Review of Cornucopia

Review Summary
Comped Playtest Review
Written Review

August 25, 2010

by: Shannon Appelcline

Style: 4 (Classy & Well Done)
Substance: 3 (Average)

An exciting if chaotic social game of press-your-luck, bidding, and betting.

Shannon Appelcline has written 688 reviews, with average style of 4.03 and average substance of 3.84 The reviewer's previous review was of Age of Industry.

This review has been read 2212 times.

Product Summary
Name: Cornucopia
Publisher: Gryphon Games
Line: Gryphon Games Bookshelf
Author: Carlo A. Rossi, Lorenzo Tarabini Castellani
Category: Card Game

Cost: $25.99
Year: 2010

Review of Cornucopia
Cornucopia is a press-your-luck game by Carlo A. Rossi and Lorenzo Tarabini that's the tenth in Gryphon Games' small-box series.

Players: 2-5
Playing Time: 30-60 minutes

The Components

Cornucopia is primarily a card game that comes with a few other elements:

The Cards: 106 cards total, all printed on sturdy linen-textured cardstock. They do several different things.

The majority are goods cards which each feature a specific fruit or vegetable on a colored background. The illustrations are simple but clear and attractive.

Another 30 cards are bidding cards, which each show a bidding number and what you get in return. They're fairly plain.

The last couple of cards are betting cards, which allow you to give a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down to a bid. Again, they're largely utilitarian.

Coins: Coins come in three colors (yellow, blue, red) and two sizes (for "5"s and "1"s). They're all plain plastic chips.

Scoring Reference Cards: Five sturdy cardboard cards, which show how to score sets and coins. They're well-produced and entirely invaluable.

Overall, the components of Cornucopia are excellent quality and easy to use, but more average in attractiveness. When I rate Style, I also include more visceral elements. Though Cornucopia has pretty abstract theming, it's also a very viscerally exciting game. The bidding, betting, and the results of the same are quite exciting, which is a real boon to the game.

Putting that all together, I give Cornucopia a strong "4" out of "5" for Style.

The Gameplay

The object of Cornucopia is to gain the most points, primarily through guessing well at how many cards it takes to fill each cornucopia.

Setup: Five "basket" cards are laid across the top of the play area. Four show a cornucopia with different fruits and vegetables in it while a fifth shows a cornucopia with all of one fruit or vegetable. Two random goods (fruits or vegetables) are added to each "different" basket while one wild card and one random good are added to the "same" basket.

Nearby the six bidding cards, labeled from "1" to "6", are placed.

Each player is given 3 blue coins, 2 red coins, and one thumbs-up/thumbs-down betting card.

Taking a Turn: On his turn, a player makes a bid to fill a basket, all the other players bet whether his bid will succeed, and then the active player places cards until the fills a basket, draws an unplayable card, or plays out his allotted number of cards.

Making a Bid: Your goal on your turn is to fill a basket. That means getting 5 appropriate cards into a basket. They'll be all the same goods or all different goods, depending on the first few cards put into the basket. When you make a bid, it'll be a number from 1 to 6, defining how many cards you will need to draw and place, maximum, in order to fill a basket.

Other Players Bet. Each other player then bets 0-3 blue coins as to whether you'll succeed (thumbs up) or fail (thumbs down). At any time a player can turn 1 yellow coin into 3 blue coins, if need be.

Drawing Cards: You'll now draw cards one at a time, placing each into a legal basket as you go. If the card is being placed in an all-the-same basket, it must be a card of the same type or a wild; if it's going into an all-different basket, it must be a card of a different type from anything in the basket or a wild.

Defining a Basket. Every basket always starts with two goods in it, but sometimes one (or more) of those will be a wild, leaving the basket undefined as to whether it's "same" or "different". If you place a card in such a basket that defines it you immediately get a bonus yellow coin.

Rejecting an Unplayable Card. If you get a card that's not playable into any basket, you've failed. Your round immediately ends--unless you spend a red coin to redraw that basket. You can only do this once on a turn.

Failing to Fill a Basket. If you fail to fill a basket because you drew all your cards or drew an illegal card without replacing it by expending a red coin, then your turn is over. You lose a yellow coin if you have one.

Filling a Basket: If you succeed at filling a basket, several things happen.

First, you earn red and/or yellow cards as shown on the bidding card that matches the number you bid (from 1-6). The fewer cards you bid, the more your earn, and if you filled an all-same basket you earn more than an all-different basket. Thus a 1-card bid earns 6 yellow coins (for all-same) or 3 yellow and 3 red coins (for all-different), while a 6-card bid earns 1 yellow coin (for all-same) or 1 red coin (for all-different).

Second, you get the bidding card. This can be used to earn bonus points by forming sets or runs of cards.

Third, each other player earns or loses 0-3 blue coins, depending on how they bet.

Fourth, the basket is emptied, then refilled with two cards; if it's the all-same basket, one of those cards is a wild.

Then it's the next player's turn.

Ending the Game: The game ends when the goods deck is played through twice or when three of the bidding card number stacks are exhausted.

Now each player calculates his score. He gets 1 point per yellow coin and per 3 blue coins. The red coins are then scored as a majority-control: 6 for whomever has the most, 3 for the second most. Finally each player earns points for pairs, threes-of-a-kind, fours-of-a-kind, or runs of bidding cards that he's earned.

The player with the most points wins.

Relationships to Other Games

Cornucopia is generally a pretty unique game. I've seen a few other press-your-luck games, including Reiner Knizia's Pickomino, but it's overall a pretty poorly served category of gaming.

Cornucopia is also the 10th game in Gryphon Games' small-box series. It may be the longest, at a quoted playing time of "45-60" minutes, but it's still a relatively light and fast game, like the others in the set.

The Game Design

Generally, I think that Cornucopia is a fun game to play, but I also feel that it has a number of sharp edges that reflect insufficient development of the game.

Most notably, the set collection aspect of the game has pretty weird scoring. For example a pair is worth +3, while four of a kind is worth less per capita at +5. Meanwhile a run of 3 cards is worth +3, meaning that two runs of three cards (+6) are worth a fair amount less than three pairs of cards (+9). Overall, I think this means that everyone scores everything as pairs if they possibly can, which is disappointingly one-dimensional.

I also found the three different currencies of money awkward, possibly because of their abstractness. Talking about red, blue, and yellow coins is a challenge and it takes a while for players to figure out what each one is used for.

With all that said, there's a fair amount to like in Cornucopia. I think the biggest strength of the game is in the pure excitement that you get when you play, which I already covered in the Style rating. However, I also like the way that everyone is constantly involved, through the betting, and I like the choices you need to make when making a bid--balancing your odds of successfully filling a basket with the opportunity of getting specific bid cards that you need to finish sets.

The base game as described in the rules can be a little chaotic, but if you prefer something more strategic there's a nice alternative rule that I highly suggest (basically that you can reject more than one card on a turn with the red coins, but that you have to decide an amount to spend beforehand).

Overall, despite its sharp edges, I find Cornucopia an interesting game. I've given it a high "3" out of "5": somewhat above average.

The Game Design

Cornucopia is a very original, and sometimes slightly confusing, game that centers upon the excitement of making press-your-luck type decisions. It's a nice social game that keeps everyone involved and there's some real potential for strategy, but there are also some sharp edges to the gameplay.

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