How to Play:
I’m sure every gamer has found themselves in a situation where they wish they could cheat. Whether they just wanted to beat their mean older brother at a family game of Monopoly when they were ten or wish they could gain an edge in a competitive tournament, almost everyone has contemplated cheating at some point in their life. Cheater is a Rummy-like set collection game that actually allows players the chance to earn the right to outright cheat.
The goal of the game is to gather letter cards of the same color and eventually build a perfect hand that will spell out “CHEATER.” To begin the game, remove the cheater card from the deck and place it in the middle of the table. Then, shuffle the deck and deal seven cards to each player. Place the remaining cards in the center of the table to form a draw pile and turn over the top card to make a discard pile. Each player rolls the dice to determine who starts the game (the player who rolled the highest number gets the honor).
Players begin each turn by rolling the dice to determine whether they can become the cheater. If they don’t roll doubles, they are not the cheater and their only option is to draw a card from the draw pile and either discard a card (including the one they just drew if it doesn’t help them) or play an action card (which I’ll get to later). Players should pick one color to go for (though having a backup plan in this game is a very good idea) and discard cards of other colors. After the player has drawn and discarded a card, play continues to the player’s left in the exact same manner.
When a player rolls doubles, they become the cheater and are given the cheater card. If someone already had the cheater card, they take it from that player and become the new cheater (the old one loses their power). Not surprisingly, it’s very good to be the cheater because they get an expanded amount of actions to choose from (though they can only pick one to perform each turn). Option one is instead of drawing one card from the draw pile, they can draw two (and discard two from their hand of course). The second choice is taking the top card from the discard pile (and discarding a card from their hand to get back to seven cards). Lastly, they can choose to be really evil and ask a player to see their entire hand. That player’s hand is then put on the table face up so everyone can see it (this will usually make it very obvious which color they are going for). To add insult to injury, the cheater also takes a card of their choice from that player (and discards a card from their hand into the discard pile). The player that lost a card immediately draws a new one to get back to seven cards.
A player remains the cheater until one of two things happens. First, if another player rolls doubles they take the cheater card and become the new cheater. The cheater can also lose cheater status by rolling doubles again. In this case, the cheater card goes back to the middle of the table and nobody gets to cheat until somebody rolls doubles again.
Cheater also contains some special action cards that can be played instead of just discarding a card. All of them can be played against any player, including the cheater. A “show” card allows the player to select an opponent who will have to show their entire hand to everyone playing. The second type of action card is the “take” card, which allows a player to take a card from any player they wish. The player that is being stolen from reveals their hand to the entire table and the stealing player takes a card of their choice (the player who lost a card draws a new one to replace it).
The most evil of the action cards is definitely the “bust” card. The player who owns it can play it to “bust” another player’s hand. That player’s hand is revealed for everyone to see. Then, the player who played the card rolls one die. The number rolled indicates how many cards that player can discard from their opponent’s hand. If they roll a six, they can discard six of their cards and basically take them back to square one. The player who lost their cards draws back up to seven.
Luckily, there is one action card that can protect you from these vile cards, the “hide” card. A hide card is a defensive card that can be used to nullify a take, show, or bust card played against you. It can also be used to prevent the cheater from looking at and taking one of your cards. To prevent any of those actions from happening, you must discard the hide card to the discard pile. The action doesn’t happen, the action card is discarded, and both players (the one using the action card and the one using the hide card) draw a card to replace the one they used. Finally, the last action card is the “wild” card, which can be used as any of the other four action cards (show, take, bust, or hide card).
Play continues until a player can use all seven cards in their hand to spell out “CHEATER” using just one color. As soon as someone has it, they yell “Cheater” and win the game.
Cheater definitely isn’t a perfect game. Players get to see their opponents’ cards way too often, games usually go a bit too long, some of the action cards are overpowered and can be very frustrating, and the game is heavily luck-based. However, as a casual game to play while conversing or as a filler game, I don’t think it’s too bad.
The biggest problem I have with the game is that everybody gets to see their opponents’ hands way too often. Since the cheater will often use their ability to steal and almost all of the action cards require hands to be shown to everybody, each hand will be exposed at least once every couple times around the table. You almost might as well just play with all hands exposed on the table at all times with how often they are revealed. You will almost always know what color each player is going for at all times, making it very easy to know which cards you need to get rid of (so the player who needs it can’t steal it from you). The cheater also usually knows which player to steal from (who has the color cards they need or is closest to winning). It would be nice if hand sizes were a little larger so you could hedge your bets and attempt to hide the color you are going for.
Also, some of the action cards are overpowered, some by just a bit but a couple are almost rigged. If you aren’t lucky enough to draw hide cards, a lot of awful things will happen to you while playing Cheater. The take card normally would be pretty fair (just taking one card isn’t too bad). However, because information about players’ hands is usually pretty well-known (since they are exposed far too often), you will probably know who is holding a card you need (or who has an action card you’d like to steal).
The most rigged card is definitely the bust card (as well as the wild card since it can be used as one or any other action card you’d like). These cards are just plain cruel. Most likely the player targeted will be close to winning. If the roller rolls a five or six, they will pretty much have to start all over again. If bust cards could only discard a few cards (like one or two), they wouldn’t be so horrible. However, since the possibility of completely decimating a player’s hand exists, these cards are a terrible idea. On top of being frustrating and cruel (and possibly starting a fight between family or friends), they also make the game last a lot longer (since the person in the lead is most likely the target).
Between the constant hand showing and overpowered action cards, it’s a wonder we actually finished our game. Card games are usually quick little filler games that take less than thirty minutes (at most) to complete. Cheater took us almost an hour (and it could easily have been even longer). Since everyone knows how close their opponents are to finishing, the player in the lead will be targeted. Unless a player somehow stays under the radar or remains the cheater for a very long time, the game will swing back and forth multiple times. You’ll grow your hand into a decent one, have your hand revealed and players start targeting you, lose everything, start over again (possibly with a completely new color), and build up again. In some ways this is good (constantly changing situations and forcing players to adapt can make a game interesting) but since this is supposed to be a quick card game, it ultimately just ends up adding way too much time to the game’s length.
One variant rule I would consider adding to the game is allowing any player to pick a card (other than an action card) off the top of the discard pile (like the cheater can). The cheater power would then be to pick two cards from the discard pile instead of just one. In our game, we often had to just wait for the deck to be re-shuffled for a chance to get the card(s) we needed (adding a lot of time to the game). Trust me, it is very frustrating to see the card you need at the top of the discard pile and not be able to grab it (unless you are the cheater).
While there are quite a few negatives to the game, Cheater still isn’t horrible. With some rules changes, it could even be a solid game. Even in its current state, its not horrible as a filler game. It’s quite a bit of fun to play as the cheater and the role isn’t as overpowered as you would think (obviously they have an advantage but not a game-killing one). Also, the cheater should change at least every two turns around the table so they won’t keep their power for too long. If a player does keep cheater status for a long time, they will win, however that is statistically very unlikely.
With the exception of the overly cruel bust card, I actually like most of the action cards (except for the extra time they add to the game). Along with the cheater’s powers, they are constantly changing the game and forcing players to adapt as the game goes on. In the game I played, I had to switch colors twice (including once very late in the game after everyone raided my hand when I was close to winning). However, I gained cheater powers and came out of nowhere to build a winning hand in just a few turns around the table. While the game doesn’t have a ton of decision-making, you will have to adapt to changing circumstances (which is a good thing in gaming).
The components in Cheater are pretty basic and boring and the art isn’t anything special. However, the game comes in a very small box (basically the size of a deck of cards) so it doesn’t take up much room and is very portable. One thing I wish the game would have done is include text describing the cheater’s powers on the cheater card (so players don’t have to keep asking what they can do). From a price point, Cheater is a very cheap game, currently (as of this review’s publication date) retailing for just $7.59 on Amazon. The game was also included free with Slide 5 at one point so it shouldn’t be too hard to find the game for a cheap price.
While I may have been pretty harsh on Cheater, I actually had a decent time playing it. Some of the rules are pretty bad and the games definitely take too long but there are some good ideas as well and it’s quite a bit of fun to “cheat.” Since the game is so small, I plan to keep it. I don’t see myself playing it often but it does make for decent filler.