Some games revel in their simplicity. Corks is one such game – it is a game of set collection, and fast reactions. You don’t need to have the fastest reaction to win… You need to ensure you don’t have the slowest!
If you’ve played the game Donkey before, you’ll recognise the mechanisms at play, here. Some of you might have played a variant involving spoons. (I know I did in university halls, with alcohol involved.) Corks is a polished version of that game, and it comes with wonderful components.
Gameplay and rules
The core gameplay of Corks is simple. You’ll start by placing x-1 number of corks out in the centre of the table or playing surface. (x being the number of players participating, so in a seven-player game, you’ll put six corks out.) Corks can accommodate up to 14 players, so there could be as many as 13 corks out to start the game!
Then you’ll go through the deck of cork cards and select x sets of matching colours. (These do not have to match the colours of the corks on the table.) Again, x being the number of players involved, here. So, in a seven-player game, you’ll pick seven sets of cards. There are four cards in set, so in our example you’d have 28 cards total, comprising of seven sets. You won’t need the rest of the cards, or the corks, for that matter.
Shuffle the cards and deal four to each player. These cards show a colour of a cork. Allocate one player as being the ‘Corker’. This person will call out, “Go!” or, “Corks!” (or, insert any word in here), and then all players, in a simultaneous fashion, pick one card to pass to their left. Thus, they’ll receive a card from their right. The Corker calls out “Go!” again, and everyone passes another card to their left.
If ever a player manages to collect a set of four matching cork cards, they then have to grab one of the corks. They can do this in either a subtle or frantic manner! At this point, all other players then have to grab a cork. The game is, as you might have already deduced, akin to Musical Chairs. There’s one less cork than there are players. The person that fails to grab a cork suffers the ignominy of elimination.
In the next round, you remove one set of matching cards and a cork (so there are still x-1 corks). Cards dealt out again, and the Corker shouts “Go!” once more. Play and rounds continue until there are two players left. These folks will need nerves of steel to grab that solitary, final cork.
Colour-matching and the ‘5 Lives’ variant
You can, of course, up the ante. One variant, which adds a soupçon of extra flavour, is Colour-Matching Corks. In the base game, it doesn’t matter which cork you grab, nor which set of matching cork cards you collect. In that vanilla variant, you’ll collect any old colour, and attempt to grab the cork that’s closest to you. Things change with this version, though…
Here, you set up the game as normal, with one less cork than there are players. This time you pick the specific matching colour cork cards to the corks on the table, plus an extra set, as per usual.
The mechanisms remain the same. Players pass one card to their left each time, in a simultaneous fashion. Only this time, if you get a set of four matching cards, you have to grab the corresponding colour cork! If you are able to collect the colour cards without a matching cork, you can grab any cork.
On a similar note, it is only the player to acquire that first set that has to grab their matching cork. Everyone else has to grab any of the other corks to remain in the game.
The ‘5 Lives’ variant is best played with lower player counts. This time, instead of player elimination if a player fails to grab a cork, they gain a letter. (First a C, then an O – you spell out the word C-O-R-K-S). Elimination-proper occurs when unfortunate souls earn their fifth letter. (Or when they lose their fifth life, depending on which way you look at it!)
Up to 14 people can play Corks. Yes, you read that right. 14 players! However, from a practicality point of view, we’re unsure if you’d ever get many opportunities to test it at that number. The nature of the game is passing cards to your neighbour. To play Corks with 14 players, you’d need a huge table to seat everyone. Remember, there needs to be enough room for everyone be an equal distance away for grabbing the corks.
In ideal circumstances, you’ll want about six to nine players for the game to shine. If you play with fewer than six players, the base game can be over a bit too soon. With lower numbers you can at least play with the 5 Lives variant (it recommends 3-5 players for that). On the upper end of the player counts, we managed to play it with 10 people in a pub by pushing two tables together. It’s quite the manic affair!
We regard player elimination as something of a poor game mechanism in this modern age. The good thing with it in Corks is that the game is fast – rounds only take about one to two minutes. If you’re knocked out in the first round, you won’t have long to wait. Plus, Corks is the kind of game that is equal parts entertaining to observe from the outside as it is to participate. Watching people scrabble for the last remaining cork is borderline-slapstick.
The Colour-Matching variant provides a neat twist. The corks start the round by being equi-distant for all players. It’s inevitable, though, that one colour will be ‘closest’ to you. Logic suggests that you should aim to collect that colour of cards, right? Make life easy for yourself with a short-distance grab? But if Carol can see the red cork is in front of you, what are the odds of her passing you any red cards? This adds a pleasant sprinkle of consideration to your choice of card to pass on.
One approach to playing is to play some rounds without even aiming to collect four of a kind. Instead, you can spend the round watching your opponents’ reactions! That way once you see one of them dart forward to grab a cork, you’ll be ready to do so, too! (A note on this, though: any game about reactions can get physical. Please be careful about having drinks or breakable items on the table when playing!)
If you can make it to the final round, you’ll square off against one other opponent for that last cork. In this round, the game sees a total dynamic change. Here, you need to be smart about what card to pass your neighbour. In theory, you know which four cards they’re holding (the four cards that you aren’t!). You have to guess what card they might pass you. Therefore, you have to give them a card that does not gift them their fourth matching card!
This does lead us onto what I refer to as ‘False Corkage’. If ever someone grabs a cork to trigger the forthcoming mad rush and they don’t have a set of four matching cards, they face elimination as a forfeit.
Art and components
The game comes with 15 life-size corks. They’re made of wood (not cork, itself) and painted solid colours. They’re of a great size for, erm, grabbing, and solid enough to cope with manhandling in a ‘competitive’ manner. Some of the colours might look too similar in dull light. This doesn’t matter so much for standard Corks. It does, of course, impact how you’d play the Colour-Matching variant. This fault goes for any number of board game components, mind. Turn that mood lighting up – this is game night, not date night!
The cards themselves are of a standard 52-card deck-size. They’re a clean design with a large cork in the middle. Four smaller corks sit in the corners (so you can fan them out to see your hand). Again, if you play this in poor light (evenings outside, for example), you might struggle to tell the difference between colours. This is a more pressing issue. Regardless of what variant you play, collecting four colours of a kind is crucial.
The good thing is that you’re unlikely to play with the maximum 14 player-count. Omit the rogue colours that could cause potential confusion, and avoid clashes. Culprits are as you’d expect: orange, brown and red; dark blue and black; pink and violet.
There is no rulebook. Don’t panic! Instead, the rules sit on the edges of the box. They’re not complex, anyway. The game comes in quite a smart, matte, verging-on-classy box. This surprised us, considering the fact it’s not a serious game, at all. We applaud designers Ginger Fox Games for the quality, here.
Final Thoughts on… Corks
Corks is a superb, silly party game. It’s an ideal candidate for a game to open or close a games night. It’s guaranteed to provide lightheartedness and merriment to even grumpy gamers. What better way to break the ice than scrabbling for corks in a feverish manner?
It’s fantastic that there are many variants to accommodate player counts. The Colour-Match offers pleasing conundrums in the form of card choices to give away. It appears simple on the surface, but during the final rounds, you have to out-think and out-wit your rival. Our only real gripe is that some colours on the cards can be indistinguishable. There is an easy remedy for this (mentioned above). Besides: how often are you going to play this game at max. capacity?
Corks has popped up our list of favourite party games. Be wary of where you play it, though. Things are bound to get boisterous – there’s no such thing as a quiet game of Corks!