I hit the big two-oh in my 2008 new games quest with a little card game called Reiner Knizia's Amazing Flea Circus.
Apart from being Reiner Knizia's Amazingly Long Game Name, this is a game designed for kids. That's not to say that adults can't enjoy it, for of the five players on Friday night, there was only one child. And that particular five-year-old was pretty darn good at the game.
The idea of the game is very kiddy. You play cards that form your circus show, and attract as many spectator dogs and cats as possible. Each dog is worth 2 points, and each cat is worth 1 point. Whoever has the most points when all the dogs and cats have been taken is the winner.
Each player starts with 5 cards (and draws back up to 5 cards after each turn), and then the players take it in turns to play a card. What happens when each card is played is dependent upon the card type.
Each card is played from your hand face up on to your stack. Only the top card of your stack forms your current "show".
In total, there are 55 cards. 28 of these are attraction cards (4 each of 7 different attractions). When you play an attraction card, you take dogs and cats equal to the number shown on the card (either 2, 3 or 4).
For example, if you played the card in the image above (the fire breathing flea), you gain 4 spectator points. You would then take cats and dogs equal to 4 points - either 2 dogs, 1 dog and 2 cats, or 4 cats.
It sounds straight forward, but here's the catch (and where the fun begins). If someone else has played that attraction on his or her last turn (remember, there are 4 copies of each card) and thus has it face up on top of his or her stack, then you take the 4 points worth of spectators from that player.
If no one else is currently showing that attraction, then you take the dogs and cats from the central pile. Be prepared to have those animals stolen by another player though!
In addition to attractions, there are also 12 clown cards, 7 free ticket cards, 6 acrobat cards, and 2 animal catchers.
Clown cards are worth 1 point each, but you can play as many as you like at one turn.
Free tickets allow you to poach 2 points (ie. 1 dog or 2 cats) from another player.
If you play a flea acrobat, the total number of points you get is equal to the total number of acrobat cards currently showing. So, for example, if no acrobats are showing, you only take 1 cat from the central pile. If the player to your left then plays an acrobat, he or she can take 2 points.
Finally, the animal catcher is worth negative points to everyone except the person who plays it. Every other player will lose points equal to the value of their current show. Attractions will lose their card value, clowns 1 point, free tickets 2 points, and players with acrobats showing lose spectators to the value of all acrobats showing.
In addition, all cards in player's shows get shuffled back in to the draw deck whenever an animal catcher is played.
If you have an animal catcher, it can be advantageous to wait until other players have high value cards showing before playing it. For example, if you played an acrobat, and that started a rush on acrobats by the other players, each seeking to earn one more point than the player before, you can then hit them all with an animal catcher on your next turn for major losses.
Be aware, though, that he or she with the most number of cats and dogs will be targeted for cat and dognapping.
Once the pile of 20 dogs and 20 cats in the middle of the table is exhausted, it's game over. Everyone then counts their spectator points to see who wins.
Due to the nature of the game, and the great fun to be had stealing animals from other players, I'd guess that it will usually work out fairly evenly. Indeed, in the game we played, Maka, Michael and Gypsy (the five-year-old) tied for the win on 12 points, with myself and The Giggling One on 11 (and yes, that only adds up to a total of 58, so I'm guessing there has been animal escapage over time).
Quick, cute, easy to learn, and a good laugh. All good qualities for a fun game.