Review: Tanto Cuore

By Dave Neumann 03 Oct 2013 0
It's like Downton Abbey for the Pokemon set. It's like Downton Abbey for the Pokemon set.

Before we get knee-deep into this review, let’s get something out of the way: Tanto Cuore has an... odd theme. We could pick it apart, but let's just say: WTF? How else do you describe something where seemingly-underage girls in French maid costumes stare at you, doe-eyed, while they are hired with “love” and then “serve” you or, better yet, get sent to your Private Chambers?

It’s bonkers.

That said, I’ve spent a lifetime this past week researching Japanese maid culture to try and understand where the designers were coming from. I can’t say that I succeeded, but I did get far enough that I was able to look past the theme and see the game underneath is actually a pretty great romp, helped by the usual Playdek polish.

As I mentioned, the theme of Tanto Cuore is to hire maids. No butlers or manservants, just maids. Apparently, the designer has never seen an episode of Mr. Belvedere. Some maids are worth victory points, while others give you abilities to strengthen your deck. Balancing getting VPs, versus making your deck stronger is the crux of this, and pretty much every other, deckbuilder in existence.

The maid theme is taken in some bizarre directions, however. First of all, every location a card exists has its own name. You discard pile isn’t a discard pile, it’s the Kitchen Entrance. Your hand is called your Staff at Your Side. Draw deck? It’s the Waiting Room, of course. Most creepily of all, however, is the location where you can play cards for points. That’s your Private Chambers.

Hold on, it gets better.

Wuv. Twu wuv. Wuv. Twu wuv.

The maids that are available for you to hire are in a section of the board called the Town. As I said in the intro, you don’t use cash to hire the maids, you use Love. Yep, Love. Oh, did I mention the Love cards depict a decidedly young girl wearing garter belts who is in bed on her hands and knees? Believe it or not, “Love” was not the first word that came to mind when I spotted these cards. "Lolita" maybe.

You can buy more than maids with Love, however. You can also buy “Bad Habits” or “Illness” to give to your opponent’s maids, or you can buy some more sweet, sweet Love, to strengthen your deck.

Let’s concentrate on the maids, for now. Once hired and placed into your discard pi…I mean, Kitchen Entrance, you can then use “Servings” to have the maids serve you. Not surprisingly, Servings are depicted with a forceful, dominant icon of a pointing finger. You use Servings to play maids into your playfield, which triggers their effects. Some will give you more Servings, or more Love. Some will allow you to hire more than one maid per turn, whereas some will have more elaborate effects. You can also use Servings to place Chambermaids into your Private Quarters. Believe it or not, this is where the game differentiates itself from other deckbuilders and becomes an interesting and strategic game.

Chambermaids are a subset of maids that can be placed into your Private Quarters, which is an area off the board where you store these cards. Instead of playing these maids to your playfield, and then getting their benefit, you can put them into your Private Quarters where they will accumulate Victory Points. Some are worth points if you have the most of that type in your Private Quarters, some are worth points if you have sets of different Chambermaids. The variety here, and knowing your competing with others for these same combinations makes for some interesting decision making. Do I play this maid for the additional Servings this turn, or do I place her in my Private Quarters for end game points? Is my opponent going for more of that Chambermaid, or trying to get a set of those Chambermaids? Locking girls away has never been more interesting!

If the point of the game is Victory Points, why not load up on Chambermaids and lock them up whenever possible? Remember the events I mentioned earlier? This is where they come into play. Instead of hiring a maid, you can hire an Event. This allows you to give maid in an opponent’s Private Quarters “Bad Habits” or “Illness”. Needless to say, you don’t want either. This give the game a good “take that” vibe and provides another interesting decision point: do I hire a maid that could help me, or spend my turn poisoning my opponent?

I get the feeling this is what Bobby  always hoped Alice would be like. I get the feeling this is what Greg, Peter and Bobby always hoped for instead of Alice.

That’s the game, really. You hire maids, try to put some in your Private Chamber or collect other maids that don’t need to be locked-up to score points and repeat until two piles of cards in the town are empty. It’s remarkably simple, and yet I never felt like the choices were incredibly straight-forward like some other deckbuilders. In Ascension, for example, I rarely find that buying the most expensive card you can afford to be a bad choice. In Tanto Cuore, however, you will frequently be buying below your current income depending on the circumstances and how you’re trying to accumulate Victory Points in that game. Sometimes, you’ll want to pick up some cheap Chambermaids, even though there are more powerful cards on the table if only because they nab you no points at the time.

As for presentation, it’s everything you’d expect from Playdek. The game is fast, fluid and looks great. In a nice touch, the maids all say something in Japanese when hired. I have no idea what’s being said, but it gives the game a lightheartedness that it needs. Apart from 3 levels of AI, ranging from mentally challenged to competent, the game has all the multiplayer features common to other Playdek games as well.

In the end, your enjoyment of Tanto Cuore will come down to your feelings about the theme. Other than a few cards, the images are tame. Even the eyebrow-raising cards aren’t in the same postal code as pornography. The hiring and keeping of subservient women, however, can’t really be glossed over. If you can look past the theme, however, you’ll find a card game with some interesting decision points and strategy, and a game that can hold its own against juggernauts like Ascension and Dominion.

Review: Tanto Cuore

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