Sturgeon isn’t named after Sturgeon’s law (90% of everything is crud), but the name is appropriate. Actually, this small game from Minion Games and designer Russell Brown is about fish. Players try to get two sturgeons on their side of the lake, but that requires patience and careful build-up of fish.
Overview of the rules
Each turn, player draws one card and then can play any number of cards, one of which can be a fish. Minnows can be played straight from hand to table. Playing a bass requires the sacrifice of two minnows from table and to play a mighty sturgeon player must discard two basses.
The trick here is that the fish you discard don’t have to be yours. You can always discard your own fish, but if you play a Swim card, you can use one from your neighbour. Play two and you can go fishing further and so on. So far so good.
There are other cards like Weeds and School that you can use to protect your fish from greedy players. Weeds hide a single fish so it takes one extra Swim card to eat it. School can be played on two identical fish and from then on those fish can only be eaten together.
Chase cards change the direction of game and the direction of player order, which affects the Swim cards (with one Swim card you can eat from the next player in the direction of play and so on).
Once you get two sturgeons in play, you win.
Reversal of fortunes
I very much prefer games where the game state must progress. Take for example Antike, where once you build five cities, you score a victory point. The clever bit is that you then can never lose that victory point, even if you lose the cities. So, whatever happens, the game is that much closer to the end and will stay that way.
That is a beautiful principle that usually makes sure a game won’t take too long and that the length of the game is fairly predictable. I understand this is somewhat a question of taste. For me, it would be a horror to find out that after an hour of play, the game has returned to a state where it was 45 minutes ago.
I suppose you’ve guessed already: this happy situation isn’t true in Sturgeon. No other fish eat sturgeons, but there are two Sturgeon Fisherman cards in the pack. When a Fisherman is played, it will remove from play the first sturgeon it meets. It’s possible to avoid the Fisherman by playing a Swim card, but those are in short supply.
Getting a Sturgeon into play takes a lot of effort. Play minnows, upgrade them to basses, get a sturgeon… That isn’t easy, either, as it’s slow going if you have to play all those fish yourself and Swim cards are rare enough to make eating fish from other people a tedious process.
Then comes the Fisherman — and there are two of them, so one is never far — and gets your sturgeon. All that effort is simply wasted and the game is pushed back from ending.
The basic idea of Sturgeon isn’t bad. The art, while a bit muddy, is nice. The cards are the usual weak Minion Games quality that requires sleeves to see them survive even the first game. There’s some interaction and the goal of the game is simple. Not bad, right?
The Fishermen, however, kill just about all interest in the game. We played the game once, and didn’t even finish — when we quit, everybody was simply happy to see the game end. The Fishermen killed the game, but that’s not all — the lack of Swim cards (numerous as they are) made the game simply boring. With more Swim cards the game would be more dynamic.
Sure, I can see someone enjoy Sturgeon. Like fishing? Check. Want an easy game? Check. Some lightly hostile interaction? Check. Don’t mind that the game can drag on and on? Check. I mean, if somebody wants to play cards for couple of hours and doesn’t really mind if it’s a single long game or several shorter matches of the same game, the way the Fishermen drag the game probably doesn’t matter. I suppose eventually winning an epic game where all the sturgeons get fished away would be worth something.
For me, however, it’s painfully obvious that there are literally dozens of better short card games than Sturgeon, all less frustrating and more reliable. This is a very densely populated niche, especially as there’s some competition from the realm of traditional card games, so “almost good” just doesn’t cut it.