Chameleon and Cobra Paw.

My latest post for Insiders is my annual Prospect of the Year award column; this year’s winner is Toronto’s Vlad Guerrero, Jr. I name several runners-up as well as the top-performing draftees from 2017.

I don’t really play many party games – they’re fine, just not my bag, and most of the time I’m playing games it’s with my wife and/or daughter rather than a large group – but I do get them from publishers on occasion. Two of those titles, both from Bananagrams/Big Potato, actually made it to our table recently: Chameleon, a party game for adults and older kids, and Cobra Paw, a matching game probably more suited to kids than adults.

Chameleon is a social deduction game where one player has to pretend to know what’s going on – but if s/he’s caught, which is pretty often, then that player gets one chance to win by guessing the clue everyone else had but s/he didn’t. In Chameleon, the dealer plays a topic card to the table to start a round, rolls two dice, and all players but one get a code card that indicates which of 16 words on the topic card is the clue for that round. One player gets a card that looks like the code cards from the back but only says “you are the Chameleon” on the front. The players then go around the table, starting with the dealer, and must each say one word that relates to the specific word on the topic card for that round. That means the Chameleon will have to throw a word out without knowing which word on the topic card other players are talking about. After each player has said one word, everyone has to decide who the Chameleon is, which is decided by a vote. If the Chameleon is not identified, s/he wins the round. If the Chameleon is identified, however, s/he gets one guess at which word on the topic card was the keyword for the round; a correct guess gives the Chameleon the win anyway.

You can probably see the one problem with this mechanic. If the Chameleon isn’t the first person to say a clue word, then s/he gets some useful information from every player to go before him/her to help narrow down which word on the topic card is the round’s keyword. But if the Chameleon goes first, the only options are to say a word that’s incredibly vague and could apply to almost anything on the topic card or to say something specific to some of the words on the card and hope that the guess is correct. It’s only marginally better if the Chameleon goes second. If the Chameleon goes third or later, the game works well, and the subterfuge and subsequent witch hunt are fun. The game suggests 3 to 8 players; I’d say you need at least 4 to make it worthwhile. Each round only takes five minutes or so. The game was previously published as Gooseberry, with a different theme but the same core mechanic.

Cobra Paw is much more for kids, a simple matching and dexterity game for two to six players. The Cobra Paw box contains two six-sided dice with various symbols on their sides and 36 dominoes with all potential combinations of those symbols. In each round, someone rolls the two dice, and then all players must find the matching domino on the table. The first person to grab the domino gets it – and yes, you can swipe one from another player’s play area – and keeps it until it’s stolen or the game ends. When one player collects six dominoes, s/he wins. There’s a definite advantage for adults between their chance to remember where certain tiles are and quicker reflexes, although I think the proper counterstrategy for kids is to smack the dominoes as hard as they can as a form of intimidation against faster-moving grown-up hands. My daughter enjoyed this one a lot more than I did, and I think it’ll get a lot more play when she has friends over than it will when we play as a family.

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