Previewing: Barnyard Roundup

Old MacDonald had a farm
And on that farm he had a goat
With a cluck cluck here
And a cluck cluck there
Here a cluck, there a cluck
Everywhere a cluck cluck
Old MacDonald bilked again


Barnyard Cover smallAlright, hopefully you’re a little more knowledgeable about your barnyard animals than senile ol’ MacDonald, because that could make life really confusing otherwise. Guessing whether or not the right animal is in front of you also happens to be the only thing you need to know to try out Barnyard Roundup, the inaugural title from Druid City Games. In this speedy card game of bluffing players and bleating sheep, 2-6 people strive to build up the most valuable assortment of barnyard friends by tricking your opponents into letting you keep them.

Sure, it’s not the most lucrative business practice in the real world, but it works here. In this game, if you want a healthy herd of cattle, all you need to do is convince another player that they’re anything but. Of course, it’s a little harder than just throwing some cardboard antlers on a cow and calling it Rudolf.

Barnyard Roundup consists mostly of a single deck of cards with six different animal types of increasing value. Five of these types (chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, and cows) each have a positive point value to them that you’ll total up at the end of the game, with chickens being worth a single point up through cows, which are worth five. Simply put, the more animals you can get, the better your chances of winning are. Animals like these:

Well, have you any wool?

Well, have you any wool?
Prototype Art Shown

Not everyone on the farm is welcomed, however. Also mixed into the deck includes a murder of pesky crows, each of which gives negative points if you possess them at the end of the game. And they don’t scare off easily.

Each game begins with players receiving a hand of 5-6 cards. To avoid devolving into a game of pure perfect information, though, a handful of cards are removed before each playthrough. This helps maintain the game’s light tension, for now you’ll never be sure if any barnyard animal is a safe guess. No matter how many sheep you count, there’s simply no way of knowing if it’s the last one you’ve seen.

This is A Pig…or is it? Prototype Art Shown

Turns in Barnyard Roundup are exceedingly simple. First, you choose any number of cards of one type, and then place them face down in front of another player with a declarative statement such as, “These are two goats”. The other player must then decide whether or not they believe you. Are they actually goats? Do goats have curly tails? The choice is theirs.

The card(s) are then revealed. If they guessed correctly, then they claim those cards, putting them in front of them for the end of the game. If they’re wrong, then you claim the cards instead. In either case, you then draw replacement cards and the next person has a chance to con someone at the table. This keeps happening until the deck runs out, which typically takes about 20-25 minutes. At the end of the game, you’ll add up all of your animal gains plus potential bonuses for having the most of each animal and / or possessing at least one of each kind. The player with the most points wins.

If this sounds a little familiar, it should; Barnyard Roundup is essentially Cockroach Poker on a farm, albeit with some key differences.

For one, the entire victory condition of the game is inverted, which provides a significantly different psychological affect on gameplay – especially among those who aren’t well versed in maintaining a 24-hour poker face. Instead of one person being handed enough cards to make them the single loser, the goal in Barnyard Roundup is to end up with the most valuable tableau instead. You want as many cards as you can muster…well, aside from crows. In Cockroach Poker, the focus is much more pointed and aggressive, not only in the True/False decision-making over whether the other person is bluffing, but the longer the game goes, the more likely it becomes that a single person gets singled out by the group to speed up the end of the game. Barnyard Roundup mostly avoids the hot seat tactic, partially because the game has a consistent end point, but also because of the way the game leverages the point values of the cards themselves.

Since the only way to get cards in your tableau is to either make your opponent guess wrong on your turn, or for you to correctly call their bluff on theirs, the game forces you to change up both your targets and whether or not you’re telling the truth. If a player has a lot of cards in front of them, for instance, you may be less inclined to make them guess for fear of giving them even more points. This forces players to collectively spread their attention around to everyone at the table and ensures that everyone gets involved. A common issue with bluffing games of this caliber is that players can be largely overlooked or overly focused on, but thanks to the clever use of its point system, this really isn’t an issue with Barnyard Roundup.

Not every card is weighted equally. Choose your targets carefully. Prototype Shown

Not every card is weighted equally. Choose your targets carefully.
Prototype Shown

What’s more, having cards of different values adds weight to the choice of whether or not to fib while still keeping with its lightweight tone. It’s easy to gamble with 1-value chickens, for instance, but since every attempt has the potential to create point rifts, which approach do you take with your pair of cows? Suddenly it’s not as simple as taking a random card from your hand.

Good luck!

Good luck!

Attempting to foist bad cards on your opponent is still present in this game, though, in the form of the game’s crows, which can be quite costly if you get stuck with them. The only major way to get rid of them is to bluff them away, and they do an excellent job nudging even those who are a little gun-shy into having to bluff for a chance at winning.

Barnyard Roundup’s other novel contribution is the inclusion of several one-time use action tokens which shake the game up and prevent it from becoming rote. At the beginning of the game each player randomly receives either a Robber or Excuse Me token. Robbers are spent on your turn to name an animal type and force one player to give you all cards from their hand matching it (think the Monopoly cards from Catan). The catch is that if they don’t have that animal, you’re greeted with their crows instead. Excuse Me tokens are used on other player’s turns to force the action away from that player and onto you – for better or worse. These tokens in many ways act as a nice catch-up mechanic if people start falling behind, especially since players can only attain more of them by attaining a set of three crows. They add another wrinkle into the standard bluffing game process flow, and yet it’s done without impacting the difficulty of the game at all.

Look at them, mocking you... Prototype Art Shown

Look at them, mocking you…
Prototype Art Shown

The one caveat to Barnyard Roundup to be aware of is the same one that befalls most games of deception and trickery: the entire game centers around the ability to bluff. As buoyant as the game is, you do need to be able to maintain your composure for small intervals on your turn if you’re actually trying to win.

Boy howdy is it fun though. Prototype Art Shown

Boy howdy is it fun though.
Prototype Art Shown

Luckily, Barnyard Roundup is less The Resistance and more Coup, in that you don’t need to explain your actions as much as successfully mask them, further reinforcing the game’s broad-based appeal. So much, in fact, that thanks to its upbeat (and even somewhat hokey) theme, Barnyard Roundup does a decent job keeping the stress of bluffing low enough to be enticing even for those who typically are averse to this style of game.

Whether you’re faithfully amassing an army of goats or trying to get rid of four and twenty blackbirds, Barnyard Roundup quickly proves itself to be a party animal all its own. It takes a minute to learn, it’s highly engaging, and the flow of the game works equally well anywhere from poker-style bluffing to good-natured inanity.

With several ways to keep everyone involved and a focus on scoring points over player elimination, Barnyard Roundup finds that wonderful equilibrium for a light social game. Its clean nature and inviting artwork make it accessible to anyone who can hold a straight face, but it’s substantive enough to keep you coming back time and again, making Barnyard Roundup the kind of game that works equally well with a family around the kitchen table or a late night at a convention. There’s no need for bluffing here: Barnyard Roundup is a charming little game worth looking into. To prove that, though, you can head on down to its Kickstarter to see for yourself.

This project has earned the Seal of the Republic

Seal of the Republic

Photo Credits: Barnyard Roundup cover and artwork by Druid City Games; Princess Bride by MGM Studios.