Aurum is a modern trick-taking game that takes many of the trick-taking traditions and tosses them out of the window.
I’ve found many fans of traditional card games have a tough time adjusting to the rules in Aurum. Is it worth the work? Read on to find out!
Disclosure: Thanks to Pandasaurus Games for sending us a review copy of Aurum. Some links in this post are affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
What is Aurum all about?
Aurum comes from designer Shreesh Bhat, features artwork from Stevo Torres, and was just released this year by Pandasaurus Games. It is a three to four player trick-taking card game. Once players have gotten over the initial learning curve, each game lasts, on average, between half an hour to an hour. The box lists this card as for ages 7 and up, which seems about right.
In Aurum, you are alchemists who have finally figured out the secret of converting common metals into gold! Now it’s time to perfect the formula on your own or with a partner. This modern trick-taking game diverts from tradition in a number of ways, the biggest being that you cannot ever follow suit.
Other changes include earning trump cards for low card plays, those trump cards being displayed on the table instead of in your hand, and scoring that only matters one round at a time. Fans of traditional trick-taking games will have to unlearn what they have learned in order to master Aurum.
For a look at the rather striking cards in this trick-taker, check out our Aurum unboxing video on YouTube. There you will see the game’s small box, a deck of oddly tall cards split over five suits, a number of gold/trump cards, three scoring gems, a first-player token, the rulebook, and some summary cards. All of this is comes in a very shiny, gold, cardboard box insert.
I want to call out the card here as I’ve never seen any other game with this sized cards. Which isn’t a problem until you decide you want to sleeve the game. Based on what I could find on BGG there’s no current sleeve size that fits these cards well.
I also want to call out the rulebook for doing something I love. Presenting the full rules for playing with four players and then presenting another full set of rules for playing with three, instead of just listing the changes for three.
The component quality is good and the rulebook is pretty clear. Be aware that if you have the first printing of the game the rules have been changed/updated. You can find the updates on this Aurum thread on Board Game Geek.
How is Aurum different from traditional trick-taking games?
Aurum does a lot of things that are quite different from the trick-taking games you may be used to, so I’m going to go into a bit more detail than usual for this rules overview. That said, unlike the rulebook, I’m just going to go over the four-player rules and note the changes required when you play with three.
To start a game of Aurum you separate out all of the gold cards from the base metal cards. These are displayed on the table in reach of everyone, sorted by value. Each player is then handed a zero gold card which they put in front of them. You then shuffle the rest of the cards and deal out a hand of twelve to each player. The remaining two cards go face-up on the table. These are all base metal cards which are made up of five suits with cards numbered one to ten in each suit.
Players partner up so that players on the same team are sitting opposite each other. Each team will be trying to get a higher combined score than their opponents during each hand with the first team to win two hands taking the game. Wins are tracked by scoring tokens so you won’t need a pencil or paper.
Each round of Aurum starts with the player sitting to the left of the dealer player picking one base metal card from their hand and placing it on the table in front of them as a bid for how many tricks their team will take this round. Going clockwise the remaining players do the same. The final bid for each team is equal to the highest played card between both players on that team.
The start player then leads any base metal card. The next player must play a card of a different suit, as must the other two players. All cards played must be of a different suit from any previously played card that trick.
The player with the highest played card takes the trick (with ties going to the last card played), and then the player who played the lowest card that trick gets to take a gold card from the table of the same value as their card, if one is available. Any gold cards taken go face up in view of all of the players.
The player who earned the gold card is the one who leads the next trick.
In Aurum, these gold cards act as trump. At any time, instead of playing a base metal card, you can play a gold card from your tableau. Gold cards win any trick they are played in. If more than one player plays a gold card, the highest one wins the trick. After they are used, gold cards are returned to the supply.
It’s worth noting at this point that you may be better off saving your gold cards as they are worth points at the end of the round. The one two and three gold cards are worth one point each, cards four to six are worth two and the seven and eight cards are worth three.
In addition to using gold cards as trump, at the start of any trick, before the first card is played a player can return a gold card to the supply and swap out their bid card for any other card in their hand. This may or may not change the team’s bid as it is always equal to the highest bid between both players.
A hand ends immediately when any player can’t play a base metal (because they only have cards that match the cards already played) and they either have no gold cards in their tableau to play or they choose not to use any gold card they have.
When the round ends, each team figures out their score.
A team scores points equal to their bid if they beat it. If they perfectly match their bid they get points equal to double their bid. If a team fails to meet their bid they get zero points. Added to this is the value of any gold cards collected by both players on the team.
The team with the most points wins the round and takes a scoring token. If this is their second token they win the entire game.
Playing Aurum with three players is simpler as there are no partners, your bids are all made at the same time and the win goes to the first player to win two rounds. If there’s a tie and everyone wins one round, the tie goes to the player who made the highest bid in that last round.
When you play with three you also remove one metal suit (it doesn’t matter which one) and you don’t use the number eight gold card.
Finally, Aurum includes some optional rules for expert players. The first is to remove the zero gold cards so no one starts with any cards in the trump suit. The second optional rule is to total your points each round, then the team or player with the most points at the end of three rounds wins.
Does Aurum diverge from tradition too much?
As you can tell from that overview of how the game plays, Aurum really does change things up from what most of us expect in a trick-taking game — trump cards that are on the table and not in your hand, potentially getting something for playing the lowest card, bidding for tricks but being able to change that bid mid-game, and, of course, not being able to follow suit.
We first tried Aurum with three players and it took all of us quite some time to break our old habits. We were continually playing cards of suits already played and often forgot we had trump cards because they were not in our hands.
Our first ever full play of the game also ended up with a three-way tie and the tiebreaker in the book didn’t make any sense. As written, the player who bid the most in the last round takes the win with no regard to if they actually made their bid or not. This just encourages you to bid your highest card in that final round and leaves that tiebreaker down to pure luck.
Our first impression of Aurum wasn’t so great, but thankfully we always make sure to try games multiple times before sharing our thoughts, and things got a lot better.
First off, I found the thread on BGG with the rules clarifications and changes. The tie breaker change, in particular, did a lot to improve the game. It also clarified what to do if everyone plays the exact same number (the last card played wins the trick, earns a gold card and gets the next lead).
Those fixes turned Aurum into a pretty solid three player game, but it still didn’t really impress us. I could see playing it three player again but it wouldn’t be our first choice.
Then we tried Aurum with four players, and wow, what a difference having a partner makes! Aurum was clearly designed for four players in two teams and it shines when played that way. Here was the game I’ve been hearing so much hype about.
While you are still going to have to unlearn some trick-taking traditions, it’s worth taking the time to do so. All of the issues we found at three players vanished and the game went from meh to marvellous.
With four players, Aurum is a very thinky trick-taker with a lot going on. It features almost perfect information when compared to other trick-taking games. This is because of the fact that every card but two are in play every round, and the two that aren’t in play are placed out on the table in plain view. In addition, all trump cards remain in view of all players when earned and everyone’s bid can be seen at all times.
All of this open information means that Aurum will be extra appealing to the card counters out there. My dad was a card counter and he would have loved this game.
That said, playing well doesn’t necessarily require card counting. The game still works as a solid casual card game if no one is taking things too seriously. You may run into problems though if one team or player is taking things more seriously than the others.
While the new mechanics in Aurum will throw you off at first, it’s worth getting over that hurdle. This is one of the most unique and enjoyable trick-takers I’ve played. If you already enjoy team-based trick-taking card games like Euchre and/or bidding card games like Spades or Wizard, I think you will find a lot to like in Aurum. Plus, If you are a card counter you will love it even more.
Sadly I can’t recommend Aurum for those who usually stick to games with less than four players. Having now played with four I can’t see ever playing Aurum with three again. That said there aren’t a lot of three-player card games out there, so you may want to try to find a way to give it a shot. You could potentially do that through Tabletop Simulator which features both a scripted and an unscripted version of Aurum.
Actually, even if you love trick-takers and bidding and team play and everything about this game appeals to you, you still may want to try it on TTS before dipping into your gaming budget.
As for those of you out there that don’t enjoy trick taking games, Aurum isn’t going to be for you. This game takes trick-taking and makes it more complicated. There’s more to watch out for and to keep track of than in most traditional card games.
I will say though, that anyone not familiar with trick-taking may have an early advantage against anyone who is, as this game messes with the traditional norms so much that having no preconceived ideas of what to expect could give you an advantage in Aurum.
There you have my thoughts on Aurum, a trick-taking game where previous knowledge of trick-taking tropes can actually get in the way of learning how to play.
What’s a game you played that took something you have internalised over the years and turned it on its head? Tell us about it in the comments below.
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