The characters in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are staging a grand parade!
Although it’s not the kind of parade you may expect. This parade involves playing cards and determining who has to take cards and who scores points (which, in typical Alice in Wonderland nonsensical fashion, is bad).
Are you mad enough (in the British sense) to be the hattest hatter of all? Find out in Parade!
How It Works
Parade is a card game for two to six players. Players take turns placing cards in the parade, trying not to claim cards. The player with the fewest points at the end of the game wins.
To start Parade, each player receives a hand of five cards. Then, a “parade” of six cards is laid out by the draw deck. The card closest to the deck is the front of the parade; the card farthest away is the end of the parade.
A player’s turn consists of three steps: add a card to the parade; determine whether cards must be claimed; draw a new card. Players add cards to the end of the parade. The number on the card determines the number of cards toward the start of the parade that are “safe,” that cannot be claimed. Among the non-safe cards, the player must take all cards that match the color of the played card and that are the same number or lower. Any claimed cards are placed in front of the player by color so that all players can see claimed cards.
The game ends when either the draw deck is exhausted or one player has claimed at least one card of all six colors. Each player takes one more turn (without drawing a card). Each player then secretly and simultaneously chooses two of their four remaining cards to add to the cards they’ve claimed.
Players score points for the face value of each card they’ve claimed. However, if a player has claimed the most of any color, each of the cards of that color scores only 1 point for that player. The player with the fewest points wins.
A Mad Tea Party, or Off with Their Heads?
Parade is a brilliant card game that has next to nothing to do with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And I’m okay with that.
Parade is staged completely around an interesting mechanism for taking and avoiding cards. Consider the mechanism similar to the electronic talking component of The Omega Virus, or the mouse trap in… Mouse Trap: the game is an excuse for the mechanism. Whereas this can make for a boring game if that game lasts an hour, in the case of a filler game, this is perfectly acceptable, which is why I consider Parade brilliant. It’s novel, and the gameplay is distilled enough to keep the interesting aspects of it front and center.
And what are the interesting aspects? Parade has a great deal of tension. First, there is the tension inherent in playing cards. As the game is won by taking the fewest cards, the safest option is simply not to play cards. But since this is a game and the rules preclude this option, players must weigh every card play carefully lest they be saddled with unwanted points. Each look at the parade offers a new tense choice. How do I avoid taking cards at all? Which leads to the second tension of the game: the tension between the short and the long game. There are cards in the early game that will allow you to avoid taking cards altogether. The parade is only six cards long? A 6 or higher is safe, full stop. But is playing the 8 the best move? If you play your 8 now, you temporarily avoid taking cards, but you may be setting yourself up for failure later on, when you might need the added protection that an 8 offers. So players not only have the tension of playing a card at all, but also the tension between playing well now and playing well later. Playing for now is great if your opponent takes cards, but it can be disastrous if they stay one step ahead of you.
And this leads to the final tension: deciding when and which cards to take. Taking cards is an inevitability in Parade, but the tension comes in knowing which cards are safer for you to claim. Taking one card of a color can be bad if it’s a 10; taking five cards of a color lessens the risk, since if you secure a majority in a color, each card is worth only 1 point apiece. It’s great when you can pull this off, but the tension is that you won’t always get what you want. If you start collecting purple, there’s nothing to stop your opponents from taking them as well, and you only get the benefit of multiple cards if you have a clear majority. The feel of Parade is similar to when the pile is frozen in Canasta: players are constantly on edge that the parade could blow up at any time on any turn. This makes the game great fun to play.
I said that Parade is based almost solely around an interesting mechanism, and while that’s true, that’s not to say that the components are bad. The components included in the box are stunning. The game has nothing to do with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, despite the patter at the start of the rulebook, but I like Lewis Carroll’s classic, and the art is something nice to look at when I’m planning my turn. The cards are high quality with a slick linen finish, and the rulebook is printed on high quality cardstock. The suits are distinct, and while the art is identical from card to card within a suit, it’s good art and well chosen. The game includes six cardboard coasters, which I can’t really wrap my mind around: they seem like single-use props and don’t really add any value to the package. I suppose they justify the publisher’s jump in price for a 66 card deck from the ~$10 price of the first edition to the $20 MSRP of the second. And, indeed, in a perfect world, I could have the quality and design of the second edition paired with the portability and price point of the first. But ours is not a perfect world, and $20, while steep when considering components alone, is not a bad price for the amount of game contained in the nice lined, linen-finished Parade box.
Parade accommodates two to six players, and it does a decent job at the player counts I’ve played with (two to four). I play Parade mostly as a two-player game with my wife, and it has quickly become one of her favorites, the game she often wants to play if she wants a game with tense decisions that doesn’t require her missing out on the sleep she so desperately needs with a newborn in the house. And the game is excellent with two (the only change is that, to secure a majority, you must have two more cards of a color than your opponent, which adds even more tension). The game is also great with three and four, but the feel is a little different. With more players, you sacrifice some of the control of the two-player game in favor of increased tension as the Parade may be too long for you to effectively manipulate it before it’s your turn again. I’ve not played with five or six players, but I imagine the game is best in the two- to four-player range so you have at least some control over the parade.
I wrote my top ten filler games article a while ago, and after playing Parade, I think I might need to revise that list. Parade is on the thinkier end of fillers, but it’s great fun to try to manipulate the parade to your advantage. It’s also a lot of fun sticking your opponents with points and steering a central course that allows you to play cards without claiming any points. Parade is not a meaty game, and like most fillers you may not want to play game after game in a row. But I’m not disappointed whenever this game hits the table.