Review of Relationship Tightrope

Review Summary
Comped Playtest Review
Written Review

May 12, 2004


by: Shannon Appelcline


Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)

An interesting card game that combines aspects of trick taking and auctions, that's held back by an inappropriate theme.

Shannon Appelcline has written 681 reviews (including 203 card game reviews), with average style of 4.03 and average substance of 3.85. The reviewer's previous review was of Seasons: The Calendar Rummy Game.

This review has been read 7951 times.

 
Product Summary
Name: Relationship Tightrope
Publisher: Uberplay
Line: Trick Taking
Author: Reiner Knizia
Category: Card Game

Cost: $19.95
Year: 2004

ISBN: 0-9740913-9-1


Review of Relationship Tightrope
Relationship Tightrope is a Reiner Knizia card game, published by Uberplay.

Players: 3-5
Time: 30-45 minutes
Difficulty: 2 (of 10)

This game was originally published in Germany as Drahtseilakt in 1999, where it featured a different theme and a less strategic play variant.

The Components

Relationship Tightrope comes with:

Cards: The cards are all normal card size, printed in full color on sturdy, linen-textured stock. Very classy.

50 of the cards are bidding cards, with values from 1-50. Each show the number in the middle, and along all four corners; there's also a bit of repetitive artwork in the middle. They’re utilitarian, though fairly plain.

The other 11 cards are relationship cards. 9 of them show a number between 1-9 in two of the corners, and also includes some cute, comical artwork depicting various relationship faux pas, from both sides of the gender line. For example the "8" shows working late at the top (blue/male) and nagging at the bottom (pink/female). The numbers are a little small, and can be hard to read from afar, because they blend right into the similarly colored side bars.

The last two "instant forgiveness" relationship cards each only feature one picture, with a huge "0" on the other half of the card. They're very easy to read and otherwise match the layout of the relationship cards.

Overall, the cards are good-looking and high quality, the two important elements for a card game.

Balancing Sticks: these are 50 wood sticks, 25 painted pink and 25 painted blue. They're nice wood pieces, like most German production. We had one hand where we ran out of sticks, but it was really out-of-whack; I suspect there's enough for the vast majority of play.

Rulebook: An 8-page full-color glossy rulebook. It's got pictures and examples and is otherwise easy to read.

Based slowly on the quality of the components, I would have given Relationship Tightrope a high "4" out of "5" on Style. The bid cards are a bit plain, but everything else is great.

However, I have some real problems with the theming of the game, which bumps down my score. Usually, I don't concern myself too much with theme, because so many German games are at least somewhat abstract, but this is a rare case where I think the theme actually hurts the game for the most likely purchasers.

Relationship Tightrope, as you might expect, is themed around balancing relationships. It's a game that's clearly meant to appeal to couples, and, in fact, almost all of the serious gamers I've shown it to (who may or may not be members of couples, but don't tend to play those games with their partners) are actively turned off by the theme. It makes them less interested in playing.

Now, I would have been happy to shrug my shoulders, and just review Relationship Tightrope as a couples game--except I don't think its mechanics really fit that demographic. As you'll see in my game play and design discussions, Relationship Tightrope is a pretty well-designed trick-taking/auction game. It's much more likely to appeal to the serious gamers who don't like the theme than the couples who may.

The 3-5 player range also seems to be a particularly bad choice for a couples game. You can't play it with just your significant other, nor can three couples play. Really, it might as well be a "4" player game given the intended demographic.

Finally, I think a lot of the relationship cards are badly stereotypical. When playing with my male buddies, I could laugh at the nagging women running off to the bathroom together. Likewise I'm sure a group of gals could find humor in the golfing guys who forget their anniversary. But, I can't imagine being comfortable with the humor in a mixed group.

As you'll see when I get down to my discussion of the mechanics, I'm going to recommend that you buy this game despite the theme, because it's a well-designed and unique card game. But, for now, I sadly have to drop the Style to a "3" out of "5", because I think the choices made in the theming are a bad match for the rest of the game.

The Game Play

In Relationship Tightrope your goal is to "balance your relationship" by taking an equal value of high and low tricks--or at least as close as possible.

Starting A Round: Relationship Tightrope is played out over 3-5 rounds, with the total being equal to the number of players. At the start of each round of play each player is dealt 9 of the 50 bid cards, each of which is valued at a number between 1 and 50. This will give them enough bids for each of the relationship cards put out during that round of play.

Bidding on Relationships: There are 9 relationship cards, numbered between 1 and 9. They are bid on one-at-a-time in a random order during a round of play.

First, a relationship card is flipped up. Then, starting with the first player (initially the dealer, later the high winner of the previous trick), each player plays one of his 9 bid cards.

The player who played the highest bid wins the card "high", and takes a number of blue sticks equal to the value of the card. Likewise, the player who played the lowest bid wins the card "low", and takes a number of pink sticks equal to the value of the card.

Blue and pink sticks cancel each other out. (E.g., if a player already has 5 pink sticks and wins a high 2 relationship card, he takes 2 blue sticks, which in turn cancel out 2 of his pinks; he ends up with 3 pink sticks.)

Instant Forgiveness. There's one minor twist. Besides the 9 relationship cards, there are 2 instant forgiveness cards, which are mixed into the same deck. If one is flipped up, it turns either the high or low reward for the next card into "0". (E.g., if the blue "0" is turned up then the "6" card, it will be worth 0 for the high bidder and 6 for the low bidder).

Ending a Round: The round ends when the 9 relationship cards have been turned up and won. At this point each player earns a score equal to the number of sticks he has.

If a player has managed to exactly balance his relationship, by totalling zero sticks, he gets an additional bonus: he can cross out his highest score from a previous round.

Winning the Game: The game ends after 3-5 rounds of play. The player with the lowest score is the winner.

Relationships to Other Games

Relationship Tightrope (1999) is probably best defined as a trick-taking card game. It shares some similarities with Alex Randolph's Raj (1988), which was a similar game where prize cards were revealed, then won by the play of tricks. Like other "point trick" games (most popularly, Pinochle), each trick is worth a different value, but unlike any point trick games that I'm aware of, these games are played with a random card declaring the value of each trick.

I could equally easily call Relationship Tightrope an auction game, and I think it does a great job of showing how close these two types of gameplay really are. Unlike standard auction games, however, your starting "funds" are pretty random, and you have to figure out how to make best use of them. Reiner Knizia has, of course, produced many auction games, including High Society (1995), recently reprinted by Uberplay as part of this same series of games.

Relationship Tightrope further differentiates itself from either auction or trick-taking games in that both the high and low player to each trick win--and that not winning either side is often just as good as winning.

The Game Design

Relationship Tightrope, gameplay-wise, is a great partner to earlier Uberplay release High Society!. Here's some of my favorite gameplay elements:

Multiple Winners Produces Deep Strategy: Being able to win high or win low or not get any sticks at all by not "winning" produces some interesting strategic depth that constantly keeps you thinking about what to play and what to keep. Except in really bad card distributions, every card is useful in some way. In addition, the fact that you're offbalancing two types of wins forces you to really think ahead about what additional tricks you might win.

Bad Luck Largely Offset: Despite being a card game, the same multiple winners element largely offsets bad draws (though, not entirely: a very skewed hand can still be bad).

Turn Positioning Provides Additional Strategy: The fact that all card-playing is sequential makes it very important where you are in that ordering. Thus, there's another level of strategic depth, where you have to consider who's currently taking a trick high (for future play) and who's still to go (for the current round).

Here's some of the less desirable gameplay:

Very Bad Distributions Can Hurt Game: Though a lot of the randomness is offset, there's still some. A terrible distribution can put you out of a hand, and perhaps the game; though this is somewhat unlikely, it might be enough to annoy a really strategic game player. I found it OK, but another playtester thought the luck was excessive for a game of this strategic depth.

Overall, Relationship Tightrope offers some deep strategic gameplay that's great to have in a filler game. I give it a "4" out of "5" for Substance.

Conclusion

As I said earlier, I recommend this game despite the theme. It's a very solid Reiner Knizia design that fits some enjoyable strategic gameplay into a 30-45 minute package. Or, to put it another way, it's a great filler that won't leave you hungry again in half-an-hour.

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