Set card game
by The Beast!
(Boardgame Beast HQ)
Set card game
Number of players:
Set, like some classic board games, is easy to learn but not so simple to master. This game of pattern recognition can be very engaging, lots of fun, and quite frustrating, often at the same time. It is as addictive as it is deceptively simple. An excellent mental workout well recommended for anyone old enough to grasp its concept.
The game and gameplay
A card game of pattern recognition, Set is challenging, simple to learn and has a strong replay value. The very easy concept, coupled with a compulsive “just one more go” appeal makes it an excellent family game.
Each card in a SET Game deck has one of three variations for each of the four identifying features: shape (oval, squiggle, diamond); color (shapes are red, purple, or green); shading (just an outline, solid, or striped); and number (there are one, two, or three shapes per card).
A few examples to illustrate those numbers. A card might have three red outlined squiggles, or two purple solid ovals, or one green shaded oval. Starting to get the picture? If not, see the picture at the right.
Twelve cards are dealt out in Set card game, generally in a 3 x 4 grid, and everyone at the table attempts to identify a ‘set’ of cards. A set consists of three cards on which each feature is the same for all three (all red, for example) or different for all three (perhaps one of each color).
Just remember this rule: all or none has to hold for all four identifying features. To quote the company’s website, “The magic rule: If two are… and one is not, then it is not a ‘Set’.”When someone sees a set they call out ‘Set!’ and pick up those three cards. If they were right, they keep the cards, gain a point, and the dealer puts out three new cards.
If they were wrong and the trio is not a set, the cards are put back and the player loses a point. There are no turns in the game: anyone can call out ‘Set!’ as soon as they spy one, and play only pauses long enough to let them gather those cards.
If everyone agrees there is no set to be made from the twelve cards on the table, three more cards are temporarily dealt out (temporarily because they are not replaced when someone next claims a SET.The table should typically only contain twelve cards).
Play continues until there are no cards left to be dealt and no more sets possible on the table, at which point the round is over. The dealer rotates and another hand is dealt.
After everyone has dealt, the game ends with the highest point total winning. You can easily vary the rules about dealing, rotating, and how many hands you want to play to suit your needs.
To not quite borrow a quote from Ghostbusters: there is no strategy in Set… only mental muscle. Once you learn how to play, playing again and again just makes you faster and more accurate.
These are great qualities of course (among other uses, Set has been integrated as a tool for teachers, particularly in math classes).
The straightforward deck and game mechanic lend themselves to a variety of variations. The company’s website lists six, including poker-esque versions and alternate ways of scoring. There is also an option for younger children and anyone wanting a quick introduction. Start with just the solid symbol cards. Sets now only have to meet three criteria, making this an excellent warmup if you haven’t played frequently or recently.
A Set deck, therefore, can be at least seven games, a teaching tool and a math puzzle. If you choose to just use it as directed, you’ll find yourself playing a game in the more classic sense, finding enjoyment in a straightforward but intriguing test of your eyes and brain.
Yes, you’re competing with everyone at the table for the final score; but really, you’re competing with yourself. Hey, who cued up the ‘The More You Know…’ soundtrack?
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Pros and cons
The learning curve on the SET Card Game isn’t too steep (it’s rare for even a rank beginner to go through multiple hands without capturing a set or two) but experience seems to count for quite a bit. As a result, people who have played for a while and are ‘in the mindset’ can often tear past newer players, calling ‘Set!’ while others are still scanning each card.
This has the potential to alienate new players, but can be mitigated by doing what most (especially older) Set players seem to do: not take the game too seriously. Competing at Set is kind of like competing over a jigsaw puzzle. Sure you can trash talk and race each other, but if there are hard feelings when it’s all over you’ve probably done something wrong.
Set’s biggest downsides are its potential to frustrate and its complete lack of strategic depth. Frustration is more likely with younger children, so parents will probably want to introduce them to the game more slowly.
On the other negative, Set’s straightforwardness can make it seem too much like a child’s game to some, albeit a tough one.
Set has three big things going for it: It’s fast to learn and set up, so it can be played any time, anywhere. With multiple gameplay options and its utility as a classroom tool, it can go a lot further than it initially seems.
And it’s unlike any other card game on the market. While gameplay is fairly repetitive, its particular mental demands keep it from becoming dull or rote.
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The SET Game is an excellent game for families with preteens and younger children, and it definitely holds its own with peer groups of all ages. Just hearing it described probably won’t tell you whether or not you’ll like playing the game, so find a friend or a party where its being played and sit in on a few hands. Then pick up a copy to feed you and/or your family’s new addiction.