Blimey, is it really over two years ago that I first stumbled across Tanto Cuore? Looking back at this review from July 2011, it would seem so, but the thoughts from there still ring true. The game still stands up as a Dominion-esque deck builder, albeit with only a couple of expansions rather than the immense amount that you can get for Donald Vaccarino’s magnum opus. For those who haven’t played it, the idea is that you are employing maids to work for you. However, in the world of Tanto Cuore money seems to be irrelevant – the maids are paid in Love… which is a bit odd, of course. Then again, this is a Japanese game, originally released in 2009 by Arclight who are also responsible for the racier and slightly graphically dodgy Barbarossa.
Now, referring to Tanto as ‘a bit like’ Dominion is comparative to saying a fine Cheddar is ‘a bit like’ Cheddar with some caramelised onion in it – in other words, they’re pretty much the same thing, though one has a little something extra added to spice it up. Check the previous review for more details, but TC adds the concept of Chambering into the mix where cards can be removed from your hand to be scored at the end of the game. There are also Private Maids who have constant effects on either you or your opponents’ turns, but you may only have one in play at a time. It’s these extra elements that make the game different enough to the daddy of deckbuilding to warrant your investment, I reckon – but now, as long as you’ve got yourself an iOS device, you can get in on Tanto Cuore for only a few dollars…
Yup, the game is now available thanks to the folks at Playdek. Previously responsible for such splendid conversions as Agricola and Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, Tanto Cuore is the latest release to be added to their stable. If you’ve had any previous experience of Playdek titles, you can be pretty sure of what to expect – a solid conversion that has translated well to the digital format. At the moment, only the base set is available – no promos or expansions yet, but having seen what the company has done previously with other titles, I can’t see it being too long until they’re introduced, assuming that Tanto goes down well with buyers and sales are healthy.
On firing up the app, you’re presented with the usual selection of both online and offline games. A Playdek account is required for online play which is not a massive pain in the backside to set up, thankfully. The issues that surrounded accounts with the release of Agricola seem to have been sorted out, with new sign-ups getting confirmations back in moments as opposed to hours or days. The online lobby allows for the creation of new games or to just jump in on those created by other players, with settings available to control the amount of time you wish to spend playing – quick blasts of fifteen minutes are catered for, all the way up to a leisurely three weeks for those who like to consider every move with the depth of a Russian chess computer.
Offline caters for up to six simultaneous games with a combination of between two and four human or AI players. Three levels of challenge are available, with even the medium AI offering a hefty challenge. I’ve yet to even come close to beating the hardest level, either showing how good it is or how inept I am – I’d like to think it’s the former. On first play, there’s an excellent tutorial that runs you through how to play the game and gets you used to the interface, and I’d really suggest that everyone give it a try even if you’ve had experience with playing Tanto before. The symbols and terminology used throughout are the same, but there are little shortcuts and tricks in this digital conversion that are very helpful indeed.
During the game the available cards are shown in two rows across the top of the screen – all those that you can purchase in a turn have a green aura around them (much like in Ascension) and it’s a matter of a few taps to get your turn completed. The main play area is pretty much all imagery, but Playdek have helpfully placed icons on each of the maids’ pictures that tell you what abilities they’ll grant you when they appear in your hand; for a more detailed look, a simple double-tap brings the card up in full. It seems like Playdek have got the conventions of iOS play down now – if you’ve played one of their card-based games, you can easily get to grips with any others they’ve released. My only negative point is that it can be slightly fiddly on an iPhone. Even on my iPhone 5 the images are pretty teeny but that’s to be expected when you’re looking at so much information on the screen. I much prefer playing on the iPad as it gives the game the room to breathe and my fat fingers don’t hit the wrong sections of the screen.
The other benefit of grabbing the digital version is that you can easily play a game in a matter of minutes – there’s no set up, no sorting out card decks and getting someone’s discard pile confused with another player’s draw deck (seriously, that’s happened in our house – hello Andre!). Yes, I will still be breaking out the proper version of the game on a regular basis, but if you have a gaming itch to scratch and only a short time available, Tanto Cuore is a great way to spend it. On top of that, there is still no official iOS version of Dominion available, and this is as close to the mark as you can get. Sure, there’s the constant arguments over on the BGG forums about the oversexualisation of the characters in the game, but that’s a discussion for another time. See past the idea of employing maids and you’ll discover a very solid game indeed that is a bargain at $2.99 (USD). Give it a shot – I highly recommend it – and if you ever fancy a game search for idlemichael!