Wed. Oct 20th, 2021
Board Game: TEN

TEN is a quick-playing game from designers Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, and Shawn Stankewich (a.k.a. Flatout Games) and publisher AEG that encourages you to take risks — while carefully managing your money — in order to collect all the right cards.

In general, the deck contains cards of four colors, and at game’s end, you score one point for each card in the longest sequence of each color, with a full sequence of 1-9 being worth 10 points instead of 9. Your holdings might look something like this:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

21 points, with a couple of worthless duplicate cards

Also in general, your turns consist of revealing one or more cards from the deck, then taking either number cards or currency cards — but the details are what matters, so let’s get into those.

More specifically, on a turn, you flip a card from the deck and place it on the table. If the card is wild — that is, a number card from 1-9 that can be any color or a color card that can be any number 1-9 or the lone wild number, wild color card — then the game pauses for a once-around-the-table auction, with the winner paying money to the bank for the card.

If you don’t flip a wild, then sum the value of the cards flipped so far, with numbers cards being positive and currency cards being negative. (In the image below, for example, the sum of flipped cards is 0 because of the blue five (+5) and the currency card (-5) — but play has been interrupted to auction the wild green card.) If the sum of flipped cards is above 10 or the sum of revealed currency is higher than 10, you bust, receiving a white compensation token worth 3 money. At least you tried…

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Nearing the end of the game with a very busy table

If you don’t bust, then you have these options:

• Take all the number cards and add them to your collection. Each other player (not you) takes currency from the bank equal to the sum of revealed currency cards, with a currency token limit of 10. (White compensation tokens don’t count toward this limit.)
• Take currency equal to the sum of revealed currency cards (up to the limit), with all number cards being placed in a market.
• Flip another card from the deck.

I realize that all of the above seems flowcharty — and the included player aid does nothing to reduce this feeling:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

The starting player icon on this aid is a nice touch;

deal out player aids, and whoever gets this card plays first!

That said, once you run through a few turns, you internalize what happens when and can then focus on the choices available to you — and at that point, you start to realize that while TEN has the hallmarks of a classic press-your-luck game (get something okay now vs. shooting for something better at the risk of getting nothing), your choices are often more complex and layered than in something like Sid Sackson’s Can’t Stop.

If you take numbers, your opponents take currency, which gives them more power during auctions for wild cards. In addition, when you bust or when you take currency, number cards go into a general market, and when a player takes number cards on their turn, they can purchase one card in the market for the face value of that card (e.g., an 8 costs 8 money). Put more money in their hands, and they’ll be able to buy cards that fill in the gaps in their sequences.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Seventeen cards in the market!

So you don’t want to take numbers when currency is out since it will enrich opponents, and you don’t want to take currency when numbers are out because the number cards go into a market where opponents can buy them, and you don’t want to bust on the sum of revealed cards since (once again) opponents get money equal to revealed currency cards, yet you don’t want to stop after revealing only one card because all too often you could likely flip one, two, or even three more cards without busting, giving you the chance to grab many numbers at once.

I’ve now played TEN eight times on a review copy from AEG with two, three, and four players. The two-player game is a different experience since you running out of money means that the opponent can win auctions for next to nothing, but you do have the option of discarding collected cards for 1 money each, giving you a way to scrounge cash from duplicate cards you collect or the spare 9 that will never be linked in sequence.

With more players, you add more copies of various cards to the deck, ensuring that you have more numbers to go around, yet never enough to satisfy everyone — although it does feel great when you flip exactly what you need, with the potential of those “YES!” moments sometimes driving you to take chances when you really shouldn’t.

For more thoughts on TEN and a demonstration of gameplay, check out this overview video: