Recently I bought a lot of board games and one of games in the lot was today’s game Deer in the Headlights. It was basically a throw in as I really didn’t have any interest in it especially since it is a game that I regularly see at garage sales and thrift stores. Honestly the only reason I even decided to give the game a play was so I could get rid of it as I don’t generally like getting rid of games before I give them a chance. Therefore I had pretty low expectations heading into the game. Deer in the Headlights definitely has its issues as it has no strategy and relies almost entirely on luck, and yet for some reason I enjoyed it more than I was expecting.
How to Play Deer in the Headlights
- Shuffle the cards and deal them all out to the players face down. The instructions don’t specify if you use one or both decks at the same time. I would guess you should use one deck if there are four or so players, and both decks if there are more players.
- Place the dice in the center of the table where everyone can reach them.
- Write each player’s name on one line of the score sheet.
Playing the Game
The dealer will start each round.
You will begin your turn by rolling the dice and taking an action based on what you roll on the dice.
Three Numbers – If you roll three numbers you will discard all of the cards from your hand that match the three numbers that were rolled. If you don’t have any of the numbers that were rolled, the other players can give you all of their cards that match the numbers that were rolled.
Two Numbers + Deer in Headlights – You may discard all of the cards from one of the two numbers that you rolled.
Two Numbers + Car – You will pass all of the cards from your hand that match the two numbers that were rolled to another player(s). You may give all of the cards to one player, or you can give some cards to two or more of the other players.
Two Numbers + Running Deer – You will discard all of the cards from your hand that match the numbers that were rolled. You can also choose one other number and discard all of the cards of that number from your hand as well.
Number + Deer in Headlights + Car – You will pass all of the cards that match the number rolled to one or more of the other players. You will also get rid of any cards that add up to the number that was rolled.
Number + Deer in Headlights + Running Deer – Look at the number that was rolled. If the number is odd, you will discard all odd numbered cards from your hand (not including Kings, Queens, Jacks). If the number is even, you will discard all even cards.
Two Deer in Headlights + Number – Lose a turn.
Two Deer in Headlights + Car – Choose another player who will lose their turn. Roll the dice again.
Two Deer in Headlights + Running Deer – Choose two cards/numbers and discard all of your cards of the two chosen numbers/face cards.
Three Deer in Headlights – Gather all of the cards that have been discarded in the round and add them to your cards. Your turns will also be frozen until you can roll a Deer in the Headlights symbol on your turn. After you do this, play for you will return to normal.
After discarding any cards, play will pass to the next player clockwise.
End of Round and Scoring
The round ends when one of the players gets rid of the last card from their hand.
The player who got rid of all of their cards will score zero points for the round.
The rest of the players will score points based on the value of the cards left in their hand. Jacks, Queens and Kings are worth ten points. Aces are worth one point. Points scored are written on the corresponding section of the score pad.
If none of the players have scored 150 or more points, another round will be played. All of the cards will be re-shuffled with the player to the left of the previous dealer becoming the new dealer.
End of Game
Once someone has scored 150 or more points from the played rounds, the game will end. The player that has scored the least points will win the game.
My Thoughts on Deer in the Headlights
Deer in the Headlights is pretty much as straightforward of a game that you could ever play. Basically the whole gameplay comes down to rolling the dice and taking an action based on the combination that you roll. Your goal is to try and get rid of all of your cards before the other players. The cards that you have left in your hand at the end of a round score you points. After a number of rounds, the player who has scored the least number of points will win the game.
I am not going to sugarcoat it. Deer in the Headlights is a game that some people will enjoy and others will absolutely hate. This mostly comes from the fact that the game has next to no decision making or strategy and thus relies almost entirely on luck. There are a couple of combinations which allow you to choose a number(s) to discard or a player which you can impact. As you don’t know what will happen on your future turns, these decisions are kind of random as you can’t implement a strategy that will improve your odds in the game. Most of the time it is also really obvious what decision you should make. The only “strategy” that could maybe help you in the game is to be able to see the future to know what you and the other players will roll on future turns.
Since there is no real strategy to Deer in the Headlights, your fate in the game relies entirely on the roll of the dice. Whichever player is best at rolling the combinations that allow them to get rid of the cards from their hand will win each round. Outside of somehow mastering rolling specific sides on dice, you really don’t have much impact on what ultimately happens in the game. This is definitely going to frustrate some players as it feels like you have no control over what happens in the game.
On top of this the game can have wild swings for the players. Some of the dice rolls can be quite powerful while others can destroy your game. For example being able to get rid of all of the odd or even cards from your hand could remove around half of your cards with one roll. Meanwhile you could roll the combination which forces you to pick up all of the cards from the discard pile. If this is far into a round you could end up picking up most of the deck of cards. Then there is the combination of rolling three numbers which allows you to get rid of cards quickly. If you don’t have any of the numbers though it allows other players to give you cards. In many rounds your fate will swing back and forth pretty wildly where you can go from first to last and vice versa based on one roll. Along with the fact that you don’t have much control over your fate, Deer in the Headlights can regularly feel quite random where no one knows who will eventually win a round.
Based on everything I have written so far, I normally would not like a game like Deer in the Headlights due to its almost complete reliance on luck with next to no strategy. The wild swings in fate and the game just feeling completely random don’t help either. There was no reason that I should have enjoyed Deer in the Headlights, and yet for some reason I kind of did. The game is far from great as it has the glaring issues that I have already mentioned. I was honestly surprised by the game though as it was more fun than I expected. I am not entirely sure why either.
I would guess one of the contributing factors is that the game is quite easy to play. You basically just roll dice and take an action based on the combination that was rolled. That pretty much sums up all of the rules to the game. The actions are quite straightforward. Honestly the only difficulty comes from trying to remember what each combination in the game does. This can be quite annoying at least when you first start playing the game. The game has a surprising number of combinations where it will take some time to remember what you do for each. You will eventually start remembering what to do for each, but at least for a while you will have to regularly refer back to the chart to see what you are supposed to do.
The game’s simplicity leads to it being one of those type of games that you can just sit back and play without really putting too much thought into what you are doing. Deer in the Headlights is far from deep, but sometimes it is just fun playing a game where you don’t really have to make any decisions. On top of this the game actually reminded me quite a bit of a game I used to play when I was young with my extended family. They referred to the game as “Polish Bingo” even though I have no idea if that is actually the real name of the game. I remember playing the game a lot. In the game you would roll two dice and get rid of all of the cards from your hand that matched the combined value of the two numbers you rolled. If you ever rolled a seven you would then put in a chip/penny and the player who won the round would take all of the pennies/chips as the reward for winning the round. These two games are not exactly the same, but while playing Deer in the Headlights it reminded me a lot of the times as a kid where I really enjoyed playing this game. I am not sure if nostalgia clouded my judgement of Deer in the Headlights since it easily could have. Every so often I enjoy playing a really simple game where you don’t have to put too much thought into what you are doing.
Lets move onto the game’s components. In general I thought they were fine, but also not anything special. That is kind of expected for a game that didn’t cost much when it was first made, and it is really cheap if you want to pick up a copy today. The dice are engraved and are made of wood which is nice. I could see the paint chipping off the dice pretty easily though. Otherwise the game comes with two decks of standard playing cards and a scorepad sheet. While there is nothing wrong with either of these components, they do illustrate that most of the game’s components aren’t all that necessary. Outside of the special dice you could easily make your own version of the game with items you likely already have around your home. With the game’s cheap price and the fact that it comes in a small box, this isn’t as big of a problem that it otherwise would have been.
Speaking of the components I wanted to quickly talk about the fact that the game comes with two decks of cards. The game never mentions what to do with these two decks though. It doesn’t say whether you are always supposed to use both decks or if you are only supposed to use both if you play with more players. I personally believe you should only use one of the decks if you have four/five or less players in the game. With only that many players in the game each player gets too many cards if you use both decks. On top of this the penalty for having to pick up the whole discard pile should you roll the corresponding combination is killer which I have personal experience with. One deck works considerably better as players get around the right number of cards. With more than five or so players though I would start considering using both decks, or players won’t get dealt enough cards to start each round.
Should You Buy Deer in the Headlights?
Heading into Deer in the Headlights I can’t say that I had high expectations. The game has a lot going against it. The game has very few decisions which are usually really obvious. This leads to the game relying almost entirely on luck. To top it off the game has wild swings back and forth as you can go from first to last or vice versa with just one roll. Normally I would not like a game like Deer in the Headlights and yet for some reason I kind of did. The game is just really easy to play. It is the type of game that you can just play without really putting much thought into what you are doing. The game also kind of reminded me of a childhood game that I really liked playing with my grandparents which might have lead the game to have benefited from nostalgia.
Deer in the Headlights is going to be a game that players will likely have wildly different feelings about. If you don’t like random games that rely almost entirely on luck, you will likely despise Deer in the Headlights. Those who sometimes enjoy playing a really simple and straightforward game though may get quite a bit of enjoyment out of the game and should think about picking it up.