Deck-Building is the latest trend in board gaming and everyone is jumping on. EVERYONE. Including, of course, the Penny Arcade guys and Cryptozoic is counted among this mass and have presented us with the official Penny Arcade: Deck Building Game. After acquiring it, enjoying a few games, and receiving the Fruit Fucker Prime promo set, I'm chock full of opinions on this baby, so let's proceed.
2 of the 10 characters
One of the biggest problems hitting Deck-Building today is that the theme seems to be the biggest thing changing in the genre. Dominion created, Thunderstone furthered it, and Ascension presented the last new round of ideas in the genre. Other companies played at fresh ideas but right now the stagnation in concept is setting in and the truly unique Deck-Building game concepts are either coming from more niche corners (Blood Bowl, Rune Age) or Kickstarter (Eaten By Zombies and Miskatonic: School For Girls). So with a setup like that, I wonder where Penny Arcade comes in.
Well, the mechanics of their system is essentially Resident Evil, Ascension, and Dominion all rolled into one. The only unique concept presented here, game wise, is the "Boss Loot" piles. The part that worries me is the box names this engine which has two possible implications, either this system is going to support multiple licensed properties within the same game (ala, UFS and Vs) or this exact same game is going to be reskinned to hell and back with as many franchises as possible. Neither are good scenarios but hopefully Cryptozoic will shut Pandera's (intentional) Box before it's too late.
In Ascension, these cards are called Militia and Apprentice...
So how does this game work? Well first, you have a character with a special talent and a starting deck. So the Scoutmaster from the Winter King special gains a benefit any time any player defeats an evil Boss Loot card. AnnArchy gains a character specific card, the Bat'leth. This mechanic comes from Resident Evil's deck-building game. Next, you set up the gaming area with 7 Green (Gamers) and 7 Red (Evil) card stacks, ala Dominion. After setting this up, you add the Pax Pox cards (Curse/Disease from Dominion/Thunderstone) and finally set up the Boss Loot stacks. What's this? A new idea up in this bitch? It had to happen eventually and this is the ONLY unique thing this game brings to the table.
To play, you have cards which generate either Tokens or Power. With Tokens, you can buy a Green card, which pertains to Gamers, or Good abilities. With Power, you defeat Evil. Aside from Boss Loot cards, Evil cards, added to your deck upon beating them, are the only way to earn victory points, which are a number in a star, on the lower left hand corner of a card... JUST LIKE ASCENSION. Just like the Tokens buy cards, Power defeats them... like in Ascension. Catching onto the pattern yet? So with so much blatantly stolen from other games, let's go into the Boss Loot cards.
Only a couple of the cards you can buy/beat...
In each game, there will be a Green Boss and a Red Boss. The bosses have Lv 1, 2, and 3 variants which essentially means that the game progressing makes them harder. From this, there are also 8 reward cards for beating/buying them. You shuffle these 8 cards and place the Lv3 card down first, then four reward cards, then the Lv2 cards, four more cards, and finally the Lv1 cards. So when you beat a Lv1 boss, you take the top card from below the boss card. When four cards have been taken, the boss levels up. This repeats until Lv3, where the card is tougher, but defeating it ends the game. It should also be noted that acquiring these boss cards but you at an excessive advantage and they are worth a bunch of points to boot. In fact, Boss Loot cards are the ONLY Green cards worth points at the end of the game, meaning running the numbers pushes every player into a Red Strategy despite the claims in the manual. Unless, by some miracle, you can push enough Boss Loot cards into your deck and force the game to end early. The Green Boss Loot cards are also powered on a d20 roll though the included d20 feels cheap and imbalanced.
Also included in the game is a place for all the cards... unless you have the strange desire of not having the cards shift all over the box. $.05 foam inserts will keep you from having to resort the bulk of the included cards everytime you move the box and, frankly, should have been included considering the price. ($45)
A sample of the Boss Cards
But with all my bitching, you would think I find nothing redeeming about the game. On the contrary, this game is fun. Fact of the matter is, when stealing, it's important to steal things that work. The reason Thunderstone, Dominion, and Ascension are ruling the Deck-Building genre is simply, they work. Thus any game that directly apes them will also work. Penny Arcade: Gamers Vs Evil works. More importantly, it's genuinely funny. In general for all players and especially for video gamers, but seeing Mr. Period or Rex Ready work in the game along with all the Penny Arcade references pushes it to that next level. Loaded with crass humor, it may not be for everyone and admittedly, when someone implores other players to Touch Weiners, you'll get odd looks from surrounding gaming tables.
Of course, right now, there is the threat of the funny wearing off with play but considering how much empty space exists in the base box set, more cards are definitely coming. In fact, there is a promo right now to add the Fruit Fucker Prime to your copy.