In humanity’s darkest hours, as technology regresses and knowledge of mechanics fades, your task is to restore hope. Not based on your own measly, arrogant ideas. No, the world has re-discovered Plato’s Republic and you will forge a new Utopia based upon his philosophical musings with the aid of physics and engines and such. Never mind that the Athenian thinker had no such mechanical inclinations. He was decidedly headier in nature. Not to fear, though, the game has philosophers to help. And farmers. So maybe you should also scour old libraries for copies of Principia, Poor Richard’s Almanac, and perhaps even an old Microsoft manual. Alas, then the game would have to be called Plato-Newton-Franklin-Gates 3000 and, man, that’s a long title. Especially for just a little tuck box.
How it Works
Previously an independent print-and-play title called Utopian Rummy, CGF’s Plato 3000 begins as a straightforward, set collecting, card game. But things soon take a turn for the frantic as your various melded sets provide unique powers that can really twist and speed up play. To put it another way, it is Rummy on caffeine. Each player is dealt a hand of cards and the remainder comprises a draw deck. There will be two discard piles – a research discard and a scrap discard. On your turn, you must first add a card to your hand in one of two ways. You can draw the top two cards of the draw deck (called research), choose one to keep, and then discard the other to the research pile. Or instead of drawing, you may take a top card from one of the discard piles (called excavate).
Following that you may play various elements from your hand to your little version of utopia. One, if you have three similar Job cards, you can meld the set. You may only meld one set per turn. Also, you can play a Theory card, which grants you a special action or end-game scoring privilege. Like Job melds, you may only play one Theory per turn. The third action available is to extend your society, whereby you simply play one Job card that matches a melded set already laid down – either by you or your opponent. You may add to your tableau in this way as many times as you wish and are able. After playing, you end your turn by discarding one card from your hand to the scrap pile.
That’s the Rummy part. Pretty basic, right? But remember – it’s not called Rummy 3000. The Caffeine 3000 comes via special abilities which melded Jobs provide. Farmers allow you to keep both cards after researching. Fishermen will let you draw a third card. Soldiers let you destroy one element in another player’s society when you lay it down (either as a Job meld or when extending). There’s more. In addition to these different abilities, you can use Engines to meld Jobs without owning a complete set. Therefore, they essentially serve as wild cards, replacing 1 or 2 cards of a meld, provided you have at least a Job card to start. The drawback to using Engines is that they are worth negative points at the end of the round, even when laid to your tableau. However, if you have a set of Mechanics, then each Mechanic card offsets the point penalty of one Engine. The Theory cards also juice things up, allowing you to grab more cards or take advantage of your society’s diversification – that is if you have time to play several Job melds before the game ends and catches you with your pants down.
As soon as all players but one are out of cards (or the draw deck is empty), the round ends and everyone scores their societies. All cards left in hand are worth negative points, as are the Engines in your tableau that are not countered by a Mechanic. If no player has reached 100 total points, then additional hands are dealt and played until some one achieves the centum mark. In the 4-player team version, partners total their scores together to determine the winning duumvirate, and you may also decide on a higher victory total.
Utopia or Dystopia?
So, did you ever see that Brady Bunch episode where all the kids make a ginormous house of cards to settle some silly argument? Well, just think – now you can build a whole entire society out of cards! Just beware of dangling accessories. And don’t go calling the game Brady 3000, even though that iconic sitcom was a 1970s utopia by some people’s reckoning. In some ways, Plato 3000 is just like that groovy family. It is good, wholesome fun and the artwork is hopelessly out-of-style!
My copy of this enjoyable card game saw a fair number of sessions with family over the holidays. Most people know how to play Rummy, even children, so non-gamers should understand the basics. Despite being a traditional card game enthusiast myself, Rummy is one title that I do not enjoy playing – grudgingly consenting to do so only with my kids. Plato 3000, however, throws in its unique, game-changing abilities with Theory cards and Job melds that really spruce up the humdrum, set collecting mechanic into a match of wits, tactics, and unpredictability. All of this is simple enough for casual gamers to grasp, while still providing a bit of depth to entice hobby gamers.
Having said that, I imagine Plato 3000 will prove more receptive among families, non-gamers, and traditional card players. Its ease, fast pace, and randomness tend to generate a more laid back atmosphere. It is also inclined to a feeling of “sameness” after frequent plays within one sitting, which to me solidifies its character as a lighter, family-oriented game. The only minor hitch for casual gamers is that things can get a bit mentally fiddly. Sometimes, there are hang-ups with keeping track of which abilities your melded sets give and remembering when to use them – especially the more you have.
Serious hobby gamers might approach this paper republic with a bit more hesitation, and even then primarily as a filler. On the positive side, there are different routes to take with your cards, which provide tough choices that definitely make an impact. Should you play Engines to go out faster and risk losing points? Do you hold onto that Soldier in hopes of using it later – or merely to keep it away from your opponent? Should you gamble with Metaphysics to take a bunch of cards from one of the discard piles and pray you don’t get stuck with them? There is some inventive card play to crank your tactical gears and some creative meld combinations that will lube your strategic engines. But on the other hand, it is a card game, and so luck of the draw may foil your planning, even in just working with the original hand you are dealt. Serious gamers who loathe luck will probably not like Plato 3000, but then again, they’re not the target audience and I don’t see them gravitating toward card games of this style, anyway.
The game accommodates 4-players in teams of two, but that implementation lacks on a couple levels. Essentially you play a normal solo game as in the 2- and 3-player variants, merely adding your score with that of your mate. You and your partner are not allowed to reveal or discuss your hands, which is standard for traditional card games. But unlike the beauty of classic partner card games, there is no real sense of team play here – no need for savvy chemistry, no chance to feed your teammate, nor an opportunity to set him up for a cunning move. You can offer him two cards in trade, but there’s little point. If you have no idea what he holds, it is a completely blind maneuver. If you do have an idea what will help him, it’s likely you can just play it off him as an Extend action and your team gets the point, anyway. On top of that, the rules recommend combining two copies of the game for the team version. I’d say it’s a necessity – we exhausted the draw deck in more than one game, finding it difficult to collect sets with all the cards allocated amongst the quartet of players.
The 2-player version is very enjoyable for couples. It is fast, and can be unforgiving to the player who hesitates or holds onto cards to push their luck. The 3-player game is a different experience and really hums. As the game doesn’t end until two players go out, you can risk a bit of patience. Plus, you have more opportunities to play single Job cards on other players’ melds with your Extend action. In either configuration, be prepared for abrupt ends that can leave you fuming and your foes laughing.
Plato 3000 has a steampunk vibe about it, but that “theme” does not affect game play. It would be interesting to have actual people for the Job cards like Socrates and Nietzsche as Philosophers; or Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz as Soldiers. But, then again, who would be the famous Fishermen? Gorton and van Kamp? Instead, the thematic premise allows for some unique and appealing artwork that imaginatively, if somewhat eccentrically, represents futuristic Farming, Mechanical, and Fishing contraptions. Some are just plain head-scratching. The Priest card looks like Tim Burton drew the Pope-mobile. The Philosopher appears to be an airship for no reason other than steampunk requires them (though perhaps it’s the genre’s send-up to Plato’s Ship of State metaphor?). And guess what illustration is used for the Historian? A bicycle!? Yes, that was my second guess, too (though maybe it represents time’s first mechanical machine? Hmmm…methinks there’s something more transcendent going on here?!). Suffice it to say, the steampunk art is fun, whimsical, and irrelevant; though on a side-note, the designer’s name sounds perfectly appropriate for the motif!
Plato 3000 is an approachable card game that packs a tad more “oomph” than the little tuck box might first suggest. Perhaps a smidgen on the fiddly side in keeping all the meld abilities straight, this amusing and well-paced design will nonetheless appeal to casual gamers and families (most children 8+ would handle it fine, I believe). Rummy fans and other traditional card gamers should enjoy this spiced up version of the old classic. Even hobby gamers, armed beforehand with the knowledge of its randomness, are bound to appreciate its added tactical components, if only as a sophisticated filler, at the least. Does Plato 3000 achieve gaming utopia? Eh, that’s hard to claim. But proving accessible to such a broad range of gamer types is certainly a good start.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Cambridge Games Factory for providing a review copy of Plato 3000.