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Stacks & Stacks- Card Game Review

Updated: Jul 7, 2023

Stacks & Stacks by Anthony Diastello and Pure Fun Media. This review copy was provided the publisher with no other compensation, my opinions are my own. The artwork on this copy is not finalized.

3 sets of 3 stacks with 5 cards are set up perpendicular to each other with alternating face up and face down cards, a deck of 65 cards remains in the middle
Stacks & Stacks set up for 2 players

Stacks and Stacks is one of those card games that will feel familiar to people who have played solitaire or trick taking games. The rules are fairly simple, as you do one of 4 things on your turn and then the turn passes to the next player. For two players you need a deck of 110 cards to play. For 4 players, you need 220 cards.

The actions are: 1. Move a card off the top of one of your stacks and put it on top of another face up card to claim it. You gain the card by either playing one higher or one lower. Alternatively, the two cards can add up to 12. If the suit matches, you gain the two cards underneath too. Finally, if you played two sixes on each other you gain one card underneath if the suit doesn't match or if the suit matches you take three cards underneath. There's another caveat though- face cards must match color.

A king of raccoons could take a queen of rabbits or vice versa because they are the same color
Face cards matching colors

Additionally, the Jokers are used and there is an ultimate trump card - the bear or dragon (depending on which deck of 110 cards you are using to play the game). Jokers count as any card and any suit, except to take bears. And, oh yeah, you can't move Jokers. Bears/Dragons may only be gained via Aces, but they may be played from hand to claim all three (or less) cards from a set of stacks. -Phew-

But how do I get cards into hand?

2. Take 1-3 cards into hand from the deck. That's a nice simple action.

3. Play cards from hand onto any stack, including your own. Follow the aforementioned rules of play. You may play onto Jokers.

4. Finally, you can also Place cards from hand onto any stack. This is the least efficient, weirdest rule of all. I get why it exists, but it adds one more option to a game that really should be as lean as possible.

a mole with some type of digging implement and hard hat on an ace card over a bear card where the bear is eating fruits
Ace claiming a Bear? Maybe?

On that note- do Bears and Dragons count as face cards? It doesn't seem like it but they are incredibly powerful too. We haven't even got to scoring.

The round ends immediately when any of the sets of stacks runs out. If the deck runs out, each player gets to play one more time before ending the round. Any cards remaining in Hand and in Stacks are negative points. Number cards are 1, face cards are 2, Aces are 3, Jokers are 4, and Bears/Dragons are 6 points. Your personal Hoard/Claimed stack is positive points. Then, if you have positive points, gain one card plus one card for each ten points (rounded down?) you have. This is after shuffling.

Play one more round, gain points including your drawn cards and the winner is the person with the most points.

Here is where I am going to get to one of my major criticisms. When I get a game as a reviewer, it should be to the point where the rules questions can be kept to a minimum. I had already asked a couple of questions of the designer before playing more. Constant rules questions which aren't in the rules should have been solved via blind play testing. This game does have some things I like, but I hope the rules go through a revision where issues like this are cleaned up. Basic scoring questions should be outlined clearly.

The second major criticism I have has nothing to do with gameplay per se- it is one that I have encountered with other independent games. Once the players know the rules, it would be easy to play without ever buying the game. You could take old decks of cards and play on your own. The same can be said of many games, and what people will be looking for with this game is a clear, complete set of rules and appealing, unique artwork.

The goblin archers on this card are shown in various poses and the artwork does not quite look finished
Goblin Archers 6

This is highly subjective, but much of the artwork I did not find appealing. I'm hoping that by the time the game gets to final production there are some major changes, especially in the Hordes and Hoards version of the decks.

Simplicity of rules in a 10-20 minute game is paramount. I'm a big fan of the rule of threes- there are three things you can do on your turn. This game adds some unnecessary rules and exception clauses which causes it to be a little clunky. The placement rule could be totally eliminated. Scoring is straightforward enough until you get to drawing cards. Why add more randomness to the game? My guess is that the designer was trying to compensate for great differences in scoring and allow for a catch up mechanism or other way for the game to feel more balanced. By shrinking the point pool from round one to round two, this is possible but feels extremely random.

The solo variant lays heavy on the solitaire experience of PC gamers and those who like to combine a couple deck of cards. It was a different enough gameplay that I was glad for learning the game.

The 4 player variant allows players to place cards from opposing factions and block the opposing teams from gaining cards. We found that this made the game longer and players started to play a little more tactically, but it wasn't quite as fun to have to add another ruleset. Bears and Dragons act slightly different in this variant too. The game only plays in one round in the versus variant, and this helps with game length.

Overall, this game will appeal to the people already mentioned - those who like card games and solitaire. Those looking for a complex or heavily thematic game should look at other card games. It's hard to say who the target audiences is for this game- those who are looking to take something on vacation for two or as two couples? Maybe parents who are camping with other another family and want something that doesn't take up a lot of room. After all, you could use the cards as regular decks too, just remove what you aren't going to use. The multi-function there is a good space saver.

If I were to choose to play this game in the future, it would be at two players. This was the most streamlined and interesting point collection version of the game. Other people may find that their mileage will vary.

Thanks to Anthony for the review copy, I hope that his crowd funding goes well and that he finds his intended audience for the game!

Goblins and treasure are shown on the back of this deck
Hordes & Hoards Deck Back

Stacks & Stacks

Designed by Anthony Diastello, Pure Fun Media

Teaching 8/10

Aesthetics 5/10

Strategy 6/10

Gameplay 7/10

Time 15-20 Minutes

Players 1-5


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