Elevenses, ‘the card game of morning tea’, pits players against each other, striving to serve up the best spread of the sweetest cakes, most scrummy sandwiches, and of course pots and pots of tea.
Everything about this game oozes quintessentially English charm, from the pinky-peach box, to the 1920's font and graphic design, and the beautifully quaint hand drawn card illustrations, to the dainty (plastic) sugar cubes for scoring. As soon as players are dealt their ‘Morning Tea’ cards they’ll be putting on posh accents and acting all lah-di-dah.
But that is where the pleasantries will end.
Because, despite appearances, this game is not the relaxed, genteel game of polite niceties that you would assume from the back of the box, but in fact a much more cut-throat game of take-that and out-playing your opponents, but then what good tea party isn’t?!
Elevenses is essentially a hand management game, where players have to memorise card positions, and forward plan in order to set up future actions. At the end of a round, the player with the highest score wins that round, and is awarded sugar cubes, and if at the end of a round, if a player has five or more sugar cubes they are the overall winner!
To score points (indicated by teaspoon icons on the cards), players place cards from their kitchen (the three cards in their hand) face-up into their spread (the eight cards face down in front of them, organised in two rows of four cards). This means that at the start of the game, the back of the cards in each player’s spread make up most of what is on display, which is a shame, as the card backs are not up to the same great standard as the art on the card fronts.
The spreads are presumably meant to resemble a tablecloth, but the white card borders break this illusion, and the zigzag pattern used is a bit hard on the eye. A more dainty pattern in a more subtle shade of the player colours would have been an improvement, but that’s a minor quibble.
Each turn, players can do one of two actions:
- Play a card from their kitchen face-up into its correct numbered position in their spread and take the card already in that position into their kitchen (reference cards are provided which show the position that cards have to be placed in). This triggers the special action on the card, and increases their score by the number of teaspoons shown on the card (one to three).
- Take up to two 'arrange' actions, which involves placing a card from their kitchen face-down into their spread, and taking the card that was in that position into their kitchen. This is useful for two reasons; firstly it adds the new card to a player's kitchen (revealing it to them), and secondly, as the card played doesn't have to be played into its correct position, it allows players to set-up future plays.
Each player’s eleven cards range from those with low values, which have special actions that will benefit a player, to high value cards, with special actions that are likely to cause a player problems. These include cards such as:
- Tea - Only worth one point, but when played this allows a player to flip over an opponent’s card that they have so carefully already added to their spread.
- Sugar - Again only one point, but easily the best card in the game if you have as bad a memory as me! Whilst this card is face-up in a player’s spread, they can look at their face-down spread cards at any time, which makes playing the game so much easier, until another player forces you to flip it over with a Tea card - you can see how this game can get nasty!
- Cakes - Worth two points, but once played another player gets to look at your kitchen, and can swap a card with one from their kitchen.
Other special actions force players to pass a card clockwise/counter clockwise, take multiple actions, take cards from other players etc. (reference cards summarise these actions).
There are two cards that are not played directly into the spread, but to either side of it, which means once they are placed down the player will have one fewer card in their kitchen for the rest of the round, making hand management much harder, so it is vital not to put the these down too early on in a round:
- Tea trolley - This card has the lowest position value, placed to the left of a player’s spread, and is worth nothing (no teaspoons), but it guarantees one sugar cube at the end of the round, whether or not you have the highest score!
- Servants - This card has the highest position value and is placed to the right of the spread. It is worth the most of all the cards (three teaspoons), but a player must then reveal their hand for all other players to see.
Of course if the Tea Trolley and Servant are both played during the round, it reduces hand size down to just one card, which is a massive disadvantage, so timing is key to playing these cards - play them too early and you will have very little choice about what to do each turn.
One Lump or Two?
The final card is the Elevenses card, which can only be played once a player has at least four face-up cards in their spread. Once an Elevenses card is played, the clock strikes 11, and everything stops for tea! The player with the highest score (the most teaspoons displayed on their face up cards) wins the round, and gets two sugar cubes, and in three and four player games, the next highest gets one sugar cube.
The first player to have five sugar cubes at the end of a round is the winner, and their marvellous morning tea will be the talk of the town for many a Whist Drive to come!
More tea Vicar?
Included in the game is a six-card mini expansion called ‘The Special Guests’, recommended for advanced play, but I would suggest it is simple and entertaining enough to add to the game from the first play.
The guests are similar to the nobles in the wonderful Splendor, only they are attracted to your culinary skills rather than your gem producing prowess. Unlike in Splendor, each player gets their own (secret) guest that they are trying to attract, by having three specific face up cards in their spread. For instance, Prue Devine requires your sugar bowl, cups & saucers and fine china cards to be on display, whilst The Vicar has a sweet tooth, only turning up for your milk, sugar and cakes.
Once you have those cards face-up, the guest is revealed and extra points scored. Players will also not be able to resist reading out the card text in a suitably sophisticated voice (‘Who would not be tempted by your delicious cakes?’ says The Vicar), which is also a subtle way to gloat!
Everyone’s cup of tea?
It is important to note that you won’t win this game by being nice! It is impossible to win without forcing other players to turn over recently revealed cards, or making them pass carefully selected cards from their hand to other players.
And because players’ scores are open information, there is a lot of teaspoon counting during a round. At the point that a player is ready to play their Elevenses card and end the round, if they haven’t got the highest score, they won't win the round, so it is essential to keep a constant eye on the scores.
Having to memorise the position of cards and the order you want to play them might also prove a little tricky if, like me, your memory isn’t what it used to be. But that’s part of the challenge, and younger players probably won’t have the same problem!
Overall, whilst Elevenses is not what the box art and blurb might have you think, it is certainly an interesting and fun little filler game, even if at times might seems a little at odds with its theme.