My age puts me squarely within Generation X. I am a child of the 80’s, with fond memories of every crazy, ridiculous, and lovable fad of the era. And there were many! But one that sticks with me more than some others is the Trapper Keeper binder. It was the center of my school world for years. There were colored folders that “trapped” your papers, rings that slid open and didn’t pinch you, and a handy Velcro closure that kept all your stuff from falling out. All accompanied by a sweet plasticky smell! And, oh, the thrill of going to K-Mart every fall and digging through the racks to find the perfect design. Which statement should I make this year? Animals? Sports? Eye-searing neon artwork? The world was wide open.
Imagine my joy, then, when my beloved Trapper Keepers returned to the shelves in board game form. In 80’s parlance, I went, like, totally mental, wigged out, and had to take a chill pill. As to what happened after that, read on.
How It Plays
The Trapper Keeper Game is a set collection card game. Players are stashing school cards in their Trapper folders and gathering sets which will score the most points at game’s end.
At the beginning of the game, the cards are shuffled and divided into decks of nine cards each. These decks are then laid out in a 3×3 grid and the top card of each deck is turned face up. A deck of six randomly chosen Bell cards is placed next to the grid, and the top card is turned face up.
On your turn, you must choose a row or column from the card grid and take the face up card from the top of each deck in the row/column. Alternatively, you can choose to take cards in the pattern shown on the current Bell card. Collect the top card from each deck according to the pattern shown by the red lockers on the card. Do not turn over the cards underneath the ones you take. If there are any empty stacks, or stacks with face down cards in the row/column/pattern you select, you simply do not collect cards from those areas.
Stash your collected cards in the pocket on either the left or right side of your Trapper folder. You cannot split cards between sides on a turn. You can look at your cards any time once they’re in the folder, but you cannot rearrange them. Position is important because at the end of the game you will score for any blue doodles on the left side of your folder, and any red doodles on the right side of your folder.
The next player takes their turn and play continues until each player has taken a turn. This marks the end of a round. A new bell card is revealed and it will be in effect for the next round. If at any point there are three or fewer cards visible on the grid, flip the top card of each face down stack until the grid is full again. If any stacks are depleted, they remain empty and are not replenished.
When the last bell card is revealed from the stack, each player takes one last turn and then scoring begins. Scoring has two phases. In the Doodle phase, you score those doodles mentioned earlier. Remove the doodles from each side of your folder and display them so that they are visible to all, keeping the blues and reds from each side separate. There are five doodle types and each is scored individually, with the player having the most of each doodle type earning five points, and the player with the second most earning two points.
Next, work your way through the School Paper scoring phase. Each player sorts their cards by type and pairs any Signature cards with either Report Cards or Field Trips to enable these cards to score. Starting with Quizzes, each card type is scored.
Quizzes: Worth the points shown on the card.
Homework: The player with the most earns six points, and second most scores three points. (Homework is also used when scoring Report Cards, explained below.)
Notes: There are notes from four different classmates. Each set of notes that you have earns points based on how many unique notes are in the set. For example, if you have a set of notes from all four classmates, you earn 12 points. If you have a set with notes from only two classmates, you earn three points.
Detention: Detention cards are worth two points each, unless you have the most detention cards, in which case you earn zero points for your detention cards.
Field Trips, Report Cards, and Signatures. Field Trips and Report cards score only when paired with a signature card. Each Field Trip card paired with a signature earns four points. Each Report Card paired with a signature scores one point for each Homework card you have.
The player with the most points wins.
Totally Tubular, or Grody to the Max?
I’m going to be honest. I enjoy the game, but the honest answer to the question, “Why should I buy this?” is because you want a trip down amnesia lane. You have fond memories of Trapper Keepers and your lost youth. If you are too young (or old) to remember the thrill of these binders, then there’s likely no reason to choose it over many other set collection games. It’s a fun little game, but it’s very simple and you can likely find something similar in a theme that better appeals to you. (Cat Lady is the closest choice, just in case you prefer felines over school. It shares the same, “Choose whole row/column card drafting mechanism.”)
Still and even so… The game inside the awesome binder package is a fun diversion. And it is a great way to suck people of a certain vintage into gaming. If an 80’s kid sees this on a table somewhere, I can almost guarantee that he or she is going to be intrigued enough to wander closer, inhale the familiar plasticky scent, and say, “What’s this, and how do I get in on it?”
The Trapper Keeper game is a very easy game to teach and play. It plays fast, too, which is useful when converting new people to gaming. You want to give them enough to interest them, but not enough to overwhelm and bore. Trapper Keeper does all of that very well. The rules are about a page long, with extra text explaining the card types. The only thing that might hang up a new person is the scoring. There’s an awful lot of counting to be done for such a quick game, and people who’ve never had to combo cards in order for them to score might not get it on the first play. The light goes on within one play, however, and then it’s easy-peasy.
As light as the game is, it does present a few interesting decisions. The first is which cards to take. Since you’re going to have to take a whole row/column, you want to pick the most beneficial cards for yourself. However, if there’s a chance that you can also take something that someone else likely wants, that’s good, too. If you’re paying attention, you can keep track of who’s gathering the most of something and try to win that majority for yourself. You can also try to stick others with extra detention cards so that the cards they have won’t score. What you leave behind is often as important as what you take.
You also want to keep track of not only which sets you’re collecting, but also how you’re doing in the doodle stakes. You have to decide which doodle will go on which side of your folder when you take the cards and there’s no rearranging. But what are your opponents putting in their folders? You’ll only gain points if you have the majority of a doodle type/color, so you need to keep an eye on who’s gathering what.
You’ll probably find yourself thinking, “Oh, if I take that card it’ll help me complete a set of notes, but the doodles on it won’t help me at all. Which would I rather have?” Or similar. There are choices to make and while very little can hurt you (detention cards are the only cards that can cause point loss), you want to maximize your points while remaining aware of opportunities to minimize your opponents’ points.
It’s worth noting that beyond the packaging, the game itself is true to its thematic roots. The components are all school themed. The person in charge of flipping the bell cards is the Teacher’s Pet and gets an apple to mark their status. The card backs look like lockers, and the fronts all look like miniature pieces of notebook paper. The folders are mini-Trapper Keepers and have scoring aids printed on the inside. The original folders had things like metric conversions and multiplication tables printed inside, so this feels just the same.
Scoring and card interactions are also thematic, which helps when teaching. A little detention won’t hurt you, but a lot will. It goes back to the difference between getting in trouble once in school (which made you a little cool) vs. being a chronic troublemaker (which could get you expelled). Field trip slips and report cards only score when paired with a signature card. Remember the dreaded days of bringing your report card home to have it signed? (Yeah, yeah, all you straight-A people have no idea what I’m talking about.) Homework scores when you have the most. That’s because you’re a good little student who values education. Not a goof-off who always says, “No, I don’t have any homework,” when mom asks. And so on. It’s just like being in school again, only without the barf-inducing cafeteria food, the bullies, and having to do the actual homework.
So, what’s not so great? As long as you’re seeking a light, gateway-level game and you’re into the theme, there’s not much wrong with the Trapper Keeper Game. But, I did have a couple of minor gripes that you might consider major, so let’s discuss.
First, note that at the time of this writing, the Trapper Keeper Game is only available in physical Target stores. I was told that this preserves the nostalgic feeling of going to the store and picking out your favorite binder design. There are three designs (space, tropical island, and the pony you see in this review) and they are all sold under the same SKU, thus why you can’t pick and choose a design online. This isn’t a huge deal, but if you don’t have a Target nearby getting the game might be problematic.
Second, the binder, while unbelievably nostalgic and cute, is tough to fit into a game shelf. It’s kind of squishy and bendable, so it needs to go on top of everything else. It’s not square, so it doesn’t stack neatly. Again, not a huge deal but people who hate unconventional packaging like tins and odd-shaped boxes aren’t going to love this.
Third, and relating to the gameplay itself, the Trapper Keeper Game doesn’t offer much that you won’t find in other games. If you’ve played a lot of set collection games, you’ve likely seen the elements of the Trapper Keeper Game before. That’s not a bad thing; everyone has to start somewhere so for new gamers this game will likely be full of a-ha moments. Still, it’s stuff that seasoned gamers have seen many times before. So if you’re an experienced gamer, just be aware that you’re buying this for the nostalgia factor, and the fact that there’s a decent, if not deep or groundbreaking, game in there that you can play with family and friends is a bonus.
Well, I gotta bounce, so let me just conclude with this: This is one of those games that I wish could receive two numerical rankings. If you’re not into the theme, I’d likely give it a 7.0 on the ‘Dragon scale. It’s good but not mind blowing. There’s a fun game in here, but it’s not terribly unique and you can probably find something that matches your tastes a little better.
However, if you’re into the theme, as I am, it’s an 8.0. The theme alone makes it a set collection game that I will reach for over some others in my collection, even if it’s not the most original thing out there. I just have fun playing it, reminiscing, and inhaling that sweet plastic smell from my youth. (Yes, I do sniff my games. Who doesn’t?)
So if you’re seeking a return trip to your childhood in board game form, this might be the game for you. If you’re seeking a lightweight, family-friendly set collection game that plays quickly yet offers decent decisions, this might be the game for you. In those categories, it is most excellent. If, however, you want a deep game that will bust your brain like an AP calculus course, then you’re totally trippin’ if you think this game is for you. For me, it’s a game I’ll keep around to pull out when I’m old to remind kids (and myself) of the old days. By then I’m sure binders of any kind will be obsolete, replaced by implants in kids’ brains.
(iSlaytheDragon.com thanks Big G Creative for giving us a copy of the Trapper Keeper Game for review.)
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