- Personal Score: 9/10
- Time to Play: 45 minutes
- Number of Players: 2-4
- Complexity: III – Play this game with fellow strategy gamers.
- Key Enjoyment Factors: Strategy, Deck-building, Variability, Theme, Art, Anime
- Board Game Geek Link (Tanto Cuore): https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/65282/tanto-cuore
- Board Game Geek Link (Tanto Cuore: Expanding the House): https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/68858/tanto-cuore-expanding-house
- Board Game Geek Link (Tanto Cuore: Romantic Vacation): https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/75448/tanto-cuore-romantic-vacation
In this review, I cover Tanto Cuore, and the first two expansions – Expanding the House, and Romantic Vacation. My reason for doing covering all three is that, although the original game is fun, the expansions include some changes to game play that have a significant impact in my opinion, and I will be pointing those things out separately, as they may affect your decision about whether or not you would like to pursue the expansions. Although the expansions are standalone games, I’ll state upfront that I recommend if you only purchase one set that it be the original game. The original game does the best job of allowing you to enjoy the main game mechanics. The expansions do add interesting and worthwhile new mechanics and variability, but in my opinion they work best as additions to a solid base set. My synopsis will thus be broken up into three sections – an explanation of the original game, and a section for each expansion explaining what each expansion adds to the original game.
The Original Game
Welcome to Tanto Cuore! The one and only English language anime maid themed deck-building game! (If I’m wrong, and there are others, please let me know, I want to play them!) In Tanto Cuore, you take on the role of a mansion owner and employ a staff of maids in an attempt to run the best kept house. It’s a rather silly premise, and in turn the game doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The pictures of the maids range from cute to risqué, so if you can’t stomach cutesy, frilly anime girls or are embarrassed by lewd pictures featuring maids in provocative positions, then this may not be the game for you.
You’d be missing out, though, on a very well done deck-building game. On the flip side, if you enjoy the imagery, this is a rare gem (at least for those of us who don’t speak Japanese) that combines an anime maid theme with very solid strategy game play.
If you’re familiar with Dominion-style deck-building games, then you are already familiar with the basic mechanics of how Tanto Cuore plays. Each player starts with a small 10-card deck that they cycle through every few turns. Stacks of cards are piled in the center of the table, collectively referred to as the “town,” and each turn players have the opportunity to add cards from the town to their deck.
These cards grant players victory points, make it easier for them to acquire even better cards, or a combination of the two. Once two stacks have been depleted, the game ends and whoever has amassed the most victory points is declared “King of maids!”
With a few exceptions, each stack of cards consists of about 8-10 copies of the same card. A set includes more stacks of maids than you will use in a game, so the town changes from game to game.
To start the game, players draw 5 cards from their starting deck. In a player’s starting deck are 7 love cards, and 3 maid cards that grant victory points, but are worthless to have in hand.
Love cards are the game’s currency, and are used to acquire other cards. I guess the theory is that everyone is super rich, and can afford to pay maids whatever they require, so the limiting factor in attracting maids to work for you is how much love you can provide them? Like I said, the game doesn’t take itself too seriously!
There are “1 Love,” “2 Love,” and “3 Love” cards. The 7 love cards in a player’s starter deck are all “1 Love” cards. During your turn, you can sum all the love from the love cards in your hand and use it to acquire a card from the town with an employ cost equal to or less than the amount of love you are able to generate that turn. This is called “employing” the card.
When you employ a card, it is placed in your discard pile.
During your turn, you may also play one maid. Playing a maid usually grants you one or more of the following 4 things:
- Ability to draw additional cards
- Additional love
- Ability to play more maids
- Ability to employ additional cards (assuming you have enough love for all the cards you want to employ)
Sometimes, maids will be worth victory points, and sometimes, they will have special abilities explained in text on the card.
Many maids grant you the ability to play more maids in addition to other bonuses, allowing you to play multiple maids in one turn – each one contributing a small benefit that collectively becomes something powerful. Once you are done playing cards, all cards in your hand and all cards that you have played are placed into your discard pile, and you draw a new hand of 5 cards. If you have to draw, but have run out of cards in your deck, simply shuffle your discard pile and it becomes your new deck. (That’s how cards you have employed, which are originally placed into your discard pile, become available for use.)
And that’s pretty much it for the basics of how the game flows! There are only a few more concepts you need to understand.
First, the concept of chambermaids. Technically speaking there is another resource I haven’t mentioned that players use called “servings.” When you play a maid, you use 1 serving to do so. You start your turn with 1 serving, which is why by default, you can only play one maid. Maids that let you play more maids, technically, are granting you extra servings. This is important because playing maids isn’t the only way to spend servings. You can spend servings to turn some maids in your hand into chambermaids. When a maid becomes a chambermaid, she is placed into your private quarters to serve you personally!
In game play terms, your private quarters is simply the space on the table in front of you. When a card is put in your private quarters, it remains face up in front of you and isn’t sent to the discard pile at the end of your turn. You may want to do this to get cards that are not as useful anymore out of your deck, or because chambermaids often grant you bonuses or additional abilities when they reside in your private quarters.
Second, there are also private maids. A private maid is one who is immediately placed into you private quarters when you employ her, and generally grants you victory points and/or some sort of passive bonus.
Lastly, there is another type of card called an event. When you employ an event from the town, you immediately place it in another player’s private quarters. Events hinder other players in some way. They usually can only affect players with maids in their private quarters.
Additional Mechanics from the “Expanding the House” Expansion
The “Expanding the House” expansion adds building cards.
Building cards grant some victory points, and have some beneficial effects. When a building is acquired, it is put straight into your private quarters, just like a private maid. However, it isn’t considered a maid, and thus can’t be the target of harmful event cards.
Additional Mechanics from the “Romantic Vacation” Expansion
The “Romantic Vacation” expansion adds reminiscence cards.
Reminiscence cards are not employed like other cards. Instead of requiring Love, they require that a player discard a specified set of cards. For example, as in the picture above, you would be required to discard maid cards with a total employ cost of 15 or more to acquire the Astronomic Observation reminiscence. If a player chooses to discard the specified set of cards on their turn, they take the reminiscence card and place it in their private quarters. Reminiscences are worth a good amount of victory points, and when acquired grant an immediate one-time benefit. Using the example above, acquiring the Astronomic Observation reminiscence would grant you 8 love, and the ability to purchase an additional card on the turn you acquired it. Reminiscences don’t reside in the town normally like the other uniform, face up stacks of cards. Instead, all reminiscences are shuffled and placed face down to form a reminiscence deck. From this deck, three cards are drawn at the start of the game and placed face up in the town. Only the three face up reminiscence cards are available to be employed. When one face up reminiscence is acquired, it is immediately replaced by the top card of the reminiscence deck. There are only 16 reminiscence cards, and within the deck of 16 cards some cards appear multiple times. You’ll usually make it through most of the reminiscence deck in a game that includes reminiscences, and because there aren’t that many different reminiscences, you’ll have a very good idea about what is coming up.
The first thing most people will notice about Tanto Cuore is the art. The game has a very distinct “harem of maids” theme and it has no qualms about indulging in that theme. If you enjoy maids, you’ll love looking at all the different illustrations, which are very well done, and since there aren’t too many games with this theme, at least in the western card game industry, Tanto Cuore will be a rare way to enjoy a unique combination of maids and strategy card games. One word of caution, though. Even if you are enthusiastic at the prospect of being the master of your house and hiring a staff of maids to surround you, not everyone will be so enthused. The theme will make some people uncomfortable, so you won’t be able to play Tanto Cuore with everyone. If you don’t know too many people with similar interests in this regard, Tanto Cuore could easily become a guilty pleasure tucked away at the back of your closet.
If you can convince some of your friends to give it a chance, I can assure you that the game play mechanics are solid! Like I’ve said before, the game shares the same core game play made famous by Dominion, but I believe Tanto Cuore has more masterfully executed the concept. To be fair I’ve only played the Dominion base set (I didn’t enjoy it very much and didn’t pursue it further), so it is possible that expansions may remedy some of the base set’s flaws. That aside, in a deck-building game, the strategy component revolves around constructing a deck that will likely give you good hands. In Tanto Cuore terms, you need a mix of cards that grant you Love, cards that allow you to play more cards, and cards that allow you to draw more cards. If you develop a good deck, by the endgame, you’ll probably be able to play through a good portion of it in one turn by making good use of card draw and additional servings. It’s incredibly satisfying to chain together a large string of cards, and Tanto Cuore has a good mix of the aforementioned types of card abilities to allow you to consistently achieve such a feat if you construct your deck carefully.
In my opinion, it’s also important, in deck-building games, to be able to take cards out of your deck if you’d like. Perhaps some cards that were useful in the early game are slowing down your late game draws, or cards that grant you victory points, but aren’t really useful otherwise are handicapping you. This helps you keep the satisfying card chains going, which, as I mentioned, are very fun to play. I tend to dislike deck-building games in which you have to put cards in your deck (usually because they grant you victory points) that only hurt you when you draw them. Tanto Cuore is definitely not one of those games. The chambermaid mechanic allows you to remove cards from your deck while still maintaining control of them and retaining their victory points. Only some maids have this ability, however, but they are usually the ones that you’d like to not hang around in your deck for too long. Even so, most of them still have some abilities that are useful if you don’t or can’t chamber them on any given turn, meaning they aren’t completely dead draws. There is really only one card in a game that, for the sake of victory points, you want to grab as often as possible, but don’t always want to continue to draw, and that is the maid chief. Although I didn’t mention it in the Synopsis section, each game includes one pile of maid chiefs. Each different set has its own maid chief, but they all have a very high employ cost, are worth a lot of victory points, but don’t have any other useful effects.
In the original game, she will pretty much always be a dead draw, and kind of acts as a handicap for those able to acquire her. Since she’s expensive, and you won’t be acquiring too many copies, the effect of this isn’t too debilitating. Adding in the expansions, however, gives you ways to get her out of your deck. The “Expanding the House” expansion has the “Estate” card, a building which, in addition to granting you a couple of victory points, essentially allows you to chamber a maid chief in your hand, even though she doesn’t have any innate ability to do so.
In the “Romantic Vacation” expansion having her in your deck actually helps you acquire reminiscences since many reminiscence cards require that you discard a set of maid cards with a total cost greater than some number. So, instead of giving you a way to remove a dead draw from your deck, the expansion turns the card into something useful.
Tanto Cuore does a good job of ensuring that, if you’re smart, you can usually shape your deck so that it will almost always give you satisfying hands to play and very rarely leave you feeling dissatisfied because you drew several cards that don’t help you move forward in any way. This quality, coupled with the satisfying card chains I discussed in the previous paragraph, are the two main qualities that I look for in a deck-building game. Tanto Cuore does both extremely well.
Assuming you have the expansions, Tanto Cuore also has an incredibly high variability that makes it fun to play over and over again. With the first two expansions, there are 50 general maids to choose from. Each game uses 10, which means there are 10,272,278,170 possible combinations! That’s right, there are more than 10 billion combinations, meaning that if you randomize the general maids, you will almost certainly never play the same game twice! Some games you won’t have many ways to generate servings, and making sure to select cards carefully so you don’t require many servings is important. Some games you’ll easily to be able to acquire lots of love, and everyone will be racing to be the first to start collecting high cost maid chiefs. Of course, you’ll always have to pay attention to specific maid abilities as well. Perhaps there are a few maids that show up, which will work well together. This leads to an enjoyable experience every time, because each game is a new puzzle to solve! In my opinion, the main benefit of the expansions is the increase in variability offered by having a larger pool of maids.
It’s also worth noting that the Events, Buildings, and Reminiscences are all mechanics that can be toggled at your discretion. They each change how the game plays. I like them all and play most games using all three, but sometimes I’ll omit one or two. Most of the time if I’m making a change I’ll omit Reminiscences. Don’t get me wrong, Reminiscences add another element that can be very fun, but they drastically change the choices you’ll make in the game, and sometimes I enjoy simply building the most efficient deck I can without having to worry about collecting certain sets of cards dictated by the Reminiscences. The ability to toggle Events, Buildings, and Reminiscences to change how the game plays merely increases the variability, which adds to the replay value. Try playing with different combinations of the three, and find your favorite ways to play!
It’s a small note, but I’d also like to mention that I love the physical product. Unlike many board games, the box is really only big enough to house the cards. It includes a little extra space, but I suspect that may only be there in case you want to sleeve all the cards.
Since the box isn’t made larger for the sake of making you feel like you’re buying something more than you really are, it takes up very little space in your closet, which is a big plus if you own a lot of games! Each of the games also comes with mono-color, oversize cardboard prints of each of the different cards.
You can use these as makeshift randomizers, which is helpful, but what they are really for is to give you a place to set your piles of cards. They eliminate the problem of struggling to pick up a card on a smooth table and feeling bad about scrapping the edges of the card while you do so. It’s a little perk, but I appreciate it a lot. Especially since art is such a big part of this game, and I want to keep my cards in as good a condition as possible without having to deal with the hassle of keeping them all in sleeves.
The cute and sexy maids may be what attracts your eye to Tanto Cuore, but it is a masterfully executed deck-building game, and after your initial infatuation, that’s why you’ll continue to play it time and time again. If you like maids, and you like deck-building strategy, Tanto Cuore will most certainly be a welcome addition to your collection.