Proud Mammal Kane

Raised by sloths. Invented the hula-hoop. Enjoyed a short stint as a zombie in Haiti. Now he makes games.

Published: 39 articles

Game Review: Cards Against Humanity

Already, in my second review, I regret establishing a rubric to grade the games that I play. Some games simply don’t fall into the appropriate headings. So consider that grading system repealed. I never want to be beholden to the system when a game that doesn’t fit comes along. And that’s what I’m going to be talking about today, the popular funny-word-shouty game called Cards Against Humanity.

Image Taken from Amazon

This game.

Yes. I invented the genre classification of funny-word-shouty game and I’ll use it quite liberally throughout the article when making comparisons. “But you don’t shout anything out in Cards Against Humanity”, someone might angrily point out. Well you’re right, but the core concept of every game that I’m going to classify as a funny-word-shouty game involves promoting (or provoking) fun and humor through the use of words or actions especially via other players. Some of them involves shouting things out, some of them don’t, but they all have the same end goal with their style of play. Perhaps I could have come up with a better genre title, but I’d rather write about the games than build complex taxonomies. Does that appease you? “Well, yes.” Good. Then lets get started.

The whole funny-word-shouty game genre seems to have emerged in the mid 1800s with the extremely well known game Charades. Charades, as far as I can tell, is the mother game of the whole genre. The omnipresent acting game that everyone should know about is all about being both competitive and silly at the same time, which highlights the great thing about this genre; it means that you don’t need to winning to be having fun. Every single one of these funny-word-shouty games core conceit is fun for the sake of fun. See if you agree with me.

Image taken from www.obeygiant.com

^ What he said. ^

Another influence for my subject this week is certainly Mad Libs, the game-book where kids install their own nouns, verbs, and such into stories to humorous effect. Mad Libs presented a shift in the genre, for 100 years the game had been played physically with people moving around and acting and guessing. It moves us into a more sedentary lifestyle of sitting around a table rather than standing in the living room. Which is great for board gamers, because we love to sit.

The next few games I’m going to mention are obvious influences for Cards Against Humanity and they’re much more alike than the originators of the genre. They are: Balderdash (With the right group, it can be even more offensive today’s topic), Pictionary (the funny-word-shouty game that in my opinion best represents the genre), and finally Apples to Apples. Apples to Apples is so similar to Cards Against Humanity they may as well be identical cousins. They differ in very few regards, of course their text is different and they look different but in the important gameplay aspects they’re almost the same, the biggest most egregious difference is… only one of these games has a real win condition.

The Cards Against Humanity rulebook is literally one page and only half of that is actual content. And that’s great! I love games that take seconds to teach someone. It means we can get to the game all the faster. My problem comes when there isn’t a way for the game to end. “Hey Jerk”, someone out there is saying right now, “I like that Cards Against Humanity doesn’t make me stop playing, it’s not the boss of me, I’m the boss of it.” Good point anonymous name caller, games are often bogged down by the ideas that their creators instill into them. Like last week with the game Ikusa, they forced a convoluted dice rolling system into a game that could have been simpler. If they asked players to come up with a fighting mechanic, I bet nearly every polled player would have come up with something simpler. Some people don’t like to stop playing games, and that’s absolutely up to them. I love them for it, but at some point… during my first ever game of Cards Against Humanity, going into the second hour or play, I found myself thinking ‘why can’t this game just be over?’

“I’m going to come to your house and beat your brains in! Cards Against Humanity is my favorite game in the whole world, bro!” Settle down, man! I’m not saying you have to stop playing. Just build a fatigue buffer into the system. That is my main issue with the game; the people who play it just never want to stop and it seems like everyone wants to play. I don’t know how they captivated their audience like they did, but they targeted a fiercely loyal and obsessive demographic. The same groups of people that love other mediocre things that are good at the start but quickly peter out, like Family Guy, Starbucks, and every single restaurant chain on the planet. And just like those things, I never find myself wanting more after the first serving.

Image taken from Wikipedia

Especially this one.

Is this a personal problem? Quite likely, but this is also a review filled with opinion. So suck it up, crybaby. “Brodudeski, you didn’t read the House Rules section of the rulebook! They talk about ending the game over there!” Ahem, bro, they talk about ending the game after everyone is tired of playing, not because someone has won. “Then just make up your own rules, making shit up is totally ham!” Sure, I could, and I certainly would if I owned the game and organized a group to play. But that isn’t me, I’m never the guy whipping it out at a party and it would be rude on top of presumptive of me to enforce my own rules on the situation. So it’s really up to the truely ham bros out there to elicit their own changes. I’m pretty sure they won’t. “Me and my bros at the frat house play every night, all 15 of us!” Really? And what do you guys do while you wait? “Wuh?” You know, because having 15 people play Cards Against Humanity just becomes an incredible time sink of listening to people read cards that quickly lose their humor. “Dude, it’s hilarious every single time.” To each their own.

I can’t put this under the review headline when I’m just complaining about one poor aspect of their design, so I’ll shove a couple of things in here that make me smile. I love the fact that they put their game online for free, good stuff. I really wish more companies would take on that try it before you buy it mentality. Also I loved the first hour and a half I played of this game. It’s funny and dark and worth a try. “That’s what I like to hear!” You’re welcome.

Bottom Line

Cards against humanity is a funny-word-shouty game that will make or break a party, and nothing in between. It catches attentions and it holds them for an inordinate amount of time.

If you want my suggestion, play until someone wins 3 cards, then just play again if you’re not sated. Otherwise it becomes a Möbius strip of mildly humorous word diarrhea with half the players eating it up and everyone else just hoping someone else is brave enough to leave the table first.

 

95% unrelated Post Script! – Our friend Mariko over at Artsy wants everybody to know that the Say Yes Cover art up there is a work by Shepard Fairey. You can see/read/learn more about him over at their dedicated page https://www.artsy.net/artist/shepard-fairey Check it out!

Behind the Scenes #1: ACHTUNG!

This Behind the Scenes article is going to focus on Proud Mammal’s first published card game, ACHTUNG! The game was developed quickly over the course of about 2 months for entry into a contested hosted by The Game Crafter website. We didn’t get past the first round of voting, but we were pretty happy with our score considering we don’t have any clout in their community. But about 2 weeks before that vote, the game went through a massive revamp. The original version of ACHTUNG! was a very different game from the one that was submitted to the contest.

In the beginning, ACHTUNG! wasn’t the silly, slow build that it became. It was an ultra competitive rules memorization game. The player who could remember the most rules from the rulebook would always come out the victor. We had this wild image of high-level competitive play where people, who would basically have to be Mentats, would know every rule and be able to follow them perfectly. An ideal game would go on and on and subtly change as time went by and different cards were played. It was a Chess match with a deck of cards where everything you did HAD to be deeply layered strategy and perfect moves… and it wasn’t a whole lot of fun.

Image sourced from http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/Science-Fiction-News.asp?NewsNum=1643

This is a Mentat. Don’t you want to be just like him?

You certainly couldn’t teach it to somebody in one sitting, and players who didn’t study the rulebook, just really didn’t have a clue how to play. In my own shortsighted defense, the rules were designed to be referenced during game (via a wildcard mechanic), but if you needed to look at those rules then it’s certain that someone else at the table is already beating you down. Again, it ended up being completely void of fun thanks to the rules we set up.

In ACHTUNG! we actually call the rules of the game, Laws, and the original version was no different in this. Each different list of rules also had a title. The set of cards came with a Declaration of Authority from the Authoritative System States (yes, acronyms are funny, don’t doubt it). I’m going to quote the entirety of the Declaration’s Preamble because it’s something I enjoyed writing and it’ll help give you an idea of my headspace while we were designing the original version of ACHTUNG!.

 

We the people of the Authoritative System States declare that, now and forever more, all people everywhere will be free from being free from tyranny. Everyone will police everyone, and everyone will be lawful in our nation under the watchful eye of The ACHTUNG! Special Police and their deputized civilians.

We hold that the ACHTUNG! Lawbook will be our sole guide in matters of domestic control and internal guardianship of the land we shall hold eternally. And as such, the ACHTUNG! Lawbook shall never be abolished or dismantled, and never will a citizen ignore or break its definitions without reprimand.

With this Authority granted to us by a higher power and enforced by our agents on Earth, the Authoritative System States proclaims each of you to be deputies of the System, for the System and forevermore implementing the System in every writ the ACHTUNG! Lawbook holds. Go forth and ACHTUNG!

 

image sourced from http://www.biography.com/people/thomas-jefferson-9353715#synopsis

“I see the Apprentice has become the Master.”

The whole silly point of that was world building, and giving the game an excuse to be brutally mean to its players. The declaration held the primary group of rules and how to play the game at the most basic stage, but the game was incredibly easy if you played only with the declaration, and only got difficult after players went to our website and started printing out Amendments. See, the Amendments had themes ranging from dress codes to curfews and they added most of the complexity to the game. (Can you believe that? We added a dress code to the game! Players would have to know they’re going to play this game well in advance to be able to play it successfully. Sheesh!)

The actual deck of cards was very different as well. Since the laws came from the Law Books the cards were basically just your average number and color matching game. The difference being that all of the crazy rules make the convoluted matching the central aspect of the game. As often as you had to fake a sneeze at the player on your right, you also had to be prepared to know exactly which card in your hand can be played on top of an ”Orange 86.379”. yeah… not the “Purple 1.2388” do you know why? Of course not, but if you had read the instructions you might understand.

I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that we always wanted the game to silly, maybe even a little frustrating, but we designed it back-asswards. We started at the rules rather than starting at the cards. Which was a mistake. We didn’t care about the fun because it was supposed to be competitive, which is totally the wrong approach to game making (especially when you actually want people to play your games). Which is why we almost totally scrapped the first version of ACHTUNG!. Which is why the current version of ACHTUNG! (Available for purchase now at https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/achtung- ) is so much better than the version we started with.

Laibach Everybody!

My baby. My ACHTUNG! baby.

Designers don’t be afraid to change an idea that isn’t working. It’s better to erase your mistakes and give yourselves more work than to cover them up. And really… make sure your game is fun to somebody out there. If your audience isn’t going to like the game, then it’s not a good idea to make it. The current version of ACHTUNG! is supposed to be for the silliest of people and that’s really the audience we wanted all along (Believe me, don’t play it with a party pooper).

Anyway, I’ll leave you now with one final comment. A small piece of advice for the design minded out there. Ideas are a dime a dozen, and not all of them can be perfect, but never throw out the idea with the game. If a concept feels good but it’s not working, it can survive a remake and come out even better in the end… and if a concept feels bad and it isn’t working, then it probably wasn’t good in the first place. (*cough*TheKarateKid*cough*)

Welcome to the Proud Mammal Chronicle

Welcome to the Proud Mammal Chronicle, a place where all of the Proud Mammal Family and Friends gather to share their insights into game playing, game designing, our various hobbies and even some shameless self-promotion. Some shameless self-promotion? Probably more like a lot, but you know you like it.

My name is Kane and I’ll be your constant companion here in the PMC. You can expect a new article from me every week on Friday. I’ll be doing a game review every month, along with a development blog to show you what Proud Mammal has been working on; past, present and future. The other two or three weeks out of the month? Who knows, maybe I’ll indulge in some video game appraisals, book reviews or film recommendations. Maybe I’ll just do a few more board game reviews! At the moment, the whole schedule thing is up in the air, just be expecting something new every Friday (Starting today!).

I appreciate comments, counter points and critiques of my critiques. Any contribution is welcome in the Proud Mammal Chronicle.

Game Review #1: Ikusa

Hello everyone, and welcome to the very first Proud Mammal Chronicles review.  Be forewarned, take everything I say with a grain of salt, because I’m only presenting my own opinion (except where stated) and I won’t be posting any sources (except for direct quotes and images). This month I’m focusing on a war game that attempts to mix equal parts luck and strategy, did it succeed? No. Well… Sort of. Depends.

In 1984 Milton Bradley started their Gamemaster series of board games with a re-release of a 1981 game that most people will at least recognize, Axis & Allies. I don’t think anyone would argue that Axis & Allies has a reputation for complexity. Not necessarily in mechanics, though first timers may have issues with figuring out how everything works in time to save their own life, and not necessarily in strategy either because someone should be able to help you plan at least a basic tactic. The complexity of Axis & Allies really comes from finding someone to play it with (HarHar, just kidding). Seriously though, it’s a game that can last all day, literally from sunrise to sunset, and you have to be hardcore and have hardcore friends to finish a game. This seems to be the common theme for the Gamemaster series (he says speculatively due to his never having played Conquest of the Empire, Broadsides and Boarding Parties, or Fortress America). But that hardcore attitude is certainly true for the final game released under the Gamemaster heading; the game that I played recently. Originally called Shogun and later changed to Samurai Swords, and currently, due to naming rights, the game goes by Ikusa.

Image sourced from magisterrex Retro Games

72 hours worth of game, in 3 boxes.

Ikusa is the anglicized version of the Japanese word for battle, and boy is it appropriate seeing as most of your time playing the game will be working your way through the protracted combat system.

Whoa whoa, hold up, I’m getting ahead of myself; I really don’t want to shit on Ikusa because I actually had fun playing this beautifully produced board game. The first thing you’ll notice when you open the box is how wonderful the artwork is. The board itself is a nice period representation of Japan, the secrecy screens are all fantastic illustrations and even the little plastic soldiers have nice detail.

Image sourced from Vintage Ninja

Just look at the attention paid to that itty-bitty castle

Now that you’ve seen what’s in the box, it’s time to play, and as with the other Gamemaster games, it has quite a lot of set-up for you to do. But actually, it’s very smooth during the set-up phase. Ikusa starts you off by passing out territory cards in much the same way that certain version of Risk will have you do. Then you just take turns setting out your armies and provincial forces. It’s slick and it’s fast and gets everyone to the game quickly. So I like it.

Ikusa also has a money allocation system that is both intuitive and flexible. There are quite a few ways to spend your money and they’re all useful at some point during gameplay. That’s all fine and dandy, but I particularly appreciate the mind games you can play with the other people at the table. Some of the things you can put money towards, only one player can use each round, and the players that don’t put the most money towards those items (i.e. win) just lose the coinage that they bid towards it. The bluffing, low balling and outright lies could get pretty fun to work around in this section of the game.

That’s not to say that the money allocation system is infallible. The actual way that you gain money in the game is based on how many territories you hold. Which ends up just kicking a guy when they’re down. One strategic mistake or a streak of bad luck can put you out of the running as early as the first player’s turn. The game is supposed to take a long time to play, about four hours according to the box, and it just isn’t fun to get knocked out of contention for victory immediately. If you’re on the defensive and losing, there is just no way to come back except through an incredible string of lucky combat rolls, or by having everyone else take pity on you and just ignore the crippled guy in the corner of the map.

Speaking of lucky combat rolls. Lets talk about the combat, the part of the game that I liked the least. The entire game is spent rolling the dice, not because you’re constantly making progress or having a fun back and forth but because you’re being forced to drudge your way through 6 different sequences of combat for each player. And not to sound entitled, but if you pay as much for Ikusa as they charge, they could include a few more dice; just so each player could roll at the same time. Doubling the amount of dice in the box would cut the playtime of the game by a third.

The way that combat works is, first your ranged units attack each other, and then your melee units attack each other. Sides take simultaneous casualties and correct unit removal can make the difference between winning and losing a skirmish. All good so far, right? The problem is that every class of soldier attacks at a different time, they must attack in a specific order, and they all have different die values that you’ll, likely, have to keep checking on a regular basis (at least at the beginning). The worst part is that only two people can do this at any one time. Who knows how long you’ll be sitting, just waiting, while a battle an entire board away is fought between two players you never interact with. It’s not poorly designed; it’s just needlessly long and convoluted when everything else in the game is so smooth and easy.

Image sourced from W. Eric Martin @ Board Game Geek

Combat Sequence is listed on the right. I’m not exaggerating.

The game has so much going for it that despite these problems just about anyone could have a good time with Ikusa, and with the right group of people and the right setting it could be a blast. In fact, I’m going to give you some recommendations on how best to enjoy Ikusa. First off, pick yourself up some samurai movies. Get something classic like Roshomon or something more modern, like my personal favorite samurai inspired movie, Ghost Dog. The movie you pick to show will give everyone something to do with all of their downtime. It’ll fight boredom of having to wait for people to finish their excessively long dice rolls. Next, get something to eat that everyone can enjoy. Something thematic and satisfying. Pick up some Wasabi Peas and some Sake, maybe some gas station Sushi if you think you have enough sake to make your guests brave. Just go with the theme of Ikusa, it’s the best part of the game, and it’ll be the best part of your game night as well. It won’t fail you.

Final Thoughts: Ikusa is a good game with issues that will cause some players to hate it. But don’t let those party-poopers dissuade you, because if you like feudal Japan, beautiful art and a mostly fun strategy game. Then Ikusa was made just for you.

 

Rating

  • Luck Aspects                  C+
  • Strategy Aspects            B
  • Production Value            A
  • Fun                                B-
  • Theme Quality                A

 

  • Overall                            B