Friday 9 February 2024

Five Three Five / Oh! Meow! Bow!


The Game

Five Three Five aka 535, Oh! Meow! Bow! is a climbing card game from Japan. Climbing games is something many non-gamers are familiar with too. Games like Big 2 (Cho Dai Dee), Fight the Landlord and Tichu are climbing games. Five Three Five offers some twists to the genre. It has numbers 1 to 15, but not 6 or 10. It doesn't have suits. The most unusual element is instead of playing a meld which is stronger than the current meld, you can add cards to the current meld.  

Generally in climbing games you deal all cards to everyone, and you compete to be the first to play all your cards. All players with cards left when one player goes out are penalised, and the penalty depends on how many cards you have left. The player who starts a series can play any meld type. For this series, everyone may only play the same meld type, and to play a meld it must be stronger than the current meld. When no one is able to top the current meld, the player who played the meld starts a new series. 

In Five Three Five there are three meld types - singles, sets (cards of the same number), and runs (cards with numbers in sequence). For sets and runs, you only need two cards. To beat the current single or set, you have to play another single or set with a higher number. That's normal. However if the current meld is a run, to beat it you have to play a run with lower numbers. So a 2-3-4 is stronger than a 3-4-5. 

The most unusual part of this game is instead of playing a stronger meld, you can add cards to the current meld to make it stronger. For example when the current meld is 11-11, you can add another 11 to it to make 11-11-11. It's still the same meld type, and it's stronger. This mechanism helps players get some single cards out. This is something quite different from standard climbing games. 

As you play melds, certain conditions force the series to end. You don't always wait for everyone else to pass. When a set reaches the maximum card count, e.g. four 7's, the series ends. There is no opportunity for another player to play four 8's. Whoever created the four 7's wins the series and starts the next one. Similarly, if a run goes up to five cards, the series ends too. Another way a series ends immediately is when you play a meld containing an 8. As long as this is not the opening meld, the series ends. 

Once a player goes out, the rest score points based on cards remaining. Every card has a point value, which ranges from 1 to 5. The 8's are worth 5 points each. Points are bad. You play several rounds until someone reaches 20 points. At that point, whoever has the fewest points wins the game. 

The Play

This is a climbing game with many surprises. It introduces quite a few quirks, and as a result how a game plays out can be quite unexpected. Well, or maybe I'm just a noob and I haven't fully grasped the game. I like the new mechanism where you can insert cards to an existing meld. In more traditional climbing games, often single cards which cannot form bigger melds are a challenge to get rid of, especially when their values are low. In Five Three Five they are not as helpless. Can that be a bad thing? Maybe. But for sure it's something different and interesting. There is always a feeling of hope. 

Without 6's and 10's, sequences get broken up. Runs are limited to within 1 to 5, 7 to 9 and 11 to 15. The game is quite unusual and it takes some time to grasp the strategies. It feels familiar and strange at the same time. 

Like typical climbing games, the moment you get your hand of cards, you have to start planning how to play it out. However you also have to watch how your opponents play and switch gears as necessary. You have to stay flexible. I would say more so than other games, because there is more unpredictability. 

The Thoughts

Most people are familiar with climbing games. Five Three Five injects quite a few twists and it is refreshing. Learning how it works is fun. This will work with casual gamers who already know the common climbing games. It's certainly good to try something slightly different than playing Cho Dai Dee only all the time over Chinese New Year holidays. 

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