12 Aug Claim: An Intersection of Luck and Skill
If you read this blog often, you might already be aware that I love two player games. Games designed for two players specifically tend to draw a fine line of balancing the amount of information each player has access to and balance comes across so elegantly. In my recent search, I stumbled upon Claim in a Summer Relief Bundle I ordered from Deep Water Games. I didn’t know what to expect at all. I knew it was a trick taking game and I knew it was two player only, but Fox in the Forest (and now Fox in the Forest Duet) was the only trick taking game I had ever played that was designed to play at 2 players. Generally speaking, two players for a trick taking game is a tough sell given that the usually require the ebb and flow that comes with evaluating what 3 other players at the table are doing. Tricks consisting of four cards just tend to be more interesting because there are more cards competing to be the highest (or the lowest in the case of a game like Hearts).
For this reason, two player trick taking games need to offer incentives to lose tricks. This adds to experience because each player must sit and contemplate what hands they need to lose and how they are going to do it. Claim does this in a unique way. Essentially, the game takes place over two phases. In the first phase, players are trying to claim different clans from the middle. To do this, each player is dealt 13 cards and the remaining deck will have the top card revealed. The reveal card is the one you are looking to claim by winning the trick. If you win the trick, you are able to claim the card for your hand for the second phase. The opponent then takes the next card off the deck to add to their second phase hand. This sounds really straight forward, and it is, but this also leads to great intrigue.
For example, if a 9 is flipped out (the highest card of any suit), you want to go for it. You throw down a 9 from your hand ready to claim the high card. Then, your opponent realizes they can’t win, so they throw down a 0. You gladly pick up the 9 for your second hand and your opponent takes the top card of the deck. Let’s just say it was an 8. That’s a ton of value for 0! In another scenario, a 0 is face up. You want to do everything you can to lose that hand and so does your opponent. This creates moments where you need to swallow your pride and grab the 0 so that you can lead the next couple hands because you are down to one suit. Otherwise you will lose the next few hands. Deciding how and when to claim cards is always a challenge.
Then in phase two, players play the hand they created by claiming cards in phase one. From there, players compete win enough tricks to have the majority of a minimum of 3 of the 5 clans. Scoring based on collecting the majority of three different clans is another curve ball altogether. I might win a whole bunch of tricks only grabbing Goblins and Undead, but if that’s the case, I will still lose if my opponent has more than me in Dwarves, Knights, and Dopplegangers. Given the way cards are distributed in phase one, sometimes there are very few of any given suit. This means that winning three cards in a suit might win you majority in one game but not another creating plenty of replayability.
Now, if I am being honest, when I read these instructions, I thought the game was going to be a complete luck fest. That’s not the case though. Sure, in some games a bad hand will be dealt, but you never know how that hand will pay off in the first phase. I have had some of my best games with a hand I initially thought would be awful. In Claim there is a good amount of randomness when it comes to how the cards come out, but a more skilled player tends to win more often. That said, a less skilled player can also eek out a win when things go well. Given the twenty minute playtime, this is really the perfect amount of randomness and generally leaves me asking others to play again.
Thanks for reading and keep on gaming,