12 Days is a short and easy trick-taking card game from Calliope Games. Based on the classic Christmas carol The 12 Days of Christmas, 12 Days does a wonderful job of combining the source material with functional gameplay and multiple ways to gain the winning score even when you are behind after the 12th and final round.
There are other times when playing a game feels like an old friend coming home for the holidays and making new stories with them. 12 days is very much how that feels.
12 Days is designed around the concept of a triangularly built deck. It has one 1, two 2s, three 3s, and so on up to twelve 12s. This is the same style deck that co-designer James Ernest (along with Mike Selinker) uses for his popular Pairs deck, and the 30 or so games you can play with a Pairs Deck you can play with the 12 Days deck, and vice versa. What makes 12 Days unique is that where a standard Pairs deck only goes up to ten 10s, this goes up to 12 and has two cards labeled as 0 (more on that later).
Gameplay is simple. There are 12 cards that represent the 12 days of Christmas, each day worth one more point than the last. Everyone takes a hand of 12 cards from the Gift deck, passes one “gift” to their left and plays one card face down on the table. When the cards on the table are revealed the player with the lowest card has the best gift and wins the day and the points that day is worth. There are exceptions to this of course. If two players tie the next lowest un-tied card wins. The other exception is those two cards labeled 0 that I mentioned earlier. 0 represents Santa and Mrs. Claus. 0 still wins the day, but that player doesn’t actually get the points, they need to give them to another player instead. Because Santa GIVES remember?
Since the first day of Christmas is only worth a single point, while the twelfth day of Christmas is worth 12 points, there is a distinct skewing of points as the game continues. That gets balanced with the second way to get points, set collection. If you thought that a 12 card hand is a bit big for only playing one card a turn, this explains why. At the end of the game, the player with the most of any given number will receive that many points. So with proper hand management, it’s easily possible to leap to the front of the pack.
Illustrated by Echo Chernick, all of the art has a beautifully vibrant, stained glass, theme to it. With each specific card based on the appropriate stanza of the original song, everything just fits in nicely.
This is an easy enough game to break out at a family gathering with non-gamers. A single set is intended for 3-5 players, but by adding in a second set it can easily accommodate up to eight, but there is likely to be more ties. All told, this is something that is very much going to stay at the top of my holiday gaming pile.
There is really only one way properly celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas in Canada, and that’s with SCTV’s Bob & Doug Mackenzie (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas):