Despite being created over 100 years ago, Gin Rummy and Checkers remain popular to this day. There has to be something compelling about a game for it to remain relevant for over 100 years. Both games have had quite a few variant rules created over the years leading to a lot of spinoff games. What is unique about today’s game Avanté is that it combines Checkers and Gin Rummy. A lot of people are probably thinking how could you combine those two games as one is a card game and the other is an abstract strategy game that utilizes a gameboard? I thought the same thing as the two games seem to have very little in common. For a game created in the 1960s though I give Avanté a lot of credit as the board game industry wasn’t particularly original around that time. I was skeptical whether the combination would actually work though. Avanté deserves credit for trying to do something unique but it utterly fails in creating a fun board game.
How to Play Avanté
- Each player chooses whether they are going to use the lighter or darker pieces. They will take both the checkers and the plastic markers of their chosen color. The players will place their checkers on the light colored spaces in the first three rows of their side of the gameboard.
- The black markers are set to the side and will be used by both players.
- Each player chooses one of the two decks of cards. They will shuffle their deck of cards and place one card on each black square on their side of the gameboard. The cards should be placed where the arrow points to the player placing the cards.
Playing the Game
Moving the Checkers
The movement in Avanté is very similar to Checkers. If you are familiar with how to play Checkers you can skip this section.
Players take turns moving one of their checkers. Checkers are moved towards the other player’s side of the board. A checker can be moved one space diagonally left or right from its current location.
When a checker is next to an opponent’s checker and the space on the other side of the checker is unoccupied, the player must jump the other player’s checker removing it from the board. If after jumping a checker there is an opportunity to jump another checker with the same checker they just moved, the player must jump that checker as well.
Whenever a checker reaches the other side of the gameboard, it is crowned. Another checker is placed on top of it which turns it into a king. Once a checker has become a king it can move towards either side of the board. Otherwise a king is treated like any other piece.
After a player has moved their checker, play passes to the other player.
The one unique mechanic in Avanté is that players can use their checkers to capture cards on the table. Once a checker has moved past the center line it has the opportunity to capture a card. A king can capture cards from either side of the gameboard. Instead of moving a checker on your turn you can capture a card. A checker can capture a card on either its left or right side. A king can capture any neighboring card.
To indicate that a player has captured a card, they place one of their markers on the card they captured. On each card there will be several different playing cards. When a player captures a card they must choose which of the playing cards that the captured card will represent. The player will place their marker over the chosen card so the players can remember which one was chosen. This choice is final and cannot be changed later in the game.
The players will then search for the same card on the other side of the gameboard. When they find the corresponding card they will place one of the black markers on the card. This is to indicate that the card can no longer be captured.
Finally the player will remove the Checker from the board that captured the card.
Creating Set and Runs
The reason players try to capture cards is to use them to create runs and sets like Gin Rummy. For those of you not familiar with Gin Rummy:
- Runs are a group of three or more cards of the same suit in numerical order. For example the four, five and six of hearts would be a run.
- Sets are a group of three or more of the same number but in different suits. For example the nine of clubs, hearts and diamonds would be a set.
In order for a run/set to score points at the end of the game, one of the players has to acknowledge the run/set. Once a run/set has been acknowledged, all of the cards used in it cannot be used for another run/set. The one exception to this rule is if a player is able to form both a set and a run with the card they just captured. In this situation they can use the card for both the set and the run.
Players can continue to add cards to one of their runs or sets in order to score more points. The other player can freeze a set or run though by capturing cards in it. If the other player captures the fourth card to a set, the player who originally played the set is unable to capture the last card in the set. If the other player captures a card on either the high or low end of a run, no other cards can be added on that end of the run.
End of Game
The game ends when one of the players have lost their last checker or cannot move their remaining checkers.
The players will then score the sets and runs they created during the game. Players will score points based on the cards they were able to capture for sets and runs. If a player uses a card to freeze the other player’s set/run, the player using the card will receive the points for the freezing card. Each card that is used in a set or run is worth its face value. Jacks, queens and kings are worth ten points. If an ace is used as a one it is only worth one point. If the ace is used in a set of aces or after a king in a run, it is worth fifteen points.
Any cards that a player captures that aren’t used in a set or run are worth negative points. All of the numbers are worth negative points equal to their face value. Jacks, queens, and kings are worth negative ten points. Aces are worth negative fifteen points.
After combining the players’ positive and negative points, the player who scores the most points wins the game.
My Thoughts on Avanté
As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, I was intrigued by Avanté’s concept. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a big fan of Checkers or Gin Rummy. I don’t mind either game but there are many games that I would prefer playing. I was intrigued by Avanté because it strove to do something unique which is particularly rare for a board game made in the 1960s. While most people would just make a game that slightly tweaked Checkers or Gin Rummy, very few people would consider combining two games that are so different. I was a little skeptical about whether it would actually work but credit is due to the designer for trying something unique. I am not aware of anyone else ever trying to combine Checkers and Gin Rummy.
Unfortunately I think the reason no one else used the concept is that is just doesn’t work. I was skeptical that two very different mechanics could be combined to create a good game. My first impression was correct. The game had an uphill battle as it is hard to combine a card game with an abstract strategy game. The two games have nothing in common and that becomes clear while playing the game. Playing Avanté feels like you are playing Checkers with a card mechanic slapped on for no apparent reason. This leads to Avanté being kind of a mess.
Of the two games Checkers plays a much larger role in the game in my opinion. Most of the gameplay is based around the Checkers mechanics. You can’t even capture any cards if you aren’t able to get your checkers past the middle of the gameboard. If you are terrible at Checkers you stand no chance of winning the game. While you ultimately win or lose based on the Gin Rummy mechanics, the better Checkers player will win the game most of the time. This is because you use the Checkers mechanics in order to capture cards.
Unless we were overly focused on capturing each others checkers, you likely will only be able to capture a couple cards each game. You are probably best off choosing one set or run that you will try to pursue as you likely won’t have time to capture more than that. This really limits the Gin Rummy mechanics in the game. The first player to successfully complete a set or run has a very good chance of winning the game. The whole Gin Rummy mechanic feels like it was tacked on in order to try and make a unique game.
Avanté ends up feeling broken. I really wonder how much it was play tested as there are obvious flaws in the game. For example there is a valid strategy in the game where you aim to score zero points. You begin by letting the other player capture one or two cards. You then just have to prevent them from taking the last card they need for the run/set. There is no need for you to capture any cards if you can prevent them from getting the third card they need. They will score negative points for the cards they captured and you will win with zero points. For this reason I think the game would have benefited from players not losing points for cards that aren’t used in a run or set. This would have encouraged players to capture cards and then try to create runs and sets with them at a later time.
Another rule that I think creates issues is that once a card has been claimed the same card on the other side of the board is blocked for the rest of the game. I am assuming this was done so a player couldn’t claim two of the exact same card. This rule hurts the game in my opinion as a player can literally claim a card just so the other player can’t claim it. I think it would have been better if each player could claim one copy of each card. This would have prevented players from having two of the same card and still gave players more options when forming runs and sets.
While both Checkers and Gin Rummy are simple enough on their own, combining them together makes Avanté more difficult than it needed to be. The game is not inherently difficult, but there are way too many nitpicky rules. You adjust to them eventually but they make the game take longer to learn than it should have. This is not helped by the original rules being written in a way where they are hard to follow. Avanté sells itself as a family game, but I think all of the nitpicky rules will make the game too difficult for younger children.
At the same time Avanté is just not very fun. As I said earlier I am not a huge fan of Checkers or Gin Rummy. Avanté finds a way to make both games worse. The game is just really boring as the two games don’t work well together. You are left with a game that is kind of a mess. You would honestly be better off playing either game individually. They will be easier to play and you will have more fun.
All of these problems extend to the components as well. I will preface this by saying that Avanté’s components should not be judged on the same level as modern board games. The game was created in 1967 and it was self published. These two facts force you to be a little more lenient when talking about the components. Avanté’s component quality is not very good though. The gameboard is a typical Checkers board with each lighter space being a different type of stone/gem. I like that the checkers are made of wood, but they are nothing special. The plastic markers are nothing special either. Basically the components serve their purpose but don’t do much else.
Should You Buy Avanté?
When I first heard the premise behind Avanté I was intrigued. Checkers and Gin Rummy are both games that are beloved by many people and have seen many variant games created over the years. I have never seen the two games combined together though. I give the designer credit for trying something new. Unfortunately the idea doesn’t work. The game feels like Checkers with a card game needlessly attached to it. For most of the game you are just playing Checkers while occasionally capturing a card. The Gin Rummy mechanics feel like an afterthought. You end up with a game that is a mess and feels kind of broken. The game is too difficult for children and too boring for adults.
While I wanted to like Avanté for actually trying to do something original, I just didn’t have fun playing the game. I honestly have a hard time recommending Avanté for this reason. Basically the only people that might enjoy the game are those that are looking for a game that combines Checkers and Gin Rummy. Otherwise I would recommend avoiding Avanté.