The Cards of Five Ravens

This is the fourth part of a designer diary series on Five Ravens. You can read the rules here. You can download the Print and Play here

The soul of a card game is in its cards, the combinations they create, the grins they provide players when they figure out something devious, and the secrets held in your hand. Five Ravens isn't a game full of crazy combinations, like in Farmageddon. No, the cards are much simpler. Nor do the cards create nuanced and interesting situations, as they do in Solstice. You are building heavy decks of powers, like you do in Cry Havoc or York. If anything, the cards in Five Ravens are probably the simplest, most straightforward I've made.

With a few exceptions. And, it's in those exceptions that the game really shines. 

As a need to make the cards simple and obvious, I made decisions at the outset to make many of them quite standard. You have the 4, which lets you cycle cards. This means you draw an equal number of cards to those discarded. You have the 9, which lets you draw two, then discard one in your hand. You have the 8, which lets you stack cards in your hand and discard on top of your deck in any order to prepare for a future draw. I have a card that lets you examine face down cards, which is quite obvious if you know the structure of the game. 

Then, I began to introduce some slightly more complex, but far more interesting cards. 

I introduced a culling mechanism to remove cards from your deck, which is the function of the 5. But, unlike Dominion, you don't remove the card from the game. When you cull in Five Ravens, you capture the card. This means you can capture a good card for its capture bonus, meaning you can augment your tableau not just when a card is used as a Thief, but from the first turn of the game.

I introduced cards to augment the offering of the relics in the center of the table. The 1 lets you outright replace a card, sending one to the bottom of the deck. The 7 lets you privately view the top card of the deck, then swap it in, or place it on the bottom. This private information is vital when choosing a relic. You also have the 6, which lets you flip a card face up to see what it does, or face down (with a shuffle) to hide a good card. This is especially useful if you have weak cards to use as the Thief. If you cannot guarantee you can take it, might as well let chance dictate things, yes? 

The 2 is quite fascinating. One of the most interesting cards in the game. The 2 imitates the action of any captured card. Once a card is captured, you cannot draw it, which means if you capture your 4, you can no longer cycle. or if you capture the 3, you can no longer view face down cards. But, with the 2, it imitates the captured card, giving you immense flexibility as your tableau expands. The 2 is like a Swiss Army Knife. 

These are all the actions. They serve the purpose of setting up your hand and deck to maximize your chances of stealing the card you want. If you want a Curse card, it's likely nobody else wants it. This frees you to scare away good cards from your opponent, capture cards in your deck, and setup your hand for the next round. If you want a high value card, you can use your cards to tuck others away, or augment your hand to maximize your tools to ultimately grab it.

But, remember, cards also have a capture bonus. Once you use the cards to grab a relic, they have a bonus - or penalty- that will expand your tableau. This means if you use your 9 to capture that precious third Illustrious Gem, you lose it from your deck. I hope you got what you wanted for it. But also, I hope you're ready for the card's capture bonus. 

Some of the cards do very simple things. The 8 and 9 both remove one point each from your final score. They're the strongest cards in your deck, so the trade off is clear and straightforward. It's also worth it for the right trade!

The 7 lets you rescue a card. In fact, you have to. Rescue means you take a captured card and return it to your deck. This means you can get your 9 back to use again, or simply get it back to remove the 1 point penalty. 

My favorite, and most complex card, is the 6. There is a certain type of relic in the game called a chest. They have no function other than being worth 1-5 points at the end of the game. They are also the most numerous relic in the 22 card Relic deck. When you use the 6 as your Thief, if you gain a chest, the chest is immediately captured AND its point value is doubled. If you can use your 6 to grab a 3, 4, or 5, you'll earn a lot of points! The 6 is such a big threat, but easily countered by playing a 7, 8, or 9. The 6 also leads to hilarious group think when everyone decides to play it, and a few players are stuck with a non-chest card. The 6 also leads to funny moments where someone catches a...1 Chest. Woo, 2 points!

The 5 is interesting and leads to careful tableau management. The 5 earns you 1 point at the end of the game for each lower ranked captured card. If you have the 1-5 captured, that's 4 points! But, if you only used those cards, it probably means you have junk relics.

The 4 is similar to the 5 in that if captured she gives you 3 points if you have 3 or more relics captured. This forces some decision points when using your 5. Capture a relic to earn the points? Or capture a Raven to earn its bonus? Tricky tricky. And remember, this is very tough to do if the 5 is captured. That is, unless you use the 2 to capture it.

You can start to see where this gets tricky!

The 3 lets you view the top or bottom card of the deck once per turn. This might influence your use of other cards, or help cut into some of the secret information harbored by an opponent.

The 2 is incredibly devious when captured. She lets you take a relic from the bottom of the deck instead of taking one from the middle. This means you have one more option. It may be an option you're aware of, due to your use of other cards. Or, it may be a blind pull hoping it's better than what's in the middle.

Finally, the 1. If the 1 isn't captured, I almost feel naked in a game of Five Ravens. The 1 lets you lock a relic in place. This means the card cannot be swapped, flipped face down, examined, nothing. This means if you have a relic you REALLY need to capture? The 1 will lock it in place and make it yours. That is, if you have the card you need to capture it.

From the very first turn of the game, your deck is evolving. You must constantly choose which actions you want to preserve in your deck, based on the strategy you're pursuing, your playstyle, or how the deck is playing out. The order in which the relics play can dramatically alter the game. If it's a curse heavy game? You want to keep your 5 so you can capture cards. If it's a lot of high value cards? You'll want access to your 9 and 8, but that will reduce your drawing power and hand manipulation in the future!

These cards were all intricately tested, balanced, and rebalanced at every player count to ensure players are constantly making decisions on what they want and what they can afford to lose. The divergence in power and strategy for each player in every game of Five Ravens is one of its best strengths, and I'm proud I managed this with such a small, and often simple, stable of cards.