26 November 2018
One man’s trash is another man’s all-you-can-eat buffet
This game of ravenous racoons casts players as hungry critters scavenging through rubbish bins in search of delicious snacks and, with its small box and cutesy cartoon artwork, it positions itself alongside the likes of Sushi Go! and Love Letter as a quick and accessible option to kick off your game night.
Look a little closer, though, and you’ll discover there’s more to Trash Pandas than first meets the eye. Crammed into its diminutive packaging is a game that requires nerves, cunning and just a hint of sharp-clawed aggression.The action revolves around a deck of cards representing treasures concealed in piles of garbage: half-eaten pizzas, mouldy bananas, potent-smelling fish heads. It’s an irresistible buffet, and you’ll aim to grab as much as you can, amassing a bigger food hoard than your rivals.
You’ll do that with the aid of a six-sided die that you’ll roll at the start of your turn. Each side shows a different symbol, representing the various actions you can take in the course of a round: pulling new goodies from the bin, stashing them in your lair or stealing them from your opponents. You’ll be able to roll the die as many times as you like, but rolling the same symbol more than once ends your turn, leaving you sitting on the sidelines as your opponents tuck into their dinner.
It’s the kind of miss-a-turn mechanism that’s largely been eliminated from modern game design, and for good reason. But rounds progress so quickly in Trash Pandas that it isn’t long until you’re back in the game. It means you’ll constantly balance the desire to take more actions with the risk of losing them all, making for some tense moments as you push your luck and scrabble for your supper.
It’s only one element of the game, though. You’ll also have to think about the cards in your hand and how you use them. Storing them in your lair nets you points, but you can also discard them to take advantage of an array of special effects. Sacrificing a banana lets you ignore an unfortunate die roll, a kind of safety net against your own hubris and bravado. Discarding a cola can lets you re-roll the die. And scrapping a chocolate bar lets you force an opponent to keep rolling, even when they’d prefer to stop.
You’ll constantly try to evaluate whether the cards you hold are more valuable for their points, or for their powers. To add a little extra nuance, you’ll keep an eye on the cards your opponents play as well, attempting to discern the types of food they might be holding on to and mercilessly raiding anyone you suspect might be clutching high-value cards.
It’s a deftly executed design, barely more complicated than the other small and fast games lumped into the unfortunately-named ‘filler’ category. But it has a little more going on under the hood, never clunky or confusing, but enough to ensure it won’t be landing on your trash pile any time soon.
Trash Pandas is a deceptive beast. At first glance it looks like a quick and simple push-your-luck game. But once you’ve played a few turns it reveals new facets, with more interesting decisions and player interactions than most similar small-box releases.
Designer: Michael Eskue, Lisa Eskue
Artist: Kwanchai Moriya
Time: 20 minutes
This review originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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