The Great Dalmuti
The Great Dalmuti Playtest Review by Jake de Oude on 26/05/01
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 2 (Sparse)
The Great Dalmuti is a fast and funny card game and a good way to introduce people to games. Alas, this package adds little to the game which has been along for far longer than its publisher.
Product: The Great Dalmuti
Author: Richard Garfield
Category: Card Game
Company/Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Cost: US$ 7.95, CAN$ 11.95
Page count: n/a
Year published: 1995
Comp copy?: no
Playtest Review by Jake de Oude on 26/05/01
Genre tags: Fantasy Historical
The Great Dalmuti was published in 1995 by Wizards of the Coast. The company was riding high on the success of Magic: the Gathering and wanted to expand and diversify. So the creator of Magic: the Gathering got his version of The Great Dalmuti published.
What do you get?
For your 8 bucks you get 80 full-color cards and a rulebook. The cards have line art by Margaret Organ-Kean in her very personal style. The cards are divided in ranks (I'll get to that later) and every rank has it's own picture. Every card in the same rank is colored slightly different.
The rulebook provides an introduction, the basic rules and some additional optional rules. The rules are provided in English (duh!), Spanish, German and French.
The 80 cards are divided in 13 ranks, from 1 till 12. Each rank has a vaguely medieval profession associated with it: Peasant, Abbess, Archbishop, etc. The number of the rank also indicates the number of cards there are of that rank. So there 12 cards of rank 12 (12 Peasants), 11 Stonecutters of rank 11, and so on to the unique Great Dalmuti of rank 1. This accounts for 78 cards and 12 ranks: there are 2 additional cards called Jesters.
At the beginning of a session, all players pick a card. The player with the best rank is called the Greater Dalmuti. The next player in line is called the Lesser Dalmuti and sits left of him. This continues until the last two players. The player with the worst rank is called the Greater Peon and sits right of the Greater Dalmuti. The person on the right side of the Greater Peon is called the Lesser Peon. All other participants are called Merchants.
At the beginning of a game, the cards are evenly distributed among the players. Then taxation takes place: the Greater Peon gives his two best cards to Greater Dalmuti in exchange of his two worst cards. The Lesser Peon and Dalmuti do the same with one card. Now the game can really start. The idea is that the participants have to play sets of cards. A set consists of one or more cards of the same rank. About the Jesters: a Jester played alone has rank 13. If it's played as part of a set a Jester takes the value of the other cards. This means that a Jester can be of great value. When a set is played, the following player can play a set with equal or better rank with the same number of cards, or pass. If nobody can or wants to play a set anymore, the last player to play can begin the cycle anew by playing a new set. This continues until one player has no more cards. She's the winner of this game and will be the next Greater Dalmuti. The next player to run out of cards will be the Lesser Dalmuti. The last player to go out will be the Greater Peon, the player before him the Lesser Peon.
In the next game, the new Greater Dalmuti will go and sit on the seat of the old Greater Dalmuti. The Lesser Dalmuti will sit left of him, on the previous Lesser Dalmuti's seat. All players take seats according to their new rank. The Greater Peon will shuffle and deal the cards and the game begins again.
As the rulebook says: 'Players are encouraged to act out their roles': the Greater Dalmuti should act as a king and give orders to all the other players. The Greater Peon is the loser of it all and should obey everybody. This can lead to the Dalmuti's constantly harassing other players ('Deal the cards, and now do it good!'), so make sure the players are mature enough to handle this. Most of the time this behaviour gets stale after a while. It disrupts the game and the other player will probably intervene. Maybe (I'm saying maybe, because I haven't tried it really) this game is a great way to introduce people to role-playing.
The Great Dalmuti is an extraordinary game in that taxation is beneficial for the players in the lead and punishes the 'losing' players. Normal games do the opposite and provide rules that restrain the winning player. This is a welcome break. The rulebook says: 'The Great Dalmuti, like life, isn't fair, and it is often difficult to hold your position, let alone move up in rank.' While this sentence contains faulty logic -why is it so difficult to hold your position if it's even more difficult for the other players to threaten you?- it gets the idea across. It's up to the players provide a friendly environment.
Fortunately, the dynamic seating creates enough silliness to break down all seriousness and munchkinism. Actually, there is little to whine about, since there is no clear winner (unless you count the longest lasting Greater Dalmuti). Come to think about it, this is probably the best feature of the game. The Great Dalmuti is easy to learn and a rather social game. This makes it an excellent game to learn to other (non-gaming) people. For the gamers among us, it's a welcome break and a good beer-and-pretzels-game.
One last thing: the box tells us that the game is playable by 5 to 8 players. The booklet adds to this that it is played 'best with five to ten players, though you can play with four people or with more than ten.' Who should you believe? Anyway, experience tells me that it is best played with 6 to 8 players: less players is a bit lame because there are few Merchants, more gets really chaotic.
Is it worth it?
Not really. The rules of The Great Dalmuti are very simple and can be found all over the internet. (It took me less than a minute to find a word-for-word copy of the rules...) You can very easily distil the 80 cards from 3 normal decks. This is probably cheaper, too. The illustrations do help to distinguish the different ranks and add a certain flavour to the game, but are you going to pay for it? 'At least we get it in a robust box/package, right?' Actually, no. The cardboard box isn't very sturdy and won't protect your precious cards for long. I'm not saying this is a bad game: far from it. It's fun, it's fast and a great introductory game. It's just that the package doesn't add anything to it.
In the end you have to decide: do you want to pay for nice artwork and the name of Richard Garfield on the box? If not, you can find the cards in any store and the rules on the internet.