se·ri·ous·ly – with earnest intent
snap·py – cleverly concise | ru·mi·na·tions – deep or considered thoughts
Hocus (as in hocus-pocus) cleverly implies a magical surprise, and this game delivers with its take on poker with spells.
Much like rhyming slang, Hocus references the mechanics of traditional poker to produce its own version of Texas Hold’em with a satisfying twist.
Players create their best poker hands to win pots worth points after first being given complete agency to form multiple communities of shared cards, pairs of individual pocket cards and pots of winnable points through alternating card play which includes unique player abilities. Unlike traditional poker, players form two hands of cards to score each round towards winning the available pots. Game play continues until a player accumulates at least 25 points, and then the player with the most points wins.
The spell casting theme of this game underscores the tricky nature of this apparent poker variant. Obvious differences from traditional poker include having multiple hands to score each round, the shared responsibility in determining not only the pot but also the cards in the community, the opportunity to choose one’s own pair of hidden cards, cards worth dual value in either forming poker hands or adding points to a pot, and the unique and thematic powers players use in addition to their basic actions. The game feels both familiar and different to its poker cousin, making it very accessible and yet surprising in how it plays. Also worth noting is that, unlike in traditional poker, players do not wager with personal funds in this game. The object is to score enough points by winning pots, and each players starts a round with the same amount of cards to use in attaining that goal.
PROS+, CONS- & NOTES*
+ Very accessible to poker players, using familiar poker rankings and terminology.
+ Open-ended creation of played cards provides wealth of possibilities each round.
– Names of the suits plus variant rules for Jokers should have been included in the game.
– Special unique abilities (known as advanced spells) include a few sets which appear unbalanced.
– Susceptible to group think as to which hands are preferable for winning pots.
* No folding; all players take turns until round ends.
* The best hand doesn’t necessarily win the most points, rewarding clever play.
* Reminiscent of poker but much different in how it’s played.
* A special note on the game’s art: The mythology Tiffany Turrill created for the characters that represent the suits is fantastic, and the artwork is gorgeous. Her evocatively illustrated characters breath visual life into the game’s theme and then fade into the background as simply attractive card art while the mechanics of game play take center stage. ‘Tis a bit of a shame, though, as much thought went into crafting these characters. Based on a combination of Norse mythological figures, the artist’s own inspiration and traditional Italian tarot suits (swords, batons/wands, coins and cups); the four suits as described by the artist herself follows with a few notes* from me.
Leshii with Coin
A be-antlered manifestation of the forest, in her cloak of underbrush, calls her raven familiars about her. Bemused, they puzzle over a crudely stamped human coin. Traditional leshii are a male presence, but here I have given him a gender bend for creative purposes.
Pentacles (Diamonds), Fall, Earth, The Physical World
* Also Leshy or Leshachikha
* For fun I’ve taken to personally calling the denomination of the coin depicting the wizard as a Vitki after finding this bit of historical detail: Vitki (“wise one”, pl. vitkar) is an Old Norse and Icelandic term for “sorcerer”.
Owl Wizard with Staff
In a secret library kept as sanctuary within a massive ash tree, a wizened warlock finds himself under threat from without. Laboriously, he holds aloft a gnarled oak stave, croaking the protective words from his prized tome. It has been long since he last faced a challenge.
(Owls fit into any fantasy incarnation and are so evocative of magic. To have all of the suits be essentially human in a loose narrative based on myth didn’t add up. It felt too.. serious somehow. So the obvious solution was a squatty owl man who was also a wizard. It lends a sense of whimsy in a world that could easily slide into bleakness.)
Wands (Clubs), Spring, Fire, Creativity, Action
Mourning Seawife/Sea Maiden with Chalice/Cup
A sad lost love ghost story – traditional among seafaring peoples the world over. A pale lass offers a blessing to the sea, mourning her lost fisherman husband. She herself is a ghost, a stain of memory caught betwixt land and sea, who wanders the cliffside at dawn.
Cups (Hearts), Summer, Water, Love, Emotion, Empathy
Eternal Blacksmith with Sword
In the subterranean world of the dead, the Eternal Blacksmith forges sword and shield for the coming apocalypse. Himself melted into the swords he has created, he is kept from truly entering the ranks of the dead by an infernal flaming sword that has been driven through a cursed anvil, and forced through his shattered ribs. Like a Sisyphean marionette, he toils on.
Swords (Spades), Winter, Air, Thought, Challenge
* Inspired by Ilmarinen
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