About 3.61 seconds into my first game of Razzia, I was overcome with the terrible chill of déjà vu. "I've played this game before," I trembled, "but where?"
The answer turned out to be ancient Egypt.
Razzia is an almost exact clone of another boardgame called Ra. They are auction games with a twist: rather than using a pool of money in open bidding, you have a small pool of different, fixed value bids to make, and you only get to make one bid, or pass, in each auction.
The result is a taut contest of brinksmanship, as you cajole, bluff, and try to read your opponents' intentions. In each turn you can either start an auction or draw a card, which is added to the lot up for bid.
You're seeking to collect particular combinations, but lurking among the cards are ones that automatically trigger an auction. Draw too many of these and the round is over. So how long do you dare wait before slapping down your highest value chip?
It's a classic system, and a personal favourite of mine. The rules are simple once you've internalised the different combinations, and Razzia eases you in with a good tutorial, easily accessible help screens, and nice scoring breakdown at the end of the three rounds.
The games are fast and fun - a great blend of random draw, statistical strategy, and poker-faced interaction.
But on iOS, the last of these is a little problematic. Half the fun of both Ra and Razzia is staring down the other players while stroking your chin, narrowing your eyes and going "hmmmm", before wildly exulting when you claim the auction for a song.
Razzia lets you play asynchronously with other people, using a peculiar but perfectly functional bespoke system, but it's just not the same unless everyone's in the same room.
Thankfully, the other parts of the game still work fine when you're sat alone, whiling away the hours with slab in hand, and it's all entertaining and well-produced.
And the focus on playing the percentages over poker faces means the AI players are capable of playing a fairly mean game in Solo mode, so there's still a little thrill when you sneak away with the goods from under their noses.
Married to the Mob
Razzia has a mafia theme, but it's a very thin veneer indeed. The sets you're aiming for are things like who has the most bodyguards, a point for each car card if you've got at least one driver card, and who has the most diverse collection of shady businesses. But that's about it - there's no meaty gangster action.
It should tell you something about how little Razzia really has to do with hoodlums that the same mechanics work perfectly well in a game about the pharoahs.
So here's the tricky thing: while Razzia is a perfectly good adaptation of the original boardgame, Ra has its own iOS version from Codito. And the two games are incredibly similar.
Ra is slightly longer because it has more cards, and slightly more complex because it has a negative card type - disasters - that has no equivalent in Razzia. But these are almost negligible, and you benefit from a little extra depth of strategy.
In terms of production, Razzia is certainly the slicker app of the two. But it has that weird online parlour while Ra uses Game Center. So it's pretty hard to choose between them, and I can't see a good reason to own both.
That makes it kind of hard to rate. I've had a lot of fun playing Razzia, but really I kept wishing I could play Ra instead - and, what's more, I wished I could play it with my friends and some beer rather than alone on the sofa.
But if that's not an option for you, and you strongly prefer the mafia to Ancient Egypt, then you probably won't regret picking this up.