My name is Dave, and I love games. Probably more than I should. Not only have I been producing and designing games full time since 1995, but I also have a LOT of board games and card games around the house. A closet full. About 500 all together. Much to my wife’s chagrin.

I love board games and card games for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, they’re fun. It’s a blast to sit down with a group of friends and play together. I can think of no better way to pass an evening.

Second, they’re a great tool for thinking and learning about game design. In a videogame, many of the mechanics that make up the game may be hidden from the player, and the formulas for difficulty and scoring are almost always tucked away. When you play a board or card game, the designer has to lay all of those out for you right in front of you as part of the rules of the game. I’ve taken many ideas and mechanics from the board games I’ve played and added them into the computer games I’ve made.

Third, they’re a wonderful way to bring people together. Unlike computer games, you can’t go off and play board games by yourself. You need to have friends and family around you – or at least people who love fun – to enjoy a board game. In an age where people are spending more and more time in front of computer and TV screens and less and less time in social settings, anything that brings people together for a positive experience is a good thing in my book.

So, the Master Chief Head Big Kahuna Gamezebo has asked me to take a little time out every month or so to share some recommendations for great board and card games with you so you can go out and have some fun with the people around you. Every month I’ll take a game or two from my collection, tell you a good bit about how it plays, give you a mini-review, and give you a couple of links where you can find more information and buy yourself a copy.

This month’s game: No Thanks

No Thanks (known in Germany, its original country of publication, as Geschenkt) is a quick, simple game for 3-5 players that combines a very small number of interesting mechanics (rules) with some lightweight strategy and a short play time to make a great way to start or finish up gaming sessions with friends. I don’t that I’ve ever heard anyone say that they didn’t like this game, and many of my friends have told me that they love it and play it often.

The components (pieces) of the game are as simple as can be – a deck of 33 cards numbered from 3 to 36 and a set of 55 red plastic chips. At the beginning of the game 9 cards are removed from the deck (and set aside face down out of the game) and the remaining 24 cards are set up as a face-down deck. Each player receives 11 red chips as their initial "cash" supply. They keep their chips hidden throughout the game.

The object of the game is to avoid collecting points. The 24 cards in the deck are "auctioned" off over the course of the game. After the last card is auctioned off, the game is scored. Each card in front of a player is worth the number of points printed on it (that is, the 20 card is worth 20 points). But there is one critical exception to this rule. If you have two or more consecutive cards, only the lowest numbered card in the group counts. That is to say that having the 13 and the 15 gives you 28 points, but if you can manage to add the 14 to your collection, you only have 13 points on your hand. After players have totaled up their points from cards, they subtract the number of chips they have left and the result is their final score.

The game consists of 24 rounds – one for each card in the deck. A round begins with the player who took the last card turning over the top card in the deck. They then take a look at the card and decide whether they want to put the card in front of them or if they would rather put a chip on the card and pass it to the next player. The next player in turn decides whether they want to put another chip on top of the card and pass it on or if they would prefer to take the card into their collection. This process is repeated until a player finally decides to take the card. Of course, a player who has run out of chips is forced to take the card and all the chips on it. Some high-numbered cards may wind up with quite a stack of chips on them before they wind up in front of a player.

The simple mechanics of this game create some surprisingly fun and challenging decisions for the players. Early in the game, a player may look at the 30 card out on the table and try to decide whether the 12 chips stacked on top of it are enough to persuade him to take the card. Later in the game, the player with the 27 card might try to see if he can get each of his opponents to put three chips on top of the 28 card before he takes it in himself or if the 14 chips on top of it prove too tempting for the player with only a couple of chips left. Likewise, a player may agonize about whether to drop his last chip on top of the 23 card or save it in case an even worse one is coming behind it.

All in all, No Thanks is a fast-playing blast (an average game lasts about 15-20 minutes) that can be taught in just a couple of minutes. It’s great for starting or ending game nights or even for playing over a table at a restaurant or bar. It’s simple enough for kids but meaty enough for adults, and it has a good number of interesting decisions and comical moments. Uncle Dave recommends it highly.

You can learn more about the game and even read some other reviews here. If you’re excited and want to pick up a copy (for about $8) you can go here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little venture into the world of board games. Join me back here at Gamezebo for many more happy adventures.

Dave Rohrl is a game obsessive in both his personal and professional life. Since 1995, Dave has made his living producing and designing games for top organizations like PopCap, Pogo, Electronic Arts, Mattel, and The Learning Company – personally producing and/or designing more than 30 published games and serving as managing producer on 8 more. He speaks at a wide variety of conferences dealing with casual game topics and since 2004 he has been one of the lead organizer of the Casual Games Summit tutorial at the world-famous Game Developers Conference. In his off hours, Dave can frequently be seen playing a wide variety of videogames or enjoying one of his 500+ board games with friends and family. Dave resides in Pacifica, California (on the Pacific coast near San Francisco) with his wife, two daughters, two pet rats and a fire-bellied toad (not to mention the deer that keep devouring his flower garden).