Review of Penny Arcade the Game: Gamers vs. Evil
Penny Arcade The Game: Gamers vs. Evil
(hence: Gamers vs. Evil
) is an entry-point deckbuilder game by Paul Sottosanti, published by Cryptozoic Entertainment.
Playing Time: 30-45 minutes
Summary of the Components
Gamers vs. Evil comes with 400 game cards, 1 20-sided die, and 1 rulebook.
Quality: The cards are all gloss and regular texture. One of my players found them a bit thin, but I think they're pretty average for gloss cards. Most of the cards are normal-sized, but a handful of hero cards are almost twice as big. It's really the oversized cards that feel a bit floppy, but I suspect they're still plenty durable. 4 out of 5.
Beauty: The cards all feature artwork from Penny Arcade (or in the Penny Arcade style). In general it's attractive and it's very frequently funny as well. 4 out of 5.
Usability: A standard design on the cards makes it easy to pick out the type of card, its victory point value, and its cost. Unfortunately, there's no iconography for the powers that a card bestows (which sadly had been an issue with almost every deckbuilder game out there). Some of the players also found the print for the powers to be pretty small (even when there's plenty of space that could have been used for bigger type). 3 out of 5.
Theming: The adaptation of the Penny Arcade artwork to the Gamers vs. Evil game is probably the game's highlight. It's very well done, not just in the choice of great topics to turn into cards, but also in the excellent adaptation of those topics into game mechanics. Some of the cards, such as "Touch Weiners" and "Scrotuum" generated comments and laughter almost every time they were played, and that added a lot to the game. Also, unlike Cryptozoic's Locke & Key game, I think that the theming here will be accessible even to folks not familiar with the Penny Arcade comic. 5 out of 5.
Variability: I use one additional criteria for reviewing deckbuilders: how variable the gameplay is. Gamers vs. Evil gives you enough different cards that you can play two games in a row with zero overlap of cards (other than the standard starters), which is about as much as I can ask for (and more than some of the follow-on deckbuilders have done). 5 out of 5.
Though Gamers vs. Evil doesn't push the envelope on usability, it's well produced with great theming, and thus I've given it a "4" out of "5" for Style.
Summary of the Gameplay
In Gamers vs. Evil you're trying to build up a good deck in order to buy the cards worth the most victory points — especially the bosses.
Getting Started: Gamers vs. Evil is played with two sorts of cards: green gamer cards and red evil cards, each of which is purchased with different currency. You'll start each game with a hand of green quarters (which give you 1 token, which can be used to buy more green cards) and red cardboard tubes (which give you 1 power, which can be used to buy more red cards). The exact number of cards that each player gets is based upon his "character". The character also tends to grant a special power, giving each player a slightly different starting point for the game.
Creating a Board: After each player has selected a character, a "board" of starting cards is laid out which always includes the green Merch ( 2 tokens), the red Fleshreaper ( 2 power) and a random selection of 12 other types of red and green cards, drawn from the larger set that makes up the entire Gamers vs. Evil game. The pile of Pax Pox (-1 victory point) cards is also placed on the table as are two Bosses … a topic we'll return to.
Green (Gamer) Cards. These cards are all purchased with tokens. They're more likely to grant tokens than power, and they are often more powerful than the red cards … but they don't give you any victory points.
Red (Power) Cards. These cards are all purchased with power. They're more likely to grant power than tokens, and they're often weaker than green cards … but they tend to be worth between 1 and 3 victory points.
Boss Cards. Each pile of boss cards actually consists of three boss cards and eight loot cards. The boss cards tell you how much it costs to defeat (buy) the next loot card, running from 8-13 tokens or power (as appropriate). The loot card are worth big victory points (typically 7 for green bosses and 5 for red bosses) and also have super big power.
A boss can be defeated up to nine times: the first eight times generating a loot card for the victorious player and the last granting him victory points from that final boss card.
As an amusing bit of theming, the green bosses actually have variable powers, based on the roll of a twenty-sided die. You usually get the normal result, but you can get an extra powerful result with a "crit" or all of your opponent can get to draw a card with a "fumble". This is another fun bit of theming, as it leads to jeers calling for fumbles and screams when a crit is rolled.
PvP. Attack cards (called "PvP") are a strong (but not overwhelming) theme in Gamers vs. Evil, making them somewhat more common than similar cards in other deckbuilders. The result is that you can more frequently expect opponents to directly affect you and more frequently may want to think about PvP Defenses to avoid those problems.
Taking a Turn: On your turn you draw a hand of 6 cards. You can use the power and tokens generated by these cards to buy whatever new cards you want (including defeating leaders at a cost of 8, 10, or 13 power/tokens). You can also play any cards for their powers.
Ending the Game: The game ends when one of the two bosses has been defeated nine times (emptying his deck of cards) or when six other piles of cards are emptied.
Winning the Game: Each player now picks out all the cards in his deck which score victory points — typically red (evil) cards, boss loot, and the final boss. Whoever has the highest number of victory points wins.
Relationships to Other Games
Gamers vs. Evil is (of course) a deckbuilding game. I generally classify deckbuilders in three generations. Dominion was (of course) the originator of the subgenre. It was followed by a first-and-a-half generation of games like Thunderstone and Tanto Cuore, which followed pretty tightly on Dominion's assumptions for how a deckbuilder should work, then a second-generation of games like Quarriors and Eminent Domain which took more chances with expanding and varying from Dominion's core ideas.
With that said, Gamers vs Evil is the first third-generation deckbuilder I've played, whose design references games other than Dominion. To be specific, it reminds me the most of Ascension, which similarly has: a simple system; a quick playing time; two types of currency; and limitless buys and actions. I also wonder if Thunderstone's monster system might have influenced Gamers vs. Evil's bosses and if Resident Evil's character cards might have suggested the same for Gamers vs. Evil.
Beyond that, Penny Arcade is one of the few deckbuilding games that's managed to maintain Dominion's sprightly playing time (where many others have gone too long) and overall it's one of the simplest and cleanest deckbuilding systems around.
The Game Design
Generally, Gamers vs. Evil is a simple deckbuilder that results in very fast play. Turns go quickly, without some of the complexity that slows down even quick-playing deckbuilders like Dominion, and the game itself runs pretty quickly too.
The dual currencies are used well in the game, because the setup leaves most players equally balanced in the currencies at the start. You have to make a real effort to concentrate upon just one of them, but I think doing so can yield great rewards, so there's some solid strategy in filtering and rebuilding a deck.
The bosses are the most interesting element of the game. Part of that comes from the fact that these high-value victory point cards also feature very powerful powers. This is a big change from a traditional deckbuilders like Dominion, where victory points tend to be useless. The results in easier play, since there's no longer a hard decision about buying victory point — instead, if you can, you do. However, it can also produce a more fun result, particularly for an amateur player. The boss loot also causes a rapid ramp-up in the end game, as the more powerful effects make it easier to achieve the final end game conditions.
The one other mechanic that requires some note is the "PvP" element. As I said earlier, it's a powerful element of the game (though certainly not overpowering) and that makes for a more interactive deckbuilding experience.
Finally, I want to again note the funny theming. Though it's not an actual mechanic, the theming's good integration into the cards and their effects makes the game that much more enjoyable to play.
I think that experienced deckbuilders would probably find Gamers vs. Evil a little simple (though probably still fun), and for that demographic I'd give the game's Substance a pretty average rating. However, I feel that Gamers vs. Evil is really directed toward the newcomer to the deckbuilding subgenre, and for them the game is a good entry point with solid but simple mechanics that get out of the way and let you play. For them, I've given it a "4" out of "5" for Substance.
Penny Arcade the Game: Gamers vs Evil is a simple and funny deckbuilder game. It will appeal less to experienced deckbuilders, unless they're looking for humor and satire in their game. However, for newcomers to the deckbuilder genre of games, it's a great entry point.