The Blood of an Englishman is a Fun Puzzle for Two Players

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<i>The Blood of an Englishman</i> is a Fun Puzzle for Two Players

The Blood of an Englishman isn’t quite as violent as the name implies—okay, it’s not violent at all—but draws its title and theme from the children’s story Jack and the Beanstalk. In this light, asymmetric two-player game, one player plays Jack and the other the giant, following different rules for moves and pursuing separate conditions to win, forcing you to play for the victory while always watching your back.

The entire game of The Blood of an Englishman is a special deck of 50 cards, which are shuffled and then dealt on to the table, face-up, into five columns of ten overlapping cards apiece. The deck comprises 36 numbered cards, four apiece of cards 1 through 9; eight Giant cards, two apiece of Fee, Fi, Fo, and Fum; and six treasure cards, two apiece saying Gold, Goose, and Harp. Each column of cards is laid out with cards overlapping, so that there’s a front of the column and a back, which affects how each player can move or take cards from the table.

The player playing as Jack must try to create three “beanstalk” columns of his own by taking six numbered cards in ascending order and then topping each beanstalk with a treasure card. If Jack builds three such columns and heads them with one Gold, one Goose, and one Harp card (in any order), that player wins. Jack gets to make one move right after setup, moving any one card on the table to any other position in any column. On a regular turn, Jack gets to make a total of three moves: take any card from the front of a column, take any card from the back of a column, move a card from the front of one column on the table to the front of another column, or move a card from the back of a column to the front of that same column.

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The lumbering Giant has less flexibility in making moves, but has more possible victory conditions. The Giant player wins if s/he can create a run within any column on the table of Fee, Fi, Fo, and Fum cards (one of each) in any order, or can bring those same four cards to the fronts of four of the five columns, also in any order. The Giant also wins if Jack can’t complete the three beanstalks, which may happen near the end of the game, as the balance of power shifts towards the Giant the longer the game goes on.

On a turn, the Giant may take any one card from anywhere on the table and discard it from the game completely. The Giant may also take the four cards from the front of any column on the table and move them, as a group, to the front of a different column. Or the Giant may make two moves, taking the front card from any column and moving it to the front of another column, and then making the same move again. Other than the discard option, the Giant never gets to touch cards at the back of the stacks, unlike Jack.

Jack has a clear advantage early in the game, and building the first beanstalk is quick and simple; even his path to the second one will be largely unimpeded except perhaps for the second treasure card. The Giant’s moves in that portion of the game are largely prologue, trying to get some of those Giant cards into the same columns or deleting a couple of useful cards to slow Jack down. Around the game’s halfway point, however, you’ll have to start checking each move you make to ensure you didn’t just set up your opponent to win before you get control back—the game is balanced enough for both players to end up close enough to the victory condition at the same time. And because the Giant is powerful but less nimble, that player is constantly engaged in setting up possible victory moves while Jack has to play defense while still grabbing cards to complete the three beanstalks.

Although the box for The Blood of an Englishman suggests a game time of 30 minutes, we haven’t come close to that in multiple plays, even factoring in setup time. My daughter, aged 10 and a veteran of new boardgames, liked it immediately and grasped the basic strategy after her first game (where she played as Jack and ended up setting me up too well to win). It’s really a two-way puzzle, reminiscent of those toys where you’d have to slide tiles around to create a pattern or put the numbered tiles in a certain order; here, you’re moving cards to try to give yourself access to the ones you need while denying your opponent the same. It’s light and clever, and between the random shuffling and the two roles, gives solid replay value, making it an above-average two-player game that has the benefit of being very portable too.

Keith Law is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com and an analyst on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. You can read his baseball content at search.espn.go.com/keith-law and his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.