Monday, February 17, 2014

Review: Tanto Cuore by Japanime Games/Arclight

TLDR: Tanto Cuore is the most Japanese thing I've ever experienced, and I've been to Tokyo.

That said, if you like anime, like... REALLY like anime... in so far as you have absolutely no shame whatsoever about your anime fan status... and you liked Dominion, you'll probably like Tanto Cuore.

I had the opportunity to play Tanto Cuore (a game I had heard of previously in hushed tones) at the recent DFW Nerd Night... it is a unique game, shall we say, and it left a mark on my psyche.  Here now are my experiences in the world of trading love.

The Basics:

Tanto is what's called a "deck-building game" (or just "deck-builder") in the same vein as Dominion, Trains, Pathfinder, or many others.  Deck-building games came about as a response to Collectable Card Games (such as Magic: The Gathering) and the view, by many, that those games were "pay-to-win" (in that to be competitive you had to spend more and more money to buy the newest expansions to keep up with the proverbial Joneses).  Deck-builders do not require expansions (and those that have expansions do so to expand on the theme or ideas of the base game, and are not required to enjoy the game), and all players draw from the same base set of what are effectively "community" cards, forming their "deck" as they play and seeking, at whatever prescribed end-point the game has, to have the most points.

They do so by taking turns "buying" cards from the community section using what is in their hands, putting the spent currency and the new bought card into their discard, and drawing new cards into the community stockpile, and new cards into their hands.  The more cards they buy, the bigger and more powerful their deck gets.

The Theme:

In Tanto Cuore, you and your opponents are wealthy nobility, lords of your own mansions, who seek to collect the best squad of anime chambermaids that you can (yes, really).  To do so, you pay for the services of maids in, and no I'm not making this up, Love.  Love is all you need, apparently.

The eyes...
To "score", you move your hired maids from your deck, to your chambers (yes, really) when they have... served their purpose.  The maids themselves have extra abilities, giving you extra Love when you play them (yes, really), or allowing you to draw extra cards, or allowing you more chambering ability in a turn.  In addition, there are extra special maids that, when purchased, go into your "private quarters" (yes, really) and give you an extra powerful ability, such as looking at other players hands and trading cards.

"I got a whole lotta love..."
A player can spend the entire game purchasing cards to build up their deck and their stable of chambered maids, not interacting with the other players at the table, but there are also more "offensive" moves to be made.  Love can also purchase Illnesses to be inflicted upon your opponent's maids (yes, really), or you can purchase Bad Habits (yes, really) to negatively effect your opponent's final score.  The game ends like Dominion does: when two of the categories of cards are all bought.  Everyone adds up their victory points, and the one with the most is the winner!

My Experience:

As said, I played a game of Tanto at DFW Nerd Night with some very lovely people, and I had an... enjoyable time.  The game itself took some explaining (I got the sense that the rules were not exceedingly clear) despite the fact that everyone at the table had played at least one deck-building game before, and it was not apparent until about half way through the game that the "chambering" mechanic worked almost as a second currency.  Also, the text on the cards was rather small, and made for some squinting.  

All things considered, there's no way getting around the central conceit of the game: purchasing the services of maids using "love" and inviting them to your chambers and "private quarters".  It's going to limit the potential audience for the game to, well, anyone who doesn't immediately reject the game upon first seeing the box art.  That said, if you and your friends like anime and you like deck-builders, I imagine you would get a lot of mileage for your dollar from Tanto Cuore.

Plus, if your friends think "wood for sheep" is the pinnacle of board-gaming double entendres, wait until you drop some "love for services in my private quarters" on them.



John H. C. Staton is a software developer and Ph.D. candidate.  He's still not entirely certain that Tanto Cuore actually exists and wasn't something he imagined in a fever dream.  He still has a website found at FancypantsMonkey.com.  It's still not a whole lot to look at.  He also tweets occasionally at @johnhcstaton though RunKeeper tends to tweet more often there than he does.