Pilfered Potions and Perfect Poisons: A Review of Reiner Knizia’s Poison 

by Corey Whelen
14 July 2022

Our game guru, Corey, gives you the highlight on the strategy and skills needed to play Reiner Knizia's Poison. Subscribe to our YouTube channel and never miss a new game review! Str

Pilfered Potions and Perfect Poisons: A Review of Reiner Knizia’s Poison 

As much as I love big, complicated strategy board games that take half-a-day to play and come with one-million components, sometimes that’s just not the ticket. Sometimes you don’t have time to set-up or explain, sometimes you need something light and easy to understand. Legendary game designer Reiner Kniza created POISON to fit that niche, and it’s pitch-perfect casual game if you want to cram a lot of laughs into a fast, fun card game.  

The game is extremely simple, and it takes after classic card game like Crazy 8’s and Uno- To start the game, you deal out some cards to each player- 12 cards if you have 3-4 players, 10 if you have five players, and 8 if you have 6. These cards come in four colours and they’re numbered between one and seven.  

in the middle of the table you have 3 cauldron cards- a blue cauldron, a purple cauldron, and a red cauldron.  

This is the most I’ve ever said the word cauldron in my life. And we’re just getting started, baby! 

You and the other players are going to take turns playing one card into one of the cauldrons- the only trick is that the colour of the card has to match the cauldron- except for the green cards, which are wild “poison” cards that can go anywhere. That makes them extremely valuable.  

If the value of the cards in the cauldron ever goes over 13, cauldron has boiled over, it’s blown up in your face, you have to pick up the cards and that’s a very bad thing. The worst thing, actually, since this is one of those games where the lowest score actually wins. Each of these cards You keep going until everyone’s played their cards, and then you count up the points.  

This seems really elementary at first, but there is something thrilling about getting these cauldrons as full as possible without overflowing them. Players naturally hold onto their best cards for the end of the round, which gives this game a sort of natural crescendo as things get more complicated and more backstabby as it progresses. It’s like having three games of hot potato going at the same time, and it can get tense towards the end- this is the best part of the game, and when those cauldrons hit 13, it’s hard to laugh, even when it’s your own misfortune. It’s a little bit of schadenfreude, a little bit of being glad it’s not you. 

But there’s one additional layer of strategy her- if you have the MOST cards (not card value) of a certain colour, you get to discard them entirely, meaning there is an incentive to overflowing cauldrons on yourself, but only if you’re the best at it- everyone else gets punished. This sets up an interesting dichotomy where you’re really trying to time those cauldron overflows, and sometimes, you’re even competing for them to explode on you! If a blue cauldron has a whoooole bunch of little cards in it, as opposed to a few big ones, it becomes reeeeally valuable- that many cards could make the difference in who has the MOST blue cards at the end of the round- a well-timed potion explosion could be a huge swing, saving you a bunch of negative points, and causing your opponent, who thought they were safe, to lose a whole bunch of points instead. 

Final Thoughts- 

If this review seemed frantic, fast-paced, and a little confusing, well… that’s Poison baby. It’s all of those things and more. It’s truly that perfect blend of easy to learn and difficult to master- especially since the skill of your opponents is really what makes the difficulty curve work. It’s perfect for parties, little get-togethers, a few drinks, and a lot of laughs, and it’s so simple the kids can play to. It makes a great way to start or end game night- either way, you’ll be laughing a lot. Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you next time!