The Ravens of Thri Sahashri
Teaching Time: 15-20 mins
Playing Time: 45 mins
Setup Time: 2 mins
Value For Money: High
There is one game I tend to repeatedly recommend to total strangers when I get the chance, and its The Ravens of Thri Sahashri. As a game its a little tricky to explain. It is, in short, an asymmetrical, limited communication, co-operative set collection game. If that sounds complex its a few steps simpler than the actual game. Player one generates a column of cards defining their needs for the game, player two lays cards into a tableaux which player one can select from to fulfill those needs. There are extra tweaks such as the cards having powers or being locked out of play by other cards and puzzle like restrictions on building the tableaux. Further additional restrictions are added with each successful play through. While this sounds like, and is, an immense amount to connect with on your first play it clicks into place surprisingly quickly, all the more so because of the silent, meditative manner in which the game is played.
Ravens looks beautiful, Osprey Games generally produce to a high finish and this is one of their finest. The deck is held in a lovely double sleeve and comes in an oversized format. The illustrations are elegant without being intrusive and while the creepy manga background will not be to everyone's taste it is immaculately done. All of which comes in a low cost package, but none of the above is why I recommend Ravens so often.
The experience of sharing Ravens is peculiarly special. You won't grab it to play with a stranger at a convention, you will need to learn and work together with your partner and end up developing a genuine understanding based upon real observation, interaction and intellectual empathy. Unlike the brilliant Hanabi, which relies on you needing to leap into the unknown occasionally, you can accumulate exactly the information you need in Ravens but only by very close and subtle interaction. Because the game has a slight legacy element, opening envelops with additional rules, you'll both need to grow and learn together. While this experience is one of the most intense and rewarding I've come across in gaming it is still not the sole reason for recommending Ravens.
I respect Ravens most of all because it achieves a magical slight of hand by virtue of its mechanics. At first while playing it can feel like the player controlling the tableaux is the only active one while their partner passively picks up cards as and when they happen to turn up. However, as further rules are added, meaning the tableaux has to be both extended and better controlled, the shift of power and agency turns until the player controlling the tableaux is servicing the other player who takes ultimate control of the game. Its subtle, elegant and extremely satisfying, particularly in the context of a game about a romantic relationship where shifts in the balance in power during a mutually beneficial journey to a point of better understanding hold an inherent and poignant meaning.
Ravens is a crafted gem of a game and for its price will give more satisfying plays per penny than any other game you're likely to encounter. Its subtle, beautiful and intelligent and fits in your pocket. If you see me at a convention and get talking, I'll still recommend it.