Remember being told “It is always better to give than receive?” This is especially true at Christmas. There is no greater joy than seeing the smiles on the faces of people you give gifts to. But, giving gifts can be a tricky situation as well and takes some tact to be the best at it.
Duncan Molloy and Lauren Dawsom have created a very fun card game built around giving gifts, and giving them away faster than everyone else. This game is Secret Santa from Osprey Games. it is for 4-8 players, ages 9+ and plays anywhere from 30-60 minutes……maybe even longer if you like.
Using the gifts from the 12 Days of Christmas, players will be racing to be the first to give away all of their gifts, but there are a few surprises along the way.
First, the components of the game are simple: cards and a score pad.
Components for Secret Santa
The deck of cards is divided up into two types: gift cards and special cards.
Gift cards based on the 12 Days of Christmas
There are mostly gift cards in the deck, made up of various gifts from the 12 Days of Christmas. The distribution of cards is not even, so there are a lot more Partridges in a Pear Tree opposed to only one Twelve Drummers Drumming Card. This uneven distribution of cards is what drives the whole hand management mechanic and strategy. There are also some special cards that are in the game as well.
The special cards are used to either benefit yourself or slow down your opponents. There are three types of special cards: star cards that you play on your turn, Holly cards that are played immediately after someone elses turn, and snow cards that are played between rounds. Each of the different cards do different things and they are explained in the rulebook.
HOW TO PLAY
Game play is very simple. Shuffle all of the cards together and deal out the whole deck of cards among the players. Give each player a chance to sort their cards.
A sorted hand after the deal
The first card played to start the round will be the fruitcake card. It celebrates the Christmas tradition of re-gifting and when that player plays the Fruitcake they must give one gift card of his/her choice to any other player.
Fruitcake Special Card
The game is played over a series of rounds and each round the first player decides how many cards will be played by playing any number of cards of the same value, e.g. two “Eight Maids-a-milking”. The next player plays the same number of cards of a higher value or passes. A player does not have to play cards if they are able to. This may be a strategy used to play cards out later.
Following the lead of 2 2’s with 2 7’s
Play in the round continues around until each player passes, so it is possible to have multiple turns in one round. Don’t forget to use special cards. Elves can be used to copy other cards, and Santa is the best at giving gifts and playing him immediately wins you the round.
Playing Santa can win you a round without having to pass
Whoever won the last round starts the new round by leading with their choice of cards to play. Before the new round starts, players who have Snow type special cards can play them at this time. When a player has only one card left they must immediately declare “Final Gift!” so other players get a chance to stop them. If they fail to declare, they must miss their next opportunity to play the card. However, if a player has a number of cards that can be played together to empty their hand, they don’t have to say a word. Play continues until all players have emptied their hands. Towards the end of the game, if the only cards left in your hands are special cards, they can be played as gift cards with a value of 0, but only if you have run out of gift cards.
The first person to get rid of off of their cards scores points equal to the number of players, the next player out gets one less point and so on until the last player gets one point. At the end of the night, count up everyone’s points and whoever scores the most is the winner.
Secret Santa is a fun family-friendly card game that can be enjoyed all-year round, but is most suited for Christmas time. The artwork is done in a style that I deem “heartwarming” and it really goes well with the gifts from the 12 Days of Christmas. The quality of the cards is good. They have a good thickness to them and are durable. However, I noticed the finish on the brand new deck has the cards slightly sticking together, but after a few plays of the game and some good shuffling, the cards freely move independent of each other.
The game play itself has a number of elements borrowed from other games. First, the uneven distribution of cards reminds me of a card game called Pairs. So basically there are more “cheap” gifts than the “expensive” ones. Sure, you can play pairs and trios of them but they can easily be beaten by other cards. However, if you play a large grouping of them, it is a quicker way to empty your hand. Leading with either a single card or a grouping has a feel like some of the climbing games like Tichu or Haggis. Having to make a declaration of “Final Gift!” is just like in UNO so the kids for sure will be watching to call someone out. The Special Cards are a lot of fun and put nice twists in the game play and are fun to play to add a little mischief in the gift-giving activities. Putting these different elements together works in Secret Santa.
I find the game enjoyable and great to play with kids and adults. I especially like the scoring where everybody gets something. If you are into trick-taking games this one may be for you as well as it has that sort of feel to it. The game will teach some hand management strategies and players will quickly realize they need to win rounds in order to control the cards being played by being able to lead. With the playing time not being long, a single game is about 15-20 minutes but you can play as long as you want. This game is perfect for groups since it will play up to 8 players, making it perfect for Christmas parties and large family gatherings. The game is a small package and takes up a small footprint, so playing it anywhere is possible. And it also makes a great stocking-stuffer.