Usually I wouldn’t even give a game like Smiley Face a second thought. Trying to cash in on the popularity of emoticons didn’t seem like a good premise for a card game. The only reason I decided to give the game a chance was because the game was created by Bruno Faidutti and published by Fantasy Flight Games. For those of you who are not familiar with Bruno Faidutti, he is a well known board game designer who has created some well loved board games throughout the years. Despite being designed by a good board game designer, my first opinion was pretty accurate as Smiley Face is not a great game.
How to Play Smiley Face
- Each player chooses a color and takes the playing token and helping hand token of that color.
- Sort the round cards placing the round one card on top and so on with the round seven card on the bottom. Place the stack of round cards on the table.
- Shuffle the four rank cards. Place the top card on the table with the next card below it and so on. The lowest ranked card is flipped upside down. Place the +1 token on the top ranked card.
- Place all of the reward tokens face down on the table and mix them up.
- Shuffle the rest of the cards and deal out cards to each player. The number of cards dealt to each player depends on the number of players.
- 4-6 players: 7 cards
- 7 players: 6 cards
- 8 players: 5 cards
- Choose the first player using any method you prefer.
Playing the Game
Smiley Face is played for seven rounds. Each round begins with all of the players drawing enough cards to reach the number of cards listed in the setup section. After drawing cards the round begins with the starting player. Other than the first round, the player who won the previous round starts the next round.
On a player’s turn they will choose one of the following actions:
- Play an emotion card
- Play a mischief card
- Pass and play a helping hand token
When playing an emotion card each player places the card face up in front of them. A player plays all emotion cards in front of themselves and groups them by color so everyone can see what cards the other players have played. The goal with playing emotion cards is to play cards to create a high total in one of the colors.
When a mischief card is played the text on the card is read. Usually the effects of a mischief card are applied immediately. Once the effects are applied, the mischief card is discarded. If the card has a lasting effect though the card stays in front of the player who played it.
Passing and Helping Hand Tokens
When a player cannot play a card or chooses not to, they have to pass their turn. They tip over their token to indicate that they have finished playing for the current round. Once a player skips their turn they cannot play a card on a future turn in the current round.
When passing a player has the option to help one of the other players. To help a player they give the player they help their helping token as well as one of the cards that they have already played in front of themselves. Only one player can help each player. Once a player has passed a card to the player they are helping, they sit out the rest of the round.
End of the Round
The game continues until all of the players have passed. Once everyone has passed, players will count up their color that is worth the most point. All of the cards from the lowest ranked color are worth zero points. All cards from the two middle colors are worth the values printed on the card. All of the cards from the top ranked color are worth the values printed on the card plus one point for every card of that color. Everyone compares their highest valued color. The player with the highest valued color takes the current round card which is worth points at the end of the game. If two players are tied, the round card is discarded and neither player wins the round.
If any of the players helped the player who eventually won the round, they get to take one of the reward tokens. The player can look at the reward token’s value at any time but they shouldn’t let the other players see it.
Before starting the next round, the lowest ranked color becomes the top color rank for the next round. The other three color cards are shuffled and placed in a row like at the beginning of the game. The lowest ranked color card is flipped over to the other side. Each player then can choose to discard any mischief cards they still have in their hand that they don’t want. Emotion cards cannot be discarded. All of the cards that were played and discarded are shuffled back into the deck. Everyone stands up their playing piece and the next round begins.
Winning the Game
After all seven rounds have been played players count up the points they earned during the game. Players count up the points on the round cards they won as well as the points on their reward tokens. Whichever player has the most points wins the game. If there is a tie the player who won the most rounds wins the game. If it is still a tie, the players share the victory.
My Thoughts on Smiley Face
At its’ core Smiley Face is a family card/set collecting game. The game is played in rounds as players take turns playing cards as they try to get the most points in any one suit/color. While players can collect any color, each color has a different ranking which determines how valuable cards are from that color. So the goal of the game is to play cards of a color that is currently ranked high. If that was all that there was to the game, it would be pretty dull as the same mechanics are in many other card games. Smiley Face adds some special cards into the mix though that shake things up. The special cards can change the rank of the colors, increase or decrease the value of cards, or even end the round prematurely. The goal of Smiley Face is to utilize your cards to win as many of the seven rounds as you can.
Being a game made by Bruno Faidutti I had some expectations for the game. While the game’s theme and mechanics didn’t seem that interesting, Bruno Faidutti has a reputation for making good games so I thought that would be able to overcome the fact that I didn’t have a lot of interest in the game at first. Unfortunately Smiley Face is never able to do anything that is all that interesting.
Let’s start with the fact that Smiley Face is a pretty simple game. Usually I would consider this to be a positive as I am a firm believer in not making a game more complicated than it has to be. Smiley Face does a good job making the game simple enough that most people shouldn’t have any problems with the game. I don’t think the game will work with young children but everyone else shouldn’t have too many problems. With its’ simplicity I actually think Smiley Face could work well with people who don’t play a lot of board/card games.
The problem with the simplicity though is that it leads to there not being a whole lot to the game itself. The basics of the game are that of a very generic set collection game. You basically try to play as many cards of the same color as possible in a round. Since you don’t have any control over what cards are dealt to you, this part of the game comes down to being dealt the right cards at the beginning of the round. While there is nothing terribly wrong with these mechanics, it really doesn’t add anything new that I haven’t seen from other card games. This also leads to a pretty high reliance on luck. Get dealt good cards and you have a good chance of winning the game. If you are dealt bad cards though you don’t have much of a chance of winning the game.
Outside of the set collection mechanics the other major mechanic in the game are the mischief cards which allow players to tweak the game in their favor. The mischief cards range from letting you look at the other players’ cards, stealing cards, adding additional points to a player’s cards, changing up the ranks of the suits among other things. On the surface I really like the addition of the mischief cards. Without the mischief cards the game would be quite dull. The mischief cards mix things up and actually add some strategy to the game. Wise use of mischief cards can turn around a player’s situation. Some of the most satisfying parts of the game are when you use a mischief card to steal a round from another player.
This also illustrates the problem that I have with the mischief cards. The mischief cards are not created equally. Some of the cards are really powerful while others serve little purpose outside of very specific circumstances. If you get dealt the good mischief cards you can totally change a round or even decide to end a round with no winner (one card lets you do this). If you get dealt one of the bad mischief cards though you will basically play it for no effect or discard it at the end of a round. While it is satisfying stealing a round from another player it doesn’t really feel fair that players can just wait until the last minute and totally change a round. I can see this really frustrate some people.
The one mechanic that I was intrigued by was the mechanic where you can basically fold and help another player win the round. This mechanic was really interesting for a couple reasons. First it gives you an opportunity to score points in a round that you otherwise would have no chance of winning. I think the most interesting aspect of the mechanic though is that it adds a timing mechanic to the game. Since only one player can help each player, if you are going to help a player you have to find the right time to do it. Help too early in a round and another player may end up playing a better set of cards. Wait too long though and another player might help the winning player before you can.
The helping mechanic had a lot of potential and yet it doesn’t work as well as it could have. The reason it doesn’t really work is that it is quite easy to manipulate the mechanic. If you have no chance of winning the round you might as well help someone to give yourself a chance of scoring some points from the round. Since there are no rules on whether the card you give them has to actually be helpful, a player can “help” another player by giving them a random card that doesn’t actually help them at all. This kind of ruins the point of helping another player and feels more like you are just tagging along for the ride. When you add in the fact that the helping player can actually score more points than the player that won the round(in the early rounds), this mechanic is not as good in execution as you would expect.
So lets look at how a typical round plays out. The beginning of a round generally starts with players stalling by playing their lowest valued cards or mischief cards that don’t do much. The reason to stall is that you don’t want to show your hand too early in a round. Since there is no real reason to keep low point cards or mischief cards that don’t do much, you might as well play them at the beginning of the round hoping that another player has to show their good cards first. Once a player has played all of their worst cards they start playing some of their more valuable cards which includes colors they have a lot of cards for or mischief cards that will drastically change the round. You want to play your most valuable cards at the end so the other players can’t mess up your strategy.
Now that we have gone through the gameplay itself, lets talking about the scoring. I think the game’s scoring could have used quite a bit of work. I actually like the idea of how the colors have different values and those values change each round. I like that one color is worth more points while another color is worth nothing. Despite some colors being more valuable than others, the scoring is actually quite easy and quick. The problem is that too often two or more players will tie and neither player will score any points. This leads to too many rounds that are basically pointless.
The bigger problem with the scoring though is how the final scoring is determined. Basically you score points from the round cards you collect as well as any tokens you get from helping a player win a round. The first problem with the final scoring is the fact that you can end up scoring more points helping out the winner than the winner of the round receives. The other problem is that not all of the rounds are worth the same number of points. The first three rounds are only worth one point while the last two rounds are worth three points. I don’t think it is fair that a player can win the first three rounds and still only be tied with a player that wins one of the final two rounds. I can see the later rounds being slightly more valuable but being worth three times as much is an issue in my opinion.
With the type of game that Smiley Face is you would generally expect it to be pretty short as it feels like a filler game. The problem is that the game is a lot longer than you would expect because it has too many rounds. Instead of seven rounds I think the game should have been at max five rounds long and maybe even shorter than that. The game would have been best at 20-30 minutes but most games will last around 30-45 minutes. Towards the end Smiley Face just tends to drag a little.
As far as the components, Smiley Face is quite mediocre. The artwork is solid but is nothing special. The cards are quite typical of this type of card game. Otherwise the rest of the components are made of moderately thick cardboard. There really is nothing particularly wrong with Smiley Face’s components but they really aren’t special in any way either.
While I have spent a lot of time talking about Smiley Face’s faults I will still say that it is not a terrible game. It is nothing more than a very average to slightly below average game though. The game is a decent distraction and might appeal to people that don’t play a lot of card games. There are many card/board games that are better though. With all this said I feel comfortable saying that Smiley Face is probably one of Bruno Faidutti’s worst games.
Should You Buy Smiley Face?
Basically I see Smiley Face as a very average to slightly below average light set collection card game. The basic mechanics of collecting cards of the same color work fine and are easy to pick up. The mechanic is very generic though as there are a lot of games that use a similar mechanic. The mischief cards add some interesting twists to the game but some of the cards are way too powerful. I liked the idea of being able to help other players and yet the mechanic doesn’t work as well as it could. Add is some flawed scoring and there are issues with the game. The game is not terrible but you could find better games with similar mechanics.
If you aren’t interested is a light set collection game, Smiley Face is not going to be for you. If you are looking for a light card game for people that don’t play a lot of card games though you might get something out of the game. I would only recommend picking up the game though if you can get a really good deal on it.