A deck of curiosities
It is impossible to play the solitaire PnP card game The Brambles, and not marvel at the artwork John Burton chose for it. I therefore dedicated a separate article exclusively on the origin of these images. In this post, we are going to only focus on the gameplay.
You are playing as the Teller, a spiritual person with the power to save two children caught in the haunted brambles. Your strength lies in the pack of cards you have in your possession. If you combine them right, the evil spirits will be defeated and you'll get the children back.
I will refer here to the latest version of the rules that includes 3 "Flux Convergence" cards. This is important, because they add a bit of strategy to a mostly luck-driven game. To begin, you reveal the first six enemies from the hex tiles deck and draw 6 cards from the main card pile. The cards are divided in 5 suits of 14 cards each, with titles somewhat similar to those of the tarot. Your goal is to collect sets of three cards either in number order, or three of the same suit, or three of the same number etc. The enemies are also colour-coded, and each type can be defeated by a specific card combination, e.g. green-coloured enemies can be taken out if you play three cards of the same number.
Besides the numbered cards, the main deck also contains Bramble curses: cards that clog your hand, taking up vital space. These can be removed if you use your Shears (special cards showing a pair of scissors), or by successfully attacking an enemy. In the deck we also find The Seers: three faces with some sort of vision apparatus who can help you get cards from the discard pile back into the deck. Finally, there are the Flux Convergence cards. These act as storage spaces. You can place a card from your hand on a Flux card, in the hope of being able to use it later while also freeing some space in your hand.
Other than push your luck, there is not much you can do if cards don't go your way. The Flux cards let you decide which cards may come in handy eventually, and the Seer cards are necessary for preventing the deck from running out too soon. Losing isn't really frustrating though, because you can immediately reset and try again, and turns go by quickly.
In all honesty, even though the artwork is a joy to look at, I didn't feel any connection between the images and the theme. The evil hexes are illustrated with scenes from Holbein's Totentanz, showing Death taking the life of nobles, merchants, clergymen etc. When matching cards to beat a hex, I was feeling like attacking Death himself, not the poor person being dragged to his end. This is no problem, however, as the game is very pleasant anyway (I will include it in my small card game rotation).
If you can stomach some luck of the draw, it's a fun game you can play to unwind. And if PnP isn't your thing, John Burton is planning to bring it to the Game Crafter. (We'll let you know when he does). Check it out and don't get tangled in those prickly brambles.