Remember that old adage of "don't judge a book by its cover" ? well TINKER TAILOR is the epitome of that adage, except that it's a card game and not a book.
Published by Medusa Games (medusagames.co.uk) and designed by Richard Denning, the brains behind "The Great Fire of London" (the boardgame not the actual fire, duh!) and UKGE (UK Games Expo), this is a little gem that is almost certainly going to be looked at and discarded without being opened simply because of the horrific artwork on a very plain white box. In fact throughout the entire deck of cards (in truth the cards are separated into several decks) the artwork is atrocious and rarely raises above enthusiastic amateur doodling. Thankfully the cards are on good card stock, nicely separated by colour, well designed, and the crux of the game - the box and artwork are merely a distraction from what is essentially one of the best family/gamer card games in the current games market.
Seeing as I began on a negative I shall continue in the same vein for a few moments more. Artwork aside, there is some poorness within the rules, starting with the Rhymme card (the "Rhyme" card - there is an arguement that way back in olden times the word was spelled as Rhymme but then later in the rules the header clearly announces The Rhyme, which thus removes the olden times from the equation). There are Money cards, Role cards and Goods (merchandise) cards. Unfortunately Goods cards are sometimes mentioned in the rules as "Good" cards which makes players wonder what then are "Bad" cards.
There is a minor, easily solved, obscurity in the rules about the replacing of cards to the money and market rows. The rules state that "Any card or cards collected from The Market are replaced from the matching deck after all the cards have been taken". Commonsense adds "at the end of each player's turn" but those words are not in the rules and thus a pedantic petulant player could read it such that the card or cards are replaced after all cards (by all players) have been taken.
The fifteen (15) occupation or role cards match those from the famous "Tinker Tailor" rhyme: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich man, Poor man, Beggar man, Thief, Preacher, Pirate, Outlaw, Jailor, Old man, Young man, Merchant, Witch and Actor. There is a first player card with this rhyme - the occupations detailing the order in which players will take their turn.
These 15 cards each have a unique ability that activates when they are declared for the player's turn. The Rich man, for example gets "Your Fair Dues" and thus takes one of the highest value Money cards in the Market for him/her self. Of the 15 cards, 12 described actions are without discussion, but the remaining three are open a little to discretion and either common (or maybe not so common) sense or house ruling.
1. The Soldier: "The King's Shilling". Draw 2 Money cards, take 1 and give the other to the player with the least number of cards. Who gets the other card if there is a tie for holding the least number of cards ?
2. The Beggar Man. "Penny Please". Take a 1 coin Money card OR a Bread card from every player who has one (their choice). This could indicate that it is "their choice" whether they have one of the required cards. Of course it means it is their choice to give either a Money or a Bread card, but remember I am currently being pedantic.
3. The Witch. "Hubble Bubble". Take 1 Random Goods card from each player. Add 1 from your hand +1 from the Market. Now choose and keep any 2. Each other player chooses 1 in clockwise order from you. Sounds simple enough, but what happens if there aren't enough cards to go round ? Example. In a 5 player game it is Joe's turn and he has the Witch. He holds no cards at present. Neither does Ted (next in line clockwise) The other 3 players each have one card. So Joe takes those 3 cards + 1 from the Market making a total of 4 cards. He takes 2 for himself leaving just 2 cards to hand out. Ted (who never had a card to begin with, takes one and Chris takes the second. This leaves Fran and Grant, who had cards now with none to choose from. The rules do not indicate what should happen here. We, being nice, fair people, decided that Joe should draw enough cards from the Market's draw pile (after taking one from the Market) so that he can get 2 cards and all other players one card each. This kept the game flowing along nicely and was fair to all players, but were we right to do this ? In our opinion, yes, as it didn't go against the action explained on the card.
So now we come to the game itself. It has a very cleverly considered and designed game mechanic that works around the old rhyme. The start player takes enough role cards randomly from the role card deck so that there is enough for each player to have one plus two extra (so 7 cards in a 5 player game). The first player looks at the 7 cards drawn randomly from the 15 card deck, and selects their character for this turn. The remaining cards are passed around clockwise with each player taking one after deliberation and thought and passing them on. the final player has 3 to select from which goes well with the fairness of the game (and is one of the reasons we decided to play the Witch the way we did). When all players have a role card the rhyme is read out and the cards are activated in the order read - that is as soon as the role is read out the player with that card flips it over (declares it aloud) and reads then performs the associated action.
The main luck factor in the game is the randomness of the Market cards - the Market being made up of two equal rows, one of money and one of Goods - and the cards randomly drawn from the role deck. Each player has a reasonable selection of roles to choose from each turn and can, to a degree, select when in the pecking order they will play; though it is basically the longer you wait for your turn the better the action. Of course by waiting you are allowing the other players to take their actions before you and this may be detrimental to your planning.
The idea is to collect Goods cards in sets, either all of the same type (every same Goods has the same value, so all Bread is valued at 1 for example) or one of each of the 5 different types, Bread, Fish, Cloth, Wine and Gems. Money cards remaining in your hand at the game end are worth half their face value in Victory Points. It is best to use your money to buy Goods from the Market and you are allowed to do this after you have performed the action from your role card, so everyone generally has the ability to obtain and buy Goods each turn.
The cards are presented in three decks of different colours, all pastel shades; fawny-beige, light-fairy blue and insipid green, which sound awful but are in fact quite pleasant to play with and easily identifiable at all times.
Because all of the occupations aren't in play every turn each turn is different. The first turn moves round clockwise after each round and the game is usually played so that each player has two turns at being the first player. It is a shame that some, possibly many, people will not even bother with TINKER TAILOR because of its looks. The real shame is that it is they who will be missing out on an exceptionally fine, fun and frustrating game.