(Or, The hazards of joking about pyrotechnic felines while dying of dysentery on the way to the Land of Ooo with a bunch of gloomy munchkins)
It should come as no surprise that the recent holiday season (which, of course, includes my birthday) allowed for some great new games to enter the house. This year, it seemed that we ran heavy in the card games genre. This isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes space can be limited around Casa de Teehan and card games don’t take up much space.
What’s more, there have been some fantastic card games coming out lately. Here is just some of what’s shaking things up out there.
Exploding Kittens (The Oatmeal, 2-5 players)
This fun little card game is a quick-play elimination-style game in which players must avoid drawing an Exploding Kitten or, at least, have some way to diffuse said kitten. There are ways to avoid or delay the inevitable, but each player ends a turn by drawing a card and hoping for the best.
It’s a last-man-standing sort of scenario which, with others games, can be a problem as it can often leave players who are eliminated early bored. In this case, gameplay is quick and individual hands tend to run not much longer than fifteen minutes. That, and the card design, artwork, and writing are all pretty entertaining, so everyone gets a good laugh throughout play.
The game was designed by the folks from the popular comics website, The Oatmeal. The cards go for funny, and are pretty successful at it. There are actually two versions of the game available, a general-audience version, and a NSFW version which gets a bit raunchy. Consider this a game suitable for family night or for a night out with the grown-ups only. There is also an expansion called Imploding Kittens which offers new cards, new rules, and more challenges. In addition, they’ve created an app version for smartphone/tablet play. I’ve not seen it because my phone sucks, but I can’t imagine it beats playing it with real people around a real table.
A notable note in regards to Exploding Kittens is that it’s the product of one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns in history. Originally only seeking around ten thousand dollars, the campaign was fully funded in eight minutes, and by the end of the campaign had raised over eight and a half million dollars.
Beat that with a stick.
Joking Hazard (Explosm, LLC, 3-10 players)
I don’t know if the good folks at Cyanide & Happiness were looking to create a Cards Against Humanity killer, but damn if they don’t come close with this game. Like the webcomic from which this game is based, Joking Hazard can be dark, surreal, darkly surreal, and wholly inappropriate and often offensive. Comparisons to Cards Against Humanity (CAH) are both fair and inevitable. Like CAH, the transgressive nature of the game can be triggering for some, and that’s a legitimate concern and criticism, so be warned. Lots of potential triggers here. Still, if you can manage playing CAH, Joking Hazard won’t be much worse. And if your sense of humor runs dark and inappropriate, then you’ll have a good time.
Gameplay is pretty simple. Players are dealt cards made up of single cartoon panels. A card is drawn to make panel one, the “judge” of the current hand lays down a second card. The rest of the players choose from their hand their choice to complete a three-panel cartoon with the judge selecting the winner. It’s very much in the model of CAH or Apples to Apples, but with the fresh twist of the comic strip format.
Hands are played pretty quickly. Like with the other games of this type, the ideal number of players would be around five or six. Maybe seven. The minimum of three players doesn’t take advantage of the possible choices available for winning hands, and more than seven players makes the game a bit unwieldy with too many choices (and difficulty for all of the players to see what cards are being played).
Recommended? If you’re a CAH fan, then absolutely! Otherwise, you may wish to approach with caution. Fans of the Cyanide & Happiness webcomic will, of course, relish this game fully. No surprise. Like Exploding Kittens, Joking Hazard had a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign with the game being fully funded in less than half an hour after its launch, and raising well over three million dollars by its end. So, yeah… it has a following.
Oregon Trail (Pressman Games, 2-6 players)
You have to hand it to Pressman Games; they’ve really managed to pick up the perfect game for the nostalgia crowd. Who hasn’t played the Oregon Trail computer game in one version or another? I played it on an old 8086 IBM computer. Others played it on the Apple II. There have been versions for the early Mac model computers all the way up to the Nintendo Wii and Windows Phone. Turning it into a card game means that practically everyone playing starts out with at least a solid impression of the game’s premise.
Players are dealt trail and supply cards, and then take turns laying out trail cards leading from Independence, MO to Willamette Valley, OR while dealing with series of calamities along the way. Death can come to anyone at nearly any time, so it’s a cooperative sort of game in which, if at least one player makes it to the end, everyone wins!
The game designs call back to the 1985 Apple II version of the game, but not exclusively so. The design should appeal to all ages. A typical game lasts a little over half an hour once you’ve had a few practice hands. Practice hands are important. At first, the game is going to be pretty challenging until you can figure out the best cooperative strategies, and a few of the cards can be confusing until you either find some clarification of rules online or make up your own house rules.
Those minor flaws aside, it’s a good game for a good group. Like I said, it’s cooperative, and sometimes that’s a bit of a paradigm shift for card players. While it’s possible (theoretically) to play with just two people, it’s tougher to win and not as interesting. The more the merrier. With five or six players, you’re in a better position to getting at least one player to Willamette Valley.
While tough to win, the Oregon Trail card game still a recommended play–particularly, I think, for a family game night–due to its cooperative nature. Dying of dysentery can be fun! (?)
Munchkin Adventure Time! (USAopoly and Steve Jackson Games, 3-6 players)
Munchkin Gloom (Atlas Games, 2-5 players)
There are hundreds and thousands of variations of the card game Munchkin these days. Okay, no… there are only a couple of dozen, but still… that’s a lot of Munchkin.
What’s Munchkin? Well, it’s a card game published by Steve Jackson Games that first appeared around 2001. Players take on the role of adventurers who take turns exploring dungeons via kicking down doors, fighting monsters, looting treasure, and screwing over their friends. The artwork–mostly by John Kovalic of Dork Tower fame–is distinctive and amusing, as is the writing all around. It poked fun at a lot of gaming tropes.
You should check it out.
For those already somewhat familiar with the Munchkin brand, we recently got hold of two Munchkin-related games: Munchkin Adventure Time! and Munchkin Gloom.
Munchkin Adventure Time! allows you to play as one of the main characters from the Adventure Time! cartoon show. Sounds fun already! Alas, it’s not Floop Card Wars, but still a lot of fun. The gameplay is pretty much the same as the original Munchkin game, but given the full Adventure Time! treatment. You have the eight character cards to start out with, and four classes to play: wizard, royalty, hero, and musician. Monsters, treasures, and effects are all taken from the Adventure Time! world, thus making it a great doorway game to other Munchkin adventures and even *gasp* RPGs themselves!
An expansion for this incarnation of the Munchkin became available early last year, Munchkin Adventure Time 2: It’s a Dungeon Crawl! which looks like a lot of fun. We have it, but have not cracked it open just yet. We’re still exploring the Land of Ooo in the first version, but we’re looking forward to seeing what comes next.
Munchkin Gloom plays a lot like the original Gloom, but with much of the RPG-related humor and card art we so happily associate with the original Munchkin game. There are a couple of rule tweaks that give the Gloom play and more Munchkin feel (e.g., stabbing other players in the back). Each player’s hand represents a party which the player wants to collect the saddest, baddest story (such as Angered Something Ancient or Was Deep Fried by a Dragon) in order to get the lowest total Self-Worth points possible at the time of their Untimely Death. Players can, of course, try to ruin their opponents’ hands by increasing their Self-Worth (such as Saved the Day or Picked a Pal’s Pocket).
It’s a fun game, with some good gallows humor, and recommended for players who love Munchkin or Gloom, but want to take a short-but-not-too-distant break from their usual style of play. It’s a standalone game, so can’t be combined with either the standard Munchkin or Gloom card sets, but it also means that if you don’t already have Munchkin or Gloom in your collection, you don’t need them.
Not all games have to include big, expansive boards or setups. Not all games need a dozen different types of dice. A lot of great games can be played with just cards and good friends. I hope you check some of these out.
You won’t be disappointed.