Review – White Elephant

White Elephant: The Card Game

 Brian Kelly (later in 2011)
Publisher(s): Self Published
# of Players: 3-6 (3-7 with the included expansion)
Ages: 8+
Play Time: 15 minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: N/A
Category: Family Game

I first heard about the White Elephant card game when designer Brian Kelly contacted me, and I was immediately interested in it due mostly to its theme.  For 20 or more years, “Dirty Santa” gift exchanges have been a staple at Christmas parties around my family and friends, and this game promised to replicate that experience in a quick-playing card-game format.  Thankfully, Brian soon sent me a prototype copy of the game, and I’ve had a few chances to get it to the table since then.
Game Basics

Again, if you’ve ever played Dirty Santa (or Yankee Swap or Chinese Gift Exchange or whatever else you might call it), you’ve basically played the White Elephant card game.  

Each player is dealt a certain number of cards (depending on how many people are playing the game), all of which are gifts that you will be bringing to a series of White Elephant gift exchanges.  Because you are a total cheapskate, your goal is to avoid having to actually shop and spend money on the people on your “real” gift list, so you’re going to try and collect gifts that they’ll like from these exchanges. 

There are 5 suits/colors in the game, each tied to a particular person: your Mother-in-Law (red), the Crazy Neighbor (orange), Fluffy the Cat (yellow), a Random Stranger (blue), and Great Uncle Irwin (green).  Everyone is given a Gift List at the start of the game, indicating which 3 of these people you need to have a gift for.  Your final score will be the sum of the single highest-value gifts you have collected for each of these 3 people by the end of the game. 

Examples of the Gift List cards, which tell you the particular people (colors) you’re trying to collect gifts for during the game.  Your score will be the sum of the values from the single highest card you have for each person.

In each round, everyone places a gift (one of their cards) out facedown on the table.  The first player chooses a gift to open, turns that card over, and pulls it to them.  Then, in turn order, other players will have the option to either open a new gift (flip over a new card) or steal a face-up gift from someone else. 

When someone steals a gift, they place their hand over it until another new gift is “opened” (turned over), because it can only be stolen once in any given turn.  Once a new gift is opened, however, all stolen gift cards are uncovered and available for someone else to steal in the next turn.  

Play continues until all the gifts have been opened, and then everyone places the gift they ended up with under their Gift List card.  Another round is then played with everyone placing a new gift facedown on the table ready to be opened, and the game continues for the indicated number of rounds based on how many people are playing.  Players then add together the highest-value cards for each color on their Gift List card, and that’s their final score.

What I Think…

White Elephant is definitely very light, and is really aimed more at families and non-gamers than at people “like me” (you know, hardcore gamers who run game nights and write gaming blogs).  The rules are simple and easy to teach, and if people already have experience with this kind of gift exchange, then your job is pretty much already done.  I could easily see even very young children (5 or 6 years old) being able to understand the rules, even if they might miss out on some of the more subtle aspects of play.  

I’ve already mentioned how much I like the theme, but as you can see from the pictures I’ve included here, the game also looks pretty incredible.  Brian has taken pictures of real junk from his or someone else’s attic and built the gift cards around them with this gorgeous retro-style, kitsch art graphic design.  The descriptions of the gifts are all entertaining and sometimes downright hilarious, and a big part of the game is just looking at the cards and imagining how freaking horrible it would be to actually give these gifts to anybody.       

But while White Elephant is definitely aimed at non-gamers, I’ve actually only had the chance to play it at my game nights so far, with tables full of diehard boardgamers.  And while it’s a lot lighter than most of the things we play, I’d still say that it was a lot of fun and fit well into the filler role.  It’s incredibly fast (like 10-15 minutes), and there’s enough of a game here to keep most people interested at least that long (especially when you’re laughing about the cards half the time anyway).   

A clearer shot of some Gift cards

To be completely honest, I’ve already preordered 4 copies of the game through Kickstarter to give away for Christmas, at least one or two of which will be going straight into the Dirty Santa exchanges I love so much (it’ll sort of be like the “home game” that contestants used to get when they were on a game show).  I’m also looking forward to just playing it with extended family, friends, and maybe even co-workers as opportunities arise over the holidays.  

And speaking of that, as of the time I’m posting this review, the Kickstarter campaign only has 4 days left to go.  It’s very close to being fully funded (like, just $685 short), so if you’re interested in the game, please consider heading over there and preordering a copy or two.  Heck, it’s worth the click just to check out Brian’s fantastic video… 

The Verdict! 

• Rules: Very simple for the most part, but the whole “gifts can only be stolen once each turn” thing can be a bit of a hangup for some 
• Downtime: Almost none
• Length: 10-15 minutes
• Player Interaction: You’re stealing gifts from each other all the time, so it’s pretty cutthroat (in a fun, family sort of way)
• Overall Weight: Very Light 
• GamerChris’ Rating: I’m pretty in love with the theme and have had a lot of fun with the game so far, so judging it on what it is and not what it isn’t, I’l giving it an 8 on the BGG 10-point scale

It even has an actual white elephant in the game! 

1 Comment

  1. If you’re interested in picking up White Elephant now that it’s been published, you can check it out here at Mayday Games online store.

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