Saturday, June 30, 2012

Gettalife - Stacking The Deck, Turning Steamy Sex To Lukewarm, And Giving Death A Pass

So, out of the blue I get this email from a nice gent from New Zealand, asking me to review a new card game called "Gettalife", where you and several of your closest friends attempt to build a tableau of cards in four aspects of life in order to have the most fulfilling life. It's as if the designer wanted to help us all realize how utterly tepid our lives are by showing us what might have been. Luckily, I had so much fun playing the game that I was able to overlook the fact that I am not a legend, nobody has ever knighted me, and I do not own an island, all of which would be pretty brilliant. I can't get the guy at the grocery store to call me "Sir", so that knighting thing would be awesome!

To be honest, I'm not sure what to classify the game as. I guess a "tableau building game" is a good description, as the whole object is to build a four by four grid of cards in front of you. But there's a lot more going on. While the basis of the game boils down to "draw up to limit, play a card, or maybe a couple", you can play cards against other people, trade cards at will, and there's even four spoiler cards in the deck, one of which depicts the Grim Reaper, that acts as the "old maid" in the deck, which you're trying to get rid of before game's end. While initially a bit daunting because it was so different than anything else I've ever played, we watched the video and it was all made very clear. After that, it was smooth sailing. In fact, I wish that all games came with a DVD, since reading rules isn't a part of the hobby I appreciate. I literally just bought Star Fleet Battles again, and after 20 minutes of reading, I remembered why I gave it away the last two times.

While the art is not super impressive, it's not bad, a little Pythony, and ties in with the irreverant theme. While the game comes in a rather nondescript box, the production of the game is actually really well done, especially for a small-press outfit. The cards are thick, and oversized, which might be bad if you're an obsessive card sleever, but is good for gameplay purposes as it's important to be able to see what other players have in their tableau. Additionally, there's a nifty grid guide to remind everyone how to build their grid, a rulebook that is clear and easy to read, and plenty of examples to help you get the drift.

The real key is the included DVD, which is region-locked and has to be used on a PC or can be watched online at their website. My wife complained that she wanted to choke the narrator to death, which is odd because women generally find that accent hot, unless they're from the country of origin, in which case it's not as special. Me, I kind of imagined Paul Hogan narrating (who is an Aussie, not a Kiwi), which reminded me of the Paul Hogan show, which reminded me of "Donger". So, the entire game I was talking about my computerized beer gut and would randomly spew "Saw'gent Dongeh, Plainclothes Division, and Oi'm 'ere to rough ye up" when I played a card against an opponent.

The game has maybe 80 cards or so, but it seems like there's more than there are because you never seem to get what you want in the draw. So, there's a lot of horse trading, which really makes the game more interesting, because it's a matter of deciding whether to accept a trade for a card you want while helping someone else, or just sucking it up and hoping to catch a card on the draw. The distribution of cards is also such that at the top level, there is only one of each card and at the bottom, four, so you're really trying to focus on one or two of the columns as the top row has the most points. So, it's a continual flow into and out of your hand, with you hopefully drawing good cards while watching others' grids.

The hand limit of five cards ensures that you can't hoard the top row gold cards until the end, and it's a bottom-up affair where you must build vertically before being able to build horizontally, so it's not uncommon to trash a high-value card that's not playable for a while. When you're setting up, you hold 12 random cards back in a kitty, add the really nasty end-game cards to that kitty, and once the draw deck has been run through, the discards are also shuffled into that kitty deck to form the final draw deck. This means that if you discard a high-value card early, you can potentially get it back, but it's a risk you have to take. The scariest scenario is having 2 levels built and having the fourth level in that suit, but not the third. That's when you really have to make tough decisions on whether or not to hold the card until the end, locking up one of your precious hand limit for what amounts to half the game.

But beyond the tableau building, there's screwage cards as well called "Hardknocks", and they essentially lock an opponent's suit, prohibiting further construction of that suit until one of the two matching Silverspoon cards can take it out of play. Luckily, on your turn you can look through the discard pile to try to find one, but if one hasn't been discarded, well, you lose your turn and you're still locked out next turn. This is just one example of ways to screw with opponents, because there's cards that force players to pass a card to the left, there's cards that cause you to lose points if they're in your hand at the end of the game, and there's cards that can be played against opponents' cards in the 3rd row that wholly negate them. There's even wild cards that can be used to fill in any spot, which can be taken by others if they can replace it with the card that the wild card is standing in for. All in all, it's a really wild, and actually surprisingly fun game.

What really captured my interest was the interaction of the various elements, and how each turn really delivers you an array of things to do. It's not a simple card game, and if you try to just build by "draw and play" methods, you'll end up screwed. Knighting someone, which can only be done if they have an entire vertical row in a suit, gives them a bunch of points, but if you do so, you get a token worth even more. In the last game we played, this little shithead who we thought was being murdered the whole game, and who seemed to be acting as a "kingmaker" and just dropping bombs on everyone all the time, ended up barely under the winner, and I mean barely, because she had knighted every player, giving herself big bonuses. While her tableau looked unimpressive, her strategy paid off. I mean, she didn't even ascend to the second row until after the deck was reshuffled, not to mention the fact that she ended up sticking the leader with the Death card, which effectively nukes a huge chunk of points from the bearer at the end of the game.

Now I have to lay out a gimmick alert here: and I need to extrapolate on it. The name of the game is "Gettalife", and I'm assuming that the rest of the world is maybe 25 years behind America when it comes to valley girl catchphrases. I'm sure in 2035 Kiwis are going to be calling everything "Epic" and canihazcheezburger lolcats will be all the craze. So, they're serious in  the rules when they specifically instruct you to tell someone to "Gettalife" if they screw you over, or have to dig through the discards to kill a Hardknock. Furthermore, there are several "Gottalife" cards in the box which are irrevokably granted to a player who has won the game thrice. We're sitting around playing board games when we could be chasing skirts or getting pissed. I'm not sure a card given for winning a card game three times is going to convince anyone that one has, in fact, "Gottalife". Maybe if it was a Las Vegas call girl card that the Mexicans purvey upon passers by, scrawled with lipstick noting "I never knew it could feel that good!", with little hearts over the I's, maybe then you could convince someone that you, indeed, "Gottalife". That said, thanks to the inclusion of these cards, I could use that bit and the crap photoshopped pic of the Satan's Sinners card in the Mexican dude's hand, so I got my fun out of it, and that's the point of the game, having fun, so I guess it works in the end. At least for me.

This is one of the few games that I'm antsy to play, and I'm going to be bringing it with me over to my buddy's house later tonight. Everyone but one person loved it, thought it was fun, a bit silly, but a really good time. The one person who didn't like it just didn't seem to "get it", and did very poorly. But, part of our review process is that sometimes, one player is going to get pissed at something and go sour grapes on it. I think if she played again, we'd have had a different result, but who's to say. Either way, I recommend it, personally, very highly as a hell of a way to spend an hour or so with four players, playing a game with huge interaction, a heavy dose of skullduggery, and a Kiwi narrator who will make you reminisce about old Down Under comedy. To quote two of my favorite cartoon characters, "Brilliant!"

Why The Valley Girls Were Right - You Need To Gettalife:
- Clever game for backstabbity, clever people
- The art is cartoony, but sort of in a Monty Python, endearing way
- The pace of the game is brisk, and negotiations are done off-turn
- Video rules? Hell yeah! All games should include this
- It's a really, truly fun game

Why The Designer Should Gettalife:
- The 1980's called, and they want their catchphrase back
- If you don't like interaction and screwage, this is not your game

I'm not going to lie; I didn't expect to love this game. I expected it to be mildly interesting, and based solely on a gimmick of using a catchphrase from the 80s. But I was very pleasantly surprised that not only did I enjoy it, I wanted to play it not twice in a row, but thrice. And then we played some more the next day. Unfortunately, I still don't have my Gottalife card, but I hope someday to carry it around with me so when I finally get to achieve my personal life goal of watching the All Blacks play, at Eden Park, I can proudly proclaim that I finally "Gottalife". Check out how to play in the video, see if it's up your alley, and if it sounds like a winner, pick it up. We had one naysaying whiner out of 6 of us that didn't like it, so I can't say it's for everyone. But, I sure did!

4.25/5 Stars

Check out the Gettalife website here:

Check out the tutorial video here:

And, now that I mentioned it, check out Donger, which I can't believe I found:

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