The Great Dalmuti
Game review by Bill Zigo

If you're looking for a card game which combines strategy with the fun of roleplaying, you'll probably want to add The Great Dalmuti to your inventory. Wizards of the Coast, the same folks who gave us Magic: The Gathering, have done it again. The game, which retails for about $8.00, has already received a favorable review in Games magazine and is available in most game and hobby stores.

Dalmuti is based on an interesting yet infrequent concept in games: life isn't fair. The 80-card playing deck contains cards of 12 social ranks ranging from the Great Dalmuti all the way down to Peasant. Similarly to a feudal society, there is only 1 Great Dalmuti card, 2 Archbishops, 3 Earl Marshalls, 4 Baronesses, etc., down to 12 Peasants, plus 2 Jesters, which have the lowest standing but also have special powers.

The game is for 5-8 players -- any more or less would disrupt the intended distribution of cards in your hand. The cards are dealt out completely; some players may get more cards than others. A player leads by playing a certain number of cards all of the same rank (e.g. 5 Cooks). Each player in turn may either pass or play the same number of cards of a higher social rank, something which gets tougher as you climb the social ladder. Jesters can be important here -- alone, Jesters have the lowest social standing, but when combined with other cards they take on the same rank; thus it is possible to play three Great Dalmuti cards using both Jesters. Each round continues until everybody passes (you may still play cards later in a round if you initially passed). The player who last played leads next.

The object of the game is to be the first player to get rid of their cards, regardless of who wins any trick. So strategy and a bit of card-counting come into play as the game goes on. For example, you might have 8 Peasant cards, but since they're the lowest social standing, it would be impossible for you to play them except to lead a new trick, so you'd have to plan to win a trick right before that. You might also be able to play high-ranking cards right off the bat and reduce your hand, but you might still get stuck with cards you can't get rid of.

By itself this is an interesting game, but it's the subsequent roleplaying aspect which makes it more fun. Once a winner is determined, play continues until you have determined the placement of everyone, from first to last. For the next game, the winner becomes the Greater Dalmuti, second place becomes the Lesser Dalmuti, the next-to-last player becomes the Lesser Peon, and the outright loser becomes the Greater Peon. Anyone in-between becomes a merchant, or you can opt to create your own social classes for the game. The Greater Dalmuti gets his/her choice of seats and will play first in the next game. Everyone is expected to honor or kiss up to people of a higher social standing, and treat those of lower standing, especially the Peons, like dirt. In fact, for the next game, the Greater Peon must gather up all the cards, shuffle, deal, and collect the tricks. In general, you don't play just one game, you play a series of some number of games or set a time limit, and whoever is the Greater Dalmuti after the last game ultimately wins.

What about the unfairness aspect? That's called taxation. After the cards are dealt for each hand, the Greater Dalmuti taxes the Greater Peon for his/her two best cards, exchanging whatever cards the Dalmuti doesn't want. The Lesser Dalmuti similarly gets to tax the Lesser Peon for one card. Merchants may either not exchange cards or may opt to randomly exchange cards. However, if any player has both Jesters, they may call for no taxation that round (though a Dalmuti probably wouldn't do that). And if the Greater Peon has both Jesters, it's a revolution, and the Dalmutis and Peons must exchange places.

The game is easy to learn and fun to play. I and several co-workers have a running session several times a month over lunch, and we can easily get five or six games done during lunch hour. To stimulate the roleplaying, one person brought in hats. The Dalmutis have first choice of wearing any hat or not wearing a hat, merchants must wear a hat of their choice of whatever's left over, and Peons must wear a dunce cap (party hat). With the right crew, I expect this can become a popular activity with the gamers at future Mensa conventions.

(Originally appeared in Re:Quests!, issue #38, September 1995, pp. 32-33; Mary H Kelly, editor.)

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