But then you find a hidden gem like Cribbage With Grandpas and realize not all card games are created equal.
Cribbage is one of those games that has endured, largely unchanged, for centuries. It's a game that's passed down from generation to generation through games played on rainy Sunday afternoons or lazy summer days at the cottage. If you've never played before, in short it's a two-player game where you try to find pairs, runs, or groups of cards that add up to fifteen to score points, which are marked on a board with pegs. It's fairly easy to learn but takes time and an astute mind to master.
Cribbage With Grandpas does a damn good job of not only teaching cribbage to newcomers, but also incorporating the familiar social aspect of the game itself by coupling the core card gameplay with a rather robust character creation process for making your own Grandpa. Yes, you read that right. This quirky card game leads off with a Create-A-Grandpa mode, so we might as well start there, too.
Before you can play a hand of crib you need an opponent, and Cribbage With Grandpa gives you so many options for completely customizing not only his appearance, but also the personality and playing style of each Grandpa. You're able to tweak your Grandpa's looks to surprising detail within the game's quirky cartoony art style, from the stubble on his chin to his (lack of) fashion sense. You can move, rotate, and resize your Grandpa's facial features by tapping and pinching them during the creation process. At its core, cribbage is a social game so you're also asked to choose three words from a set of 18 to define your Grandpa's personality, and set how conversational you want him to be.
Depending on what you choose, you'll receive quirky little comments from your Grandpa as the game plays out. For example, if you choose friendly words such as "silly", "sweet" and "easy going", your Grandpa will provide light-hearted banter between hands and encourage you with hints along the way. On the other hand, if you choose words like "serious", "grumpy" and "sore loser", expect to receive ample smack talk. It's these little details that really helps to round out the Grandpas into characters; even though you're playing offline against a computer opponent, you'll find it creates more depth and personality than you would find playing against real opponents in an online game.
Like the character creation process, equal care and consideration has been put into the gameplay itself. For starters, the visual and audio design are warm and comforting. You face off against your Grandpa at a virtual table with the cribbage board bordering the screen, as ambient sounds quietly play in the background to match the game setting you chose when creating your Grandpa.
If you're new to the game of Cribbage, your Grandpa will hold your hand through your first few games so you can understand the flow of gameplay and how the scoring works. Once you've got the hang of things, you're free to play as many games as you want against as many Grandpas as you wish to create. The game is laid out wonderfully in a portrait orientation, allowing you to comfortably play the game one-handed.
I am actually fairly new to cribbage, so one of the features I enjoy most is that you must count your own points at the end of each round. This is a pretty crucial skill to learn for playing crib, so it's nice to be able to practice on my own time without feeling rushed by a real-life opponent — although you may still get some guff if you take too long playing against a stubborn, grumpy Grandpa.
In short, I really consider this to be a fine example of indie game development done right. First and foremost, you can just tell that this game was a labor of love for the developers at Less Than Three Interactive. This is their first game released to the Google Play Store and while it is a paid title ($2.99), it ensures you're never interrupted by ads, in-app purchases, or anything else to distract you from the game itself. The gameplay is smooth, the Grandpas are charming and memorable, and it all comes together to create just a wonderful experience that will enthral cribbage fanatics and new players alike.
But moreover, there's an underlying moral here that I would be remiss if I didn't mention. That's the role that social card games such as cribbage can serve for connecting and spend quality time with family. The game's opening screen depicts a phone sitting on a table by a window on a rainy day, and you start every game by call up your Grandpa to see if he's up for a game of cribbage — and he always is.
Cribbage With Grandpas shows how fun and rewarding a simple card game like cribbage can be, and may inspire you to call up your own grandparents and reconnect over a game of cards.