Perhaps the best way to create an unusual but accessble game is to take a classic mechanic and shake it until it's almost unrecognisable.
That seems to be the inspiration for Cahoots! On the surface it's a standard trick taking game, a paradigm everyone is familiar with. But beneath that comfortingly conventional surface lurks a clever and most unusual game.
It has six suits for starters. And the cards run from four to eight. Each of the four players is randomly assigned three of the suits, and they score points whenever that suit wins a trick.
You play two cards into each trick and the sum total of the cards in each suit determines the winner. But here's the first twist: you'll share each of your scoring suits with another player. So every time you score, one of your opponents does too.
Then comes the second kicker. After the hand is over you get to choose one card to come back to your hand and one to remove from the game.
This adds a fascinating card drafting element to proceedings, and an agonizing bit of risk management. Do you grab what you need first, or eliminate the biggest threat to your scoring suits?
The rules are all laid down in a simple text-based tutorial. Then you'll rapidly discover that for all its simplicity this is a fiendishly difficult game to play well.
The default "easy" AI was quite enough to push me over for my first few games. Having migrated to "medium" I dread to think what "hard" might be like.
Every decision you make has an excruciating corollary. If you play a powerful card from a scoring suit, you risk another player eliminating it after the hand. If a scoring suit is already winning, adding to it might wastes a card, but playing another gives a boost to a competitor suit.
Play conservatively and you risk losing too many hands, but over-bold play or poor hand management means you'll be stuck with junk in later rounds.
The game never takes itself too seriously, though. There's a heavy random element. You may be unlucky enough to be dealt very few of the card suits you need to score. So the game is light and fun to play. And there's a match-play mode of several linked games to smooth out luck over the longer run.
It'll take you a long while to exhaust the entertainment possibilities of this mode. But after that you run into the game's most egregious flaw: there's no other modes to continue your journey.
Cahoots! looks like it was developed on an absolute shoestring. The graphics are grainy and the music annoying and repetitive. That's forgivable, seeing as you can't do much esoteric presentation with a traditional-style card game.
That limited budget would seem the explanation for the lack of an online matchup mode. But the absence hurts the game. The AI is challenging, but part of the fun in Cahoots! is trying to ensure that the dual scoring mechanic benefits you more than your opponents.
It's neat when you manage it against a digital foe, but pulling it off against flesh and blood would have been supremely satisfying.
What's rather less forgivable is the lack of a pass and play mode. Networking code might be a tough call, but this would be a fine game to enjoy against family and friends. Sadly, the only way you'll be able to do that is to paste up your own physical copy.
The lack of options seriously limt the shelf life of this title. But there's great value for money in solo play.
The mind behind Cahoots! is a relatively well-known board and card game critic. His experience with play mechanics shows in the sharp, fun game at the core of this app.
It's just a shame it doesn't go the extra mile to differentiate itself from the pack in terms of production the way it does in terms of play.