by Andy Vetromile
Master of Rules
Published by Z-Man Games
Designed by Susumu Kawasaki
110 cards, rule sheet
Most games ask you to command a set of rules that bring you a win. In
Master of Rules from Z-Man Games, you have to become accomplished
at five of them. Making the rules work for you isn't just a means to an
end, it's the whole point.
The object of the game is to score the most Victory Points through
Mastering the game
Three to five players can participate. Each gets a hand of cards, and
these are drawn from two decks. Number Cards are just what they sound
like - five "suits" (colors), each numbered 1 through 9. There are also
five Rule Cards (more about that in a moment). The group chooses a
starting player and then takes turns.
On the first trick, the starting player lays one card of either type
face up in front of him. The person to his left then chooses something
to put down, and so on. Once play gets back around, the first player
plays the other kind of card - that is, if he placed a Rule Card on the
table the first go-round, he must put a Number Card down this time.
Everyone else follows so each player has two cards before them, and the
rules are judged. Depending on the card, a rule may require certain
numbers, colors, or combinations be played. Anyone who achieved their
rule gets to keep that card for points at game's end. Then a new round
begins and the player to the left becomes the new starting player. Once
everyone has been first player twice, the game is over and points are
You're awarded one point for every Rule Card in front of you. If someone
manages to make any sets - one of each of the five types of rule, or
three of the same rule - they get bonus points. The player with the
highest total wins.
The game satisfies graphically and is just about passable in quality.
The design on the card selection is bright and easy to read. If there's
a quibble, it's with the choices for color and shape matches. There's a
chance colorblind players might mistake one color for another, but
little probability they'd confuse the accompanying shape that
characterizes each suit (unless they mistake the square for the diamond
when one card is tilted next to the other). But why isn't the
octagon-shaped suit matched with the color red? The game makes obvious
use of a highway-signs metaphor, so with green squares and yellow
triangles you'd think a red stop-sign motif would make sense for an
American audience. Perhaps it's a throwback to the Japanese version
(whence the game hails) and such traffic symbols differ? The cardstock
feels thin, but the cards seem to hold up okay... for now.
The Rule Cards are Limit 23 (the cards for this deal must add up
to 23 or less); Trio (three cards are played with the same number
or color); Only One (your card is the only one with that number
and color this turn); Best of the Best (yours is the highest
Number Card from the dominant color suit); and Support Right (if
the person to your right achieved their rule, you succeed as well). This
may sound like a dizzying array, but it's pretty simple, and fewer
options would make one's choices too obvious. While the game works best
with the full five, it can also field three or four people; in these
cases, a dummy player is used and random cards are played on his behalf.
The deck comes with a couple of cards to represent these stand-ins, with
the necessary rules printed on them.
Master of Rules calls its ballpark with spot-on accuracy: it does
take 20 to 30 minutes to play. This is not a fast game, and sometimes it
seems positively slow as someone tries to account for too many
variables, but it is a thinking man's card game. It gets played with a
level of attention usually reserved for board games. Susumu Kawasaki's
numbers exercise demands just the right amount of pondering - any more
and you'd be paralyzed, any less and there wouldn't be enough of a meal
to bite into. The trick is trying to anticipate your opponents.
Sometimes this amounts to nothing more than random guesswork, but other
times there's a real strategy involved. Being first or last in line to
play cards isn't just about fairness, it's another of those elements
that's important depending on whether you want to set the tone for
others' card play or to be the beneficiary of seeing them play first.
Refills for one's hand come from a line of cards on the table, so you
get to choose what you like... or to deny someone a card you think
they need. You get every chance to make the right decisions, but the
rules inject enough luck that no amount of forethought or brainpower
guarantees any kind of formulaic win, no matter how much a master one