Hello, reader. Would you consider yourself a broad-minded gamer? Are you willing to look past an unusual and potentially embarrassing theme in exchange for quality gameplay? If so, how far are you willing to go? Tanto Cuore [$2.99], the latest trading card game adaptation from the folks at Playdek, will likely provide answers to those questions you may never have thought to ask yourself. For my part, I know I discovered a new line for my own tolerances.
So, sometimes a game comes a long that just kind of pushes things thematically in uncomfortable ways. I'm not talking so much about stuff like Binding of Isaac or Spec Ops: The Line that deliberately disturb the player to try to send a message about a genuinely troubling real issue. I'm talking more about games that probably didn't mean to make people feel embarrassed, but did nonetheless. Sometimes, these games offer great gameplay, but the whole time you're playing, you're just praying nobody else enters the room unexpectedly. Well, at least in the case of this game, you only have to cover up your mobile device, not the TV.
Tanto Cuore is a card game of the deck building variety, for two to four players. In it, players take the role of the master of the house, and the goal of the game is to accrue the most victory points. You earn victory points by, here we go, gathering love points to hire maids from a central pool, who in turn have unique abilities that will give you more love points, allow you to play more cards per turn, or add to your victory points. If you ever played Dominion, this is going to feel more than a little familiar, once you get past the anime girls in short-skirted maid outfits that adorn almost every card.
The rules are actually pretty complex, but I'll try to give you a brief rundown here. Each turn, cards are drawn from your main deck. You have a limited number of actions, called servings, that you can perform on each turn. By default, you'll have just one, but certain maids and events can add more. On each turn, you'll draw several cards from your house pile. Use maid cards from your hand to add to your victory points, love points, or to draw more cards, then play resource cards that add to your love points. Using these love points, you'll hire maids from the shared town area, which is made up of stacks containing several copies of each card, and finish your turn. In addition to the regular cards in town, there will be two random special private maids available at any given time. Private maids yield powerful effects, but you can only benefit from one at a time, so you should choose wisely.
Private maids are hired directly into your private quarter pile, while other maids are hired into your house pile. In addition to your house and private chambers, you can use a serving to move a maid into your chamber pile, which confers special bonuses with certain maids and, importantly, takes them out of the active pool of cards you'll be drawing from. Aside from the maid cards, you can also spend your love points on resource cards with higher yields, or on illnesses or bad habits, which can be played on an opponent's maids to sabotage them. The game ends when any two stacks of cards in the town are completely exhausted. Victory points are tallied based on the maids you've collected, and the player with the highest amount is declared the winner.
Well, glad I could clear that up completely for you. But seriously, like many card games, it all makes sense after a game or two, and the game does provide an excellent tutorial, as usual for Playdek. Also as usual for Playdek, Tanto Cuore supports single player with AI opponents, local pass-and-play, and online play, both real-time and asynchronous. Playdek always does a wonderful job making the digital versions of these card games, and their familiar touch is in full effect here. The game is fully furnished with voices, albeit in Japanese, sound effects, and appropriate music. As a conversion, it's top-notch, no complaints.
As for the game itself, it's quite a good card game, nicely balanced with a lot of viable strategies for success. As we're presently between Dominion apps on the App Store, from a gameplay point of view, Tanto Cuore fits the bill perfectly for anyone looking for that style. Yet, the theme of the game is weird, to be diplomatic. It's not that I'm against odd premises for games. I love them, in fact, but this game feels just a little bit close to fetish fuel with its provocative artwork and master-servant theme. It's something I think a lot of players aren't going to be willing to get past to get to the quality game inside.
The good news about that is that the part you have to tolerate is right there staring at you in the screenshots. If you can look at those screens, see the illustrations on the cards, read that you are getting into a game with a complete maid theme, and are okay with that, then I'm happy to report that you'll find an excellent card game waiting for you. If you're even a little bit uncomfortable with the idea, then back out right now, because Tanto Cuore is all maids, all the time. There are no halfway measures here. I enjoyed playing the game, but I didn't enjoy having to explain what I was doing to my significant other, so plan appropriately if you've got your eye on this one.