I’m back with another modern trick-taking card game review. This time I’m looking at Tome, specifically Tome: The Light Edition, as well as The Gold Codex, a small expansion pack.
Tome includes some interesting twists like cards that each have their own abilities and a chain system that is based on following suit with rules for breaking that chain. Read on to see other ways Tome diverts from traditional trick-takers.
Disclosure: Thanks to Reversal Games for sending us home from Origins 2023 with a review copy of Tome: The Light Edition and its first expansion.
What is Tome?
Tome The Light Edition was originally Kickstarted back in 2021 by Reversal Games and is now available to buy direct from the Reversal Games webstore or at select retailers like Noble Knight. The MSRP is $15 for the base game and $5 for The Gold Codex, a small expansion pack.
This trick-taking card game was designed by Anthony Thorp, who we have to thank for telling us about his game and handing us a review copy to bring home from Origins 2023. We also got to watch part of a demo by the game’s artist Lauren Yu.
Tome is listed as a game for two to four players. While the game includes rules for three players, it really is meant to be played with four, though it also works pretty well with two. Sadly, we can’t recommend it for three players.
At the full player count the game is rather quick, taking under an hour per play. Two-player games are slightly quicker. Though game length for both player counts depends on how much AP (analysis paralysis) the players have.
One thing to be aware of is the weight of this card game. There is a lot going on in games of Tome, putting the complexity way above traditional trick-taking games. This is more for the hobby card gamers than it is a gateway from traditional playing card games.
Tome is a spell-casting card game with each card representing a different spell and each of those spells having a different in-game effect. Each hand, a card representing the title spell is flipped from the element deck. This sets the trump suit for the round. A card is led and its effect happens, further cards played that match the suit of the led card also have their effects happen.
Things get interesting when someone plays off-suit, which causes the spell chain to be broken. The spell that broke the chain is silenced and has no effect, but any cards played after it are played to full effect regardless of their suit.
Tome: The Light Edition comes with four standard suits of Fire, Earth, Wind and Water. You also get one special suit of Light (That’s where the whole The Light Edition thing comes from). If you backed the game on Kickstarter you also got two more standard suits of Wood and Insect, as well as a new special suit of Gold.
For those that missed the Kickstarter, like us, you can get these extra three suits in a small expansion pack called The Gold Codex. I’ll be talking about both the base game and this expansion throughout this review.
Currently, that’s all that has been released for Tome but Reversal Games does have plans for more Tome sets, with the next being Tome: The Sound Edition.
Since we picked up Tome with plans to play it while at Origins, I don’t have an unboxing video to share with you. Plus, to be honest there’s not a lot to show off. Most of what you get here are cards.
Tome: The Light Edition comes with twenty-four basic spells (six in each of the four suits), six special cards, four reference cards, and a set of eight scorecards, two for each player. In addition to the cards you also get four health counters and the rulebook. The Gold Codex comes with eighteen more cards and a single reference card explaining how to use these cards.
I do dig the book shaped box with its magnetic clasp. This was actually a Kickstarter stretch goal that was unlocked for all versions of the game. The box has plenty of room for the base game and The Gold Codex cards with enough room for at least one, if not two, similarly sized expansions.
The Rulebook you get with Tome is okay but not great, it works best when combined with the reference cards. There was something about the order that things were presented in that made it not all sink in at first and we referenced it quite a bit during our first few plays.
On the other hand, the card quality in Tome is good and the cards have a nice linen finish. Design wise, the cards aren’t reversible, which is something I usually want in a trick-taking game, but it makes sense here as the cards have so much text on them. They have more in common with collectable card game style cards than they do with traditional playing cards.
While I do wish the text on the cards was bigger, I do realize that’s more a problem with my ageing eyes than anything. It does seem odd to me that so much room on the cards was dedicated to artwork when that artwork is abstract symbols.
An overview of how to play Tome the card game.
Tome is a two to four-player modern trick-taking game, with the main mode of playing being a four-player team game with teammates sitting opposite each other at the table.
Here I’ll give you an overview of how to play this team based game followed by a description of other modes of play and different player counts.
Before starting a game of Tome you first make up the deck you will all be playing with. This is done by picking four standard suits and one special suit to use for that game. If you only own Tome: The Light Edition (or another base set) you are good to go out of the box. If you own any expansions, such as Tome: The Gold Codex, or have the Kickstarter version of the game, or own multiple base sets, you will need to do this mixing and matching before you can play.
Each team is given a pair of scorecards (they are used together, Euchre style) and each player is dealt a hand of six cards. The six remaining cards are placed face down on the table forming the Element Deck. The top card from this deck is revealed. This face-up card is called the title card and sets the trump suit (if any) for that hand.
The player to the left of the dealer leads any card they wish from their hand. This card starts what is called a spell chain. The effect of that card goes off.
The card effects in Tome are a huge part of the game and are extremely varied. Each suit features five cards with abilities and one focus card. The focus card is the highest card of each suit. The other five card abilities will all be unique from every other card in the game but tend to follow a theme based on the suit they are in.
For example, some fire cards get better with more fire cards in play and water cards tend to do things like change elements and let you modify your hand for the rest of the round.
After the first card is led, the next player plays. If they follow suit their card’s effect happens, and play continues to the next player. As long as everyone follows suit, cards are played and their effects go off.
When someone does play off suit with a standard suit card, the spell chain is broken. That card is silenced and has no effect though its value still counts for potentially taking the trick. The remainder of that hand becomes a free for all, with no chain to worry about and every card played having its effect happen.
Once everyone has played their cards and all of their effects go off, you figure out who took the trick. Tricks are won by the player playing the highest valued card.
A card matching the suit of the title card is considered trump and the highest valued trump card takes the trick. If there are no trump cards played then the highest valued card played takes the trick with ties going to the first card played.
Each trick is worth one point except the last hand of a round, the sixth trick, which is worth two. The lead goes to the player who won the last trick except for when starting a new hand.
One thing you need to realize here is that hands in Tome are very mutable. The value of cards can and will be changed by other cards as can the suits of those cards. While water may be the colour of the title spell at the start of the hand, that title spell could change suits, be removed from play, or be swapped to another card, before the hand is done.
Then there’s the special suit. These cards don’t affect the chain at all when played and their abilities always happen. If a special suit card is lead, the first basic suit card played after it starts the chain. If a special card is revealed as the title card the hand starts with no trump.
The game continues, with the dealer passing to the left at the end of each round. Each new round everyone gets a new hand of six cards and a new element deck is made. The game ends when one team has at least fifteen points and at least two more points than their opponents.
That covers the default rules for Tome which requires four players, playing in teams.
The Tome: The Light Edition rulebook also includes some variants. One of those is Survival Mode, which can be played with three or four players. When playing a Survival Mode game there are no teams, everyone is playing against everyone else. If playing with three players you only use three standard suits and one special suit.
The rules for playing cards, spell chains, how to win a trick, etc. all remain the same as for the four-player game.
Where the survival part comes in is that after each trick, the player who played the lowest card loses one health (tracked using the health counters). Each player only has two health and when they are eliminated, every other player (still in the game) gets one point.
Winning a trick gives that player the lead but no points (with one exception, if the final chapter is played the winner of that trick gets a bonus point).
You play until there is only one player left standing. Then the round ends and a new round begins with everyone back in and at two health. The first player to ten points wins.
Another way to play Tome is the two-player Duel Mode. For Duel Mode, each player starts with six cards and the element deck is also six cards as normal, with the remaining 12 cards becoming a draw deck. Card play swaps between players, using all the normal rules, but with each player playing two cards per trick. The highest valued card takes the trick as usual. At the start of each round and after each trick, players each draw a card from the draw deck before flipping over a new title card. Scoring and victory conditions stay the same as with four players.
Finally, there’s an easy mode where players place their taken tricks face up on the table to make it easier to card count and table talk is allowed.
Tome seems like a great trick-taker for hobby card game fans
That’s quite the game overview isn’t it? Yep, there’s a lot going on in Tome: The Light Edition.
Five out of six standard cards in each suit have a unique ability. Then there’s the Flux card which has its own special rules and is also the highest valued card. The special cards all share the same ability but have rules of their own like not breaking the spell chain. All of this is a lot of information to deal with, especially on your first play.
Due to this complexity, Tome is not a game I would recommend breaking out with your Euchre buddies or as something new to bring out on poker night for a change of pace. This game has a lot more in common with trading card games and dedicated deck card games than it does with traditional playing cards.
Learning what each card in each suit does and how they interact is key to playing Tome well and that’s going to take time. This is especially true if you own more than just a base set and start mixing and matching suits.
Card counting is also encouraged in this game. Each round every card will come into play, either in a player’s hand or as a title card drawn from the element deck. By the time you get to the last trick of each hand, everyone should know every card that’s been played with only the cards left in the other player’s hands being a mystery. This is the reason each final hand is worth double points.
Once you get past the pretty steep learning curve in Tome, there’s a very solid and enjoyable game to be found here. This is one of the most cutthroat trick-taking games I’ve played. The card abilities make it feel like every trick is winnable if you and your partner can just play the right combo of cards, but of course, figuring out what that combo is won’t be easy.
This gives a puzzle element to games of Tome that I think some gamers are really going to enjoy.
Playing along with your partner is a highlight of this game. Having a partner leads to some great interactions and smart card play. You will regularly see things like a player breaking the chain so that their partner can play a card, or someone changing the title card because they know their partner picked up the flux of that suit last round, and I know more than once I’ve personally tossed out an off suit flux card in hopes my partner can do something with it.
All of these situations lead to fun interactions no matter which way they end up going, and I’ve had as much fun having a trick stolen from me and my partner as I have pulling off that perfect combo and winning a trick that seemed unwinnable.
Everything I’ve said so far is in regards to playing Tome with four players, with partners. That’s not the only way you can play though.
I found Tome also quite good with two. It’s very cutthroat. The whole system of each player playing cards back and forth so you each contribute two cards each trick is brilliant. I found it leads to some very interesting and clever plays with a different set of combinations being possible than with four players. It’s neat to see the same cards used in different ways due to this.
However I can’t recommend playing Tome with three players, and so far everyone I’ve tried it with has agreed. Actually, I can’t recommend survival mode at all and you are forced to play that way with only three players.
In survival mode the game isn’t really about winning tricks, it’s about not playing the lowest numbered card, and that doesn’t work well alongside standard trick-taking mechanics like trump. In Survival mode we found Tome to be far too random, leaving players feeling like they have no control over their fate. Plus it includes player elimination and no one likes to sit there waiting for other players to finish out a round of any game.
As for Tome: The Gold Codex, it’s a good expansion and I can’t see not picking it up if you enjoy Tome. While the base game is great for just picking up and starting to play right away, the additional suits from the expansion add a ton of variety and replayability to the game. After a few games of mixing and matching, I’m pretty sure each of your players will have a favourite suit or two and one they never want to see in the deck again.
There are a couple of drawbacks to Tome: The Gold Codex. The first is in regard to the graphic design of the cards. The card colour as well as the overall art, border, and design, of the insect and wood cards are very similar. This is especially true if playing somewhere without bright lighting.
I’ve learned to not include both of these suits in the deck at once, as it’s difficult to tell which is which when they’re on the table.
The other issue we found with The Gold Codex is that the card abilities are more complicated and better suited to experienced players. While this makes sense, as these are additional cards to add to the base game, it did throw me off.
The first time I introduced this game at a public play event I had mixed the expansion in with my core game. That first play included the new suits and that ended up being a bit much for players who had never seen Tome before. The game has enough going on as it is and I strongly suggest anyone doing a learning game stick to the base Light Edition elements of earth, air, fire, water, and light.
Another thing I recommend, even when playing with experienced players, is to let everyone look through the deck before the first shuffle so they can re-familiarize themselves with the various suits and what their cards do.
Overall I found Tome: The Light Edition to be a very solid modern trick-taker. After playing multiple rounds with and without cards from The Gold Codex I have come to think of Tome as a trick-taking card game for trading and living card game players. So much so that now, when introducing the game to someone new, I explain that it is “like Euchre for Magic Players”.
While I can’t recommend Tome at three players if there are two of you, or four, and you enjoy card games with a bit of a puzzle to them, where you need to figure out what order to play your cards, be aware of what’s already been played, and read what your opponents are doing, then you should really enjoy Tome. This is even more true if you already enjoy trick-taking games, especially partner-based games like Euchre.
I also can’t recommend Tome as “my first modern trick taker” for someone who only really knows traditional playing card games. There’s a pretty steep learning curve here for even experienced card game players and I feel that it would just be overwhelming to a completely new player. Instead, look to games more steeped in tradition, like say The Fox in the Forest, Thrones of Valeria, or The Crew.
What I would love to know is, what is your favourite trick-taking card game? Is it one of the classics or something new? I want to hear all about it, especially if it’s something we haven’t tried yet!