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Grass card game

Grass is hardly a new game-- it first appeared over a decade ago and showed up in the Games 100 on a regular basis. It's disappeared from sight in recent years, but I noticed it while perusing my Games Magazine back issues. I thought the publisher might be out of business, but I risked the postage and inquired. I'm glad I did-- shortly thereafter I held a copy of Grass in my grubby little paws.

The game comes in a little burlap sack which contains the game's components-- a rules sheet, a strategy sheet, and a large deck of special cards. The object of the game is to be the first player to bank $250,000 by peddling grass. The number of rounds it usually takes to reach this goal tends to vary with the number of players in the game.

Players are dealt 5 cards and take turns drawing a card from the deck and then playing or discarding one from their hand. Once a player opens his market by playing a special card he can play Peddle cards to his Stash. These cards range in value from the common $5,000 to a unique $100,000. Players may temporarily stop opponents by playing Heat On cards on them (Detained, Search and Seizure, etc). Players with Heat On them are effectively hamstrung until they play a matching Heat Off card. Various cards lets players steal from an opponent's stash, and others protect their stash from theft. Paranoia cards cause the person playing them to lose turns and cards from their stash. So why ever play such a card? Well, you lose quite a bit of money if you're stuck holding them in your hand at the end of the round. But when one of them is played, not only do you get rid of that card, but all players must immediately pass a card to the player on their left-- so you can get rid of another. Of course, you might receive one, too.

The round ends when the deck expires or someone plays a Market Close card. At this time players total the value of their stash and subtract the penalties for any Paranoia cards they're still holding. The player with the most valuable stash earns a bonus, and more rounds are played until someone reaches $250,000.

The system of passing cards during the game gives Grass an unusual dynamic wherein players must constantly evaluate the relative merits of playing or holding onto their Paranoia cards. But even more distinctive is the rule allowing players to trade cards during their turn. This occurs more frequently when the Heat is on you and you don't have the corresponding Heat Off card. Other players are usually more than willing to offer one to you from their hand-- but it'll cost you.

Alas, the instructions for Grass are poorly written and organized. Many points are unclear and left to your own interpretation. Worse, the rules contradict themselves in one or two places. You'll need to read through them completely a few times before beginning play. The game would benefit from the services of a good editor.

Despite the flawed instructions, Grass is an outstanding game. Although it has superficial similarities to Mille Bornes, its play and feel is quite distinct. Grass is an intoxicatingly addictive game-- even if you don't inhale.

Strategy Tip: Always play a $5,000 peddle card before putting any higher cards in your stash. This prevents the better cards from getting stolen when an opponent plays a Stonehigh card, and gives you something cheap to discard if you need to play a Sold Out or Pay Fine/Heat Off card.