The Ravens of Thri Sahashri is a tarot-sized, 2 player, cooperative card game with some legacy elements thrown in for added spice. In the game you alternate between playing the psychic Feth and the terminally unconscious Ren. Feth will build a tableau of cards for Ren to choose from and, communicating only through card play, will help guide each other through hidden and relived memories.
In The Ravens of Thri Sahashri one player takes the role of Ren, young girl in a coma and the other player takes the role of Feth, a young psychic with the ability to reach deep inside her subconscious and bring her back. This interaction between the two players centers around the Feth player setting an array of cards out for the Ren player to have the best chance at completing sets of cards.
Each game of Ravens is made up of three “dreams.” At the beginning of the first dream, the player taking the role of Ren, will draw four cards and place them face down in a column in front of her. These are her Heart Cards and only she can see them. Each card has a numeric value of 1-5, one of five colors, and shaded areas (meant to represent the hurdles or blocks to Ren’s memories). Then each round of the dream, the player taking the role of Feth will draw cards from the central deck to build an Atman in the center of the play area. This Atman (or True Self) represents the fragments of the Ren’s memories. Ren can then choose one card from the Atman and place it in next to her heart cards. The hearts cards represent a poem (a dodoitsu — or poem with four lines of 7, 7, 7, 5 syllables). Ren can work to complete one line at a time. Only moving to the next line when the previous one is complete by a set of cards adding up to 7 (or in the case of the last line of the dodoitsu, 5). When Ren chooses a card of the same color as her heart card she may reveal the heart card for Feth to see. This is important information as it helps guide Feth in creating an Atman for Ren to choose from.
As they work towards completing the poem, ravens begin to emerge from the deck. There are five ravens in the deck (one for each of the five colors of cards — red, blue, yellow, purple, green) and each are hungry enough to devour Ren’s hard earned memories. So, instead of discarding unused cards at the end of a round or dream, cards of a corresponding color to a revealed raven will be placed below the raven — a memory to be devoured at the completion of the dream. To counteract this, Feth can attempt to help Ren relive a memory by combining a block of same-colored cards in the Atman whose value equals 7. When this happens, a raven of the corresponding color is chased away, the cards sent to discard, and Ren reveals any of her heart cards that match that color. This provides Feth with important information about which cards he should add to the Atman and allows Ren some additional help at the end of the game. Those Heart Cards revealed due to a relived memory can be used in the third dream, where Ren needs to complete one line per round or lose the game.
Play continues like this for the cycle of the dream. Feth will draw memory cards from the deck and add as many as he can (wants) to the Atman in the center of the play area with the rest being discarded or devoured by Ravens. Ren will then choose one card to add to her evolving poem or to discard. The dream ends once all four lines of the poem are completed and the heart cards revealed match the colors of the cards in the Atman.
At the end of the dream any heart cards revealed due to a relived memory are kept aside in Ren’s score pile. All other cards in the poem, heart and Atman are discarded or devoured by ravens. Any cards devoured by ravens are removed from the game, all revealed ravens remain in play and you deal up a new dream.
During the third and final dream, Ren must complete one line of her poem on every turn or lose. However, she can use the relived memories that Feth revealed in previous dreams to add to her poem and help her out.
Then and only then do you consider yourself victorious. I’m not sure if it is immediately obvious from the description but this game is exceedingly difficult. It is meant to be played in silence without any advance planning or discussion so expect a long line of agonizing defeats before claiming victory. As an added bonus, there are three sealed envelopes which add a legacy element to the game. I have not opened any of these envelopes yet but I understand that they make some minor rules changes and (hopefully) some additional story elements.
In playing “Ravens” two games immediately come to mind — Hanabi and …and then, we held hands. Similar to Hanabi, the core of this game is using your partner’s tells to help guide your actions through the game. So, in this sense, both games provide a puzzle to be worked out through non-verbal communication and empathy.
In …and then, we held hands, players also were meant to remain silent while they played. However, I’m not a fan of how removing the social element makes any game feel, so I recommend that while all pertinent communication should be through the selection and placement of cards, light conversation and banter is acceptable. The theme of the game is not thick, so don’t worry that talking takes you out of it. In fact, to learn the game, I recommend playing a round (or an entire dream) out loud and allowing your partner to hear how you are planning and thinking and then going into silence. It is like playing a learning game with an open hand.
The card’s artwork is not really my flavor but it is certainly quality and well done. My perfect version of the game would drop the amine style completely and pick up some French surrealism. I feel as if I mention this often but Dixit cards makes every game better. There is a potential story to tell in Ravens and including artwork that allowed for some interpretation could add an extra storytelling element to the game. Imagine if every line in the poem could be interpreted to actually mean something!
The Ravens of Thri Sahashri is everything I wanted …and then, we held hands to be, but wasn’t — an experience game which provides an actual experience plus some narrative and story. If you are partnered with a person friendly to gaming or a gamer themselves, then this is an easy purchase. If you are just starting in two-player games or gaming, then perhaps Hanabi is better first step but Ravens should come right after. Great game and perfect for a library collection if the sealed envelopes are removed or, at least, repackaged in a way to be reusable.