Icarus – Keep or Cull?

“Don’t fly too close to the sun” – the lesson that we are supposed to take away from the famed Greek Mythological tale of Icarus. The game Icarus by Reiner Knizia sort of follows that theme. Icarus is a card-based bluffing game here you are trying to bid high, but not so high that you get caught by another player and end up “melting your wings.”

Icarus is basically a card game version of Liar’s Dice with a few light Knizia touches. The main components of Icarus are a deck of cards separated into 7 suits. Each suit has an identical collection of cards. There’s also a small board that helps players keep track of the current bid, and a bunch of tiny wing tokens to represent points.

Each suit of cards is separately shuffled and placed around the board. One card of each color is removed from the game blindly, then each player is dealt a hand of 1 card of each color. When it comes around to your turn there are three steps you take. First you may discard a card of any color you’d like face up, and draw a card of the same color. This gives all the players at the table a little information as to what’s still in play. Next, the player makes a bid. The bid can be of any value as long as it’s higher than the previous bid. It can be of any color. (For example, a bid of 13 in orange or 15 in blue). Then the next player in turn order may challenge whether the bid just just made is higher than all the cards of that color in the hands of all the players at the table.

Once a challenge happens, the round is over. All players revel the cards of the contested color and the totals are added together. If the bid was “safe”, meaning that the bid was equal to or lower than the total, the challenger takes a -2 point wing token as a penalty. If the bid was too high, that player takes the penalty token instead. If the losing player’s bid or challenge was over 2 away from the actual total, they take a -5 penalty instead!! Then the color of card that was contested is removed from the game (if a game lasts more than 7 rounds, and all colors have been removed, then they all get reshuffled and brought back in the game). Once one player gets four wing penalties, the game ends and whoever has the fewest penalty points wins!

The components to Icarus are functional, that’s about it. The card quality is fine, but not amazing. The artwork is actually very good, but there’s seriously only one picture reused on all the cards (and one for the cover) just the brightness of the sun is different. The game does have the different color names printed on the bottom of the cards, but it’s still pretty unfriendly to color blind players.

There are a number of variants printed in the rules, and extra cards to play them, but they all add elements of blind luck to the game. I don’t recommend using these rules at all.

I like Icarus. I think it’s a great take on the Liar’s Dice formula. For some players and situations, Icarus may even be preferable. It’s just a deck of cards and some tokens, the board is virtually unnecessary – so you can pack this into a Quiver case and take it with you more easily. It plays up to 7 players whereas Liar’s Dice can only go to 6 (some versions only go to 5). It’s a much quieter game because you aren’t rolling buckets of dice, so it can be played in libraries more easily.

Yet I culled it from my collection. It’s for one main reason. I think Liar’s Dice is just a more fun experience. I have the Milton Bradley version from the 1980’s, with it’s garish pink and teal board, the 6 plastic cups, and 30 dice! The sound of the cups rattling and being slammed on the table is unmistakable. It’s as much of the experience as all of the lying and deceit flying around the table. I also find the endgame of Liar’s Dice as it gets whittled down to the last 2 players, each with only 1-2 dice to be far more exciting than the sudden “oh, I have 4 tokens…game’s over” that happens in Icarus.

If you want a good bluffing game, you can’t go wrong with Icarus. For my collection though, I don’t need them both, and I’ve gotten far more joy out of Liar’s Dice than I did Icarus…so it has crashed into the ocean and drowned.

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