with the main game mechanics of playing pairs or adding to the blaze.



An example of playing several 10s with a starting 10, one flare card, another 10, an 8 a 1 and a facedown card, and a 6 and a 4

The weird thing is that I will play this game as a filler game. It's super easy to teach and doesn't require much thinking at all. There are a couple of choices in the game, but I'm not sure they are good choices. In that way, it's similar to games like Uno and Phase 10; card game activities I will engage in when I don't want a rules overhead or don't want to really think about what I am playing. In other words, I'm not engaged in the gameplay, but I'm willing to play.


This game may appeal to a wide audience or families looking for something that plays up to 6. Just be aware that things can get spicy, but not in a way that may beget good feelings from the players. Maybe you want that though- a smoldering hatred of the other players at the table as they talk you into giving them one more point that you really shouldn't.


I am curious about the universe Thing 12 is building. The presentation is immaculate. The games? I will be writing about The Seals of Cthulhu soon too...


Matches

Designed by Daniel McKinley

Published by Thing 12 Games


Aesthetics 10/10

Strategy 3/10

Gameplay 5/10


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