22nd Oct2018

‘Smiles and Daggers’ Card Game Review

by Matthew Smail

smile-box

Smiles and Daggers is a brief, multiplayer card game that features very unusual artwork and an unusual betting style of play that involves a lot of player interaction. Three to six players each take control of a unique looking faction that is presented in a deck of six cards: three knights, two lady’s and one lord. Smiles and Daggers is very, very simple to play, yet how successful players are will depend to an extent on how well they can bluff and how much they trust their friends.

The basic premise is that each turn, the active player will challenge one of the other players, then each of them will place one of their cards face down, in a head to head fashion. The other players may then bet on the intentions of each player by placing their own cards against one (or both) of the cards placed by the challenger and her chosen opponent.

The reason that the position and orientation of each card in this process is important is because each card has two opposing ends. One end is the “smile” and the other is the “dagger.” If the players in the challenge both smile at each other, then both gain a coin. Any of the other players that has bet on the outcome will also gain a coin if their card is positioned in the right orientation – this might be doubled up to two coins if the bet straddled both sides of the challenge and the two players in the challenge saw eye to eye.

Ultimately, the winner will be the player to reach nine coins first, or if more than one player reaches nine coins at the same time, it will be player to gain a clear advantage first – probably. The manual doesn’t say. Now, this would all be very simple if there was no jeopardy to the decision making, but the ability to effectively remove the other players cards from the game spiced up Smiles and Daggers quite a bit. At the most basic level, this is a paper, scissors, stone mechanic that is skewed by the fact that each deck has more knights than lady’s and more lady’s than lords.

To defeat a card in a challenge, you need simply position your card with the dagger side facing towards the other player. When the cards are flipped, knight beats lord, lord beats lady and lady beats knight. A player showing their smiles side can never defeat another card, but with be defeated if their challenge partner is showing the dagger side of the card that trumps them. If both players show daggers and either trumps the other, then it will win the contest. If neither trumps the other (two knights, for example) then neither is lost.

When other players bet on the outcome, they also place their own cards at risk, based on the success of their bet. This is much riskier than either challenging or being challenged (essentially it’s about a fifty percent success chance) but it’s also a chance to gain coins out of turn. Naturally, a large part of Smiles and Daggers is based on the off-table gamesmanship. Once players start to lie to another, etiquette tends to fly out of the window and things get a lot more exciting.

That’s the crux with Smiles and Daggers, it’s all about how much fun you can have around the table, whilst operating within the structure that is presents. Breaking that down a bit, this is a game that begins like many card based deception games – players often start out by playing nicely. Everyone gets up to four or five coins quite quickly and there are few side bets because of the risk associated with them. Suddenly, someone realises that changing the game is the best way to win – then the daggers come out.

The interesting thing about card elimination in Smiles and Daggers is that I think it is deliberately inefficient. It’s kind of almost always best to just keep using smiles (since they are always compatible) but humans are flawed and they just won’t do that, especially once someone tries to shank someone else. Betting also becomes more prevalent as the game goes on, with players at six, seven or eight coins looking for ways to press their advantage and close the game out.

Smiles and Daggers plays very differently at three, four, five and six players. At any even number, alliances do sort of begin to form as all players attempt to keep themselves in the race for parity. At five players, I think the game shines, since someone will always feel that they want to change the status quo. Playing at three players felt too few to me – it makes Smiles and Daggers a bit boring, so whilst it is playable, you’ll probably have better options available to you.

Ultimately, Smiles and Daggers is a simple card game that plays similarly to many others, but which does have some unique features that I liked. Mostly, it peaks at five players in around the second or third play, once comfort levels are established and everyone knows their way around what is a slightly fiddly set of rules at first. The cards do feature nice artwork, but somehow it fails to stand out against the card backdrops a little bit – they should be lighter and the character detail should be outlined more clearly. In the end, Smiles and Daggers is a cheap, attractive and fairly interesting effort, so I’ll give it:

*** 3/5

Smiles and Daggers is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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