Cuckooo! Is a card game for 3 to 5 players created by József Dorsonczky and published by Mind Fitness Games. In this game you are trying to collect owls, sparrows and cuckoos to form a powerful flock to ward off the magpie but beware that your flock is not too powerful because then they will not even bother fending off the magpie. The player who is best at fending off the magpies 4 times will become the winner of Cuckooo!

During setup you have to remove some cards when playing with less than 5 players. You will shuffle the cuckoo tiles and flip over as many as the number of players to the center of the table. Shuffle the owl cards and give each player 2 owl cards to place face-up in front of them. The first dealer will be the player with the smallest owl.

The game will last for 4 rounds and each round is divided into 3 phases: Dealing, Collecting Birds and Loot Sharing. The Dealing phase will see the dealer shuffle the sparrow cards and deal 7 cards to each player. Every sparrow card is used in each game so there will be none left. Each player now selects 3 cards and gives them to the player on the right. The player with the highest blue sparrow card starts the round by placing it in the middle of the table to start the discard row. The player to his left will be start player for the next phase.

In the Collecting Birds phase each player in clockwise order keeps on taking one action until all players have passed. As an action you can do one of the following things: Collect one sparrow, Discard one sparrow to the discard row or Discard all your sparrows into the Cuckoo Zone. When you want to collect a sparrow you simply place one of your hand cards in front of you to join your flock. Your flock can only hold 2 sparrows so when you already have 2 sparrows you can no longer takes this action. You also have the option to Discard one sparrow to the discard row. The sparrow that you discard in this manner has to be the same color or the same value as the last sparrow in the row. The last action you can choose is the Discard all your sparrows into the Cuckoo Zone. You are only able to execute this action when you are unable to discard a sparrow to the discard row. When you choose this action you discard all your sparrow cards in hand to the Cuckoo Zone face-up and take the remaining highest value Cuckoo token to join your flock. This continues until all players can no longer perform any actions. When someone is the last player remaining to perform actions they only have one turn left and discard the remainder of their sparrow cards in hand without consequence.

When everybody is done collecting their flock it is time to start the Loot Sharing. Each player simultaneously build their flock by using one their owls, all their sparrows and the cuckoo token if any. Now the topmost Magpie is flipped and each player compares their flock with the magpie. The players whose flock is stronger than the Magpie without going over 21 will get the spoils from the Magpies Hoard. All other players lose the round and don’t get anything. The Magpies Hoard comprises of a certain number of silver coins equal to the number of players plus 2. The way the coins are distributed is as follows. First the players without a cuckoo will get 1 coin first, starting with the smallest owl, afterwards the players with a cuckoo get 1 coin in ascending order of cuckoo strength. This keeps on going until all coins are awarded. Any player whose flock has a strength of exactly 21 also gets a gold coin.

When you have not reached the fourth round the player to the left of the dealer becomes the new dealer and prepares the next round. He collects all the sparrow cards and shuffles all the cuckoo tiles and reveal new ones. From now on the players can choose their second owl card. The dealer shuffles all the owl cards except for those in the play areas and reveals owls equal to the number of players. The dealer has the first choice between the revealed owls to place in its area. Now going clockwise each player chooses one owl to place in its area.  

At the end of the fourth round the winner is determined. If there is one player with 4 gold coins he becomes the winner. In the case of a tie the victory goes the player with the most silver among them. When there is still a tie the player with the smallest owl remaining will be victorious. If there is no player with 4 gold coins then the victory will go to the player with the most silver coins. In this case the gold coins are converted in to silver. 1 gold is worth 1 silver, 2 gold is 3 silver and finally 3 gold is worth 5 silver. Again in case of a tie the victory goes to the player with the smallest owl.

The artwork by Hunor Fogarasi is beautiful. I love how all the different Sparrows, Owl and Magpies look. The game itself is an interesting take on blackjack. Although you only have 3 actions to choose from you really need to think about them. When is the best time to start playing the cards to your flock. Are you going to be able to follow the discard row or do you want to go for the quick out and take the highest Cuckoo. These choices also shine through in the Dealing phase where you want to setup your hand for the way you want to play this turn. Knowledge of the sparrow deck helps in this manner because there is only one 1-card, two 2-cards and so on. Also the blue colored sparrows are much more present than the white ones. These are things you have to keep in mind when looking at the discard row and which cards to play there. Also included in the game is an advanced variant with 5 action tokens that let you do some neat stuff like look at the top 2 Magpie cards so that you know what’s coming, swap an owl card with another player or discard more than one card when discarding to the discard row and so on. The first time that you explain this game everybody has a feeling that they do not know what to expect but once in the game the finer details start to pop-up. At the end everybody usually wants to play again and start discussing that they should have done this or that. All in all Cuckooo! is a great, fun card game with meaningful decisions and beautiful artwork. Again a hit in our group but be warned, during play you might hear Cuckoo once or twice…..

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