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Games: Don

Don is tricky, and no less so for being extraordinarily simple. The deck contains 30 cards, which are divided in two ways. First, they are divided by number: three cards in each of the denominations 0-9. Secondly, they are divided into six different colors, with five cards in each hue. There's no correlation between these two division (e.g. all the 3's aren't green). Every players starts with 12 chips.

On each turn one or more cards are dealt into the center of the table, and all the players bid, auction-style. After all but one has passed, whomever bid the highest amount takes the cards. This continues until all the cards have been claimed. At the end of the game, players receive points for each color they have cards in: 1 point if they have one card in a color, 3 points if they have two cards in that color, 6 points if they have three cards, 10 points for four and 15 points if they nabbed all five cards of that color. Also, whomever has the most chips at game's end gets a bonus two points.

That's the entire game, and it would be a dull one were it not for two clever and insidious rules. The cards, you'll recall, all have a number from 0-9, and all of the cards that a player owns are displayed face-up in front of him. When a player purchases cards, his bid money goes to the person who owns the most cards showing that amount. So if I win the auction with a bid of 9, the person who has the most 9 cards will get my 9 chips. (In the case of a two-digit bid, only the last digit counts, e.g. a bid of 13 goes to the person with the 3s). If no one has the target number, then the monies are distributed equally amongst the other players. Don, in other words, is a zero-sum, closed-system game: the starting funds (twelve chips per player) is a constant, with chips just being circulated rather than being paid to or taken from a bank.

The second sneaky rule -- and this one is really maddening -- is that, when bidding, you cannot bid an amount equal to any of the cards you own. (Here again it's only the final digit that counts -- if I have a 1 I cannot bid 1, 11, 21, etc.) This restriction, combined with the first rule mentioned above, makes collecting cards a precarious proposition. If you have lots off different numbers you stand to collect on an assortment of different bids, but your own participating in the auction will be hampered. And your opponents will exploit this: if you own a 4, 5 and a 6, you can be certain that the player before you will bid "13," knowing that you'll have to jump all the way to 17 if you want to stay in.

And entire game of Don takes about 20 minutes, and it's simple enough to teach in about four breaths. It has a nominal "Mafia" theme (each color in the deck is said to represent a different district in Chicago), but, really, this is just an abstract but elegant auction and set-collection game. I'll be playing a lot of this one in the coming months. I purchased my copy of Don from Funagain Games.

Posted on March 14, 2002 to Games