Board Game Gumbo: An Exceptionally Long Review of An Exceptionally Precious Little Card Game
Board Game Gumbo is pleased to present another review from former Louisiana resident, Matthew Ward of the Dukes of Dice podcast. Matthew lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and enjoys a wide spectrum of games. He also contributes to an excellent series of short reviews, like this one of Modern Art, with his friend, Matt Walker, known collectively as WAM! (“We Are Matt!”). Here are his thoughts on an interesting recent release from Renegade Game Studios that was the talk of GEN CON 50.
Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Card Game is not your daddy’s traditional deck builder. It’s as quirky and odd as its source material by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Even if your only experience with this world is the Scott Pilgrim movie, you will still have a solid foundation for understanding all the references throughout the game.
I am going to put a warning here. This review is a lot longer than I had anticipated, more like a brunch buffet than the typical “breakfast” hello of first impressions that are on the usual beignets & boardgames segment. I want to give you a solid foundation on the mechanics of the game, so that my overall thoughts on it will make more sense. Feel free to scroll down to the bottom for my final thoughts.
Published by Renegade Game Studios
Designed by Keith Baker
Art by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Plays 1-4 players in 45-60 minutes
Category: Comic Book / Strip
Main Mechanic(s): Deck / Pool-building
Scott Pilgrim is a competitive card game where players compete to score the most victory points. The game played in a number of phases: thinning the draw deck, an optional acquisition phase, an optional combat phase which includes redrawing your hand after you decide if and what to fight, and a redraw for your next acquisition phase. If you skip one of the phases, your reward is an extra draw card for the other phase to improve your chances.
As with any deck builder, there is an offer of cards that you get to buy or fight during your phases, but here’s where it gets weird. All the cards are double sided, so buy power and combat strength are on opposites sides of the cards, and challenges (what you fight) and power ups (persistent bonuses and victory points) are paired up on opposite sides. So at this point, I am sure you are thinking….huh….how do I shuffle and keep my cards hidden? It’s not as bad as you may think. After you shuffle your draw deck, you flip it over and draw from the opposite side, so you won’t know what the top card is after shuffling, and it’ll be hard for your opponents to remember what’s on both sides. When you populate the offering, you get to look at both sides of the top card of the draw deck and choose which one shows face up in the buy area.
There is one more type of card I have yet to talk about: the Drama card. In your starter cards, and through abilities on the cards, you will be adding and removing Drama from your draw deck. But why would you want Drama at all in your deck? Because sometimes the highs of relationships make you stronger, and sometimes the lows make your work suffer, and sometimes your friend’s drama can make your life more challenging, and sometimes life is just more complicated than you want. Bottom line is that the cards you buy can become stronger because of a lack or excess of drama. The challenges you face can be made more difficult because your friend’s drama is used to make your fights harder. It’s a fascinating thematic and mechanical creation.
During the Acquisition phase you have three different types of buy power which include Romance, Work, Music, and a fourth that is a wild for any of the others. The cards have any number of abilities including drawing more cards, eliminating cards from the discard pile or hand, or flipping over cards in the offering. This last bit is important because it gives you control over which side of the cards everyone can see and therefore which side you may be able to buy, fight, or even giving you knowledge of what card abilities are on both sides..
During the combat phase you have to (a) discard the cards you held during Acquisition, (b) choose your fight, (c) redraw a new hand, (d) determine if your opponent’s drama makes your challenge more difficult, (e) adjust the difficulty based on the power up, aaaaaaand (f) finally start laying your combat cards down trying to summon up enough attack strength to defeat it.
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!
On your character card there are symbols available like the old Nintendo controller: up, down, left, right, A, and B. If you can use them to match up to a combo described on your player card you get to do even more damage. Either each card counts as one strength or the cards count as the combo strength plus whatever card abilities might be available plus one damage for each card that wasn’t used in the combo attack.
The last bit I have failed to mention is that you will be going against one of the Evil Exes of Ramona Flowers. They create persistent effects that hamper your efforts, and also set the Victory Point goal for which you and your opponents are competing. By directly fighting the Evil Ex you can get most of the victory points you need to win, but it won’t be an easy fight
So let’s talk about the mechanics in Scott Pilgrim. The most obvious is Deck Building, and it is very traditional in the sense of having to survey the available offerings, spend resources to get cards, and then send your hand and what you bought into the discard pile. A good - and interesting - change to the buy system is that the designer, Keith Baker, created different types of resources to use to purchase new cards.
I like creating my deck with a plan and purpose in mind based on what’s on the board and what my opponent is trying to do. Using the back sides of the buy cards for combat is pretty brilliant too. It adds a second layer to buying, because your focus maybe on a particular skill, like fighting, and you need certain abilities or combo symbols that are on the back side of the card. Having knowledge of both sides of the cards might be important to your strategy.
I am not sure what to call this next mechanic, because I don’t know of any game that uses it. I will reference it as deck management and it works two fold. The first way is in your draw deck and it is very familiar in that you need to thin your deck, but the rub is how much. For instance, drama can help and hurt you depending on what cards you buy. Your drama can certainly hamper your friend’s ability to beat the challenges they are dealing with on their turn. For instance, what if you really want to get rid of one of your start cards, but you see that it has a combo symbol you will need. There is so much to consider.
The second way deck management works is how players can control what cards are being offered to buy. Remember, there is a lot to think about when surveying the market tableau:
Multiple resources to buy cards
Abilities to use on the buy cards and combat cards;
Challenges to face with difference difficulties and rewards; and
Power Ups that can give you persistent help as well as victory points.
To manage all this, there are a couple of ways you can affect the offering. There are two stacks of cards that you get to choose from when replacing cards, and they are randomly shuffled front and back giving you a look at the buying, combat, challenges or power ups that are facing you. But, before you take your optional buy turn, you can discard one or both of the top cards on the draw decks to get to the next offering. The designer, Keith Baker, provides hints about what are on the back side of the card, so it isn’t a complete mystery. This discard-part-of-the-market mechanic helps seed the offering with cards that you can buy, challenges you can beat, or cards that don’t help your friends.
In addition, when you replace cards in the offering you get to pick from one stack, look at the back side and then choose which side your friends get to see, which segues into the next mechanic, which is memory.
Yes, there is a slight memory aspect to the game. You may see an ability you like so you place it face down so your opponents won’t know what it is. My memory is pretty terrible, and I am glad I don’t have to remember that much. Cards will get flipped due to abilities, but basically it’s just another layer that’s been added due to the dual sided nature of the cards.
Lastly there is an element of role play. Keith Baker is known mostly for creating the D&D setting of Eberron and for designing Gloom. While Gloom is entertaining, it shines when players talk about their actions in story form to give it that spark. I think perhaps it’s the same in Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Card Game. A little bit of play acting goes a long way in passing the time between turns, as there can be a bit of analysis paralysis since there is so much to consider.
Short answer? Yes, lots and lots and lots of theme here. Are you focused more on work or your music? Does romance cause more drama than it should in your life? Does your friends’ drama cause you problems as you face life’s challenges? Maybe retreating into senseless video game violence is the only answer to your struggles. Who knows but it’s all there just like in the movie and the comic books. I feel like I am in the Scott Pilgrim universe duking it out with all the rivals and exes.
Bryan Lee O’Malley’s art is perfect for Scott Pilgrim. It is strong in that anime style, but he definitely has his own take on it. Although the characters look alike, they all have defining features and voices. It’s fun, whimsical, energetic, and a great amalgamation of east and west comic book styles. He makes each of the cards different, pulling in the comic book scenes, and giving you a chance to relive the stories again.
So the MSRP is $45, and I have to wonder how much is access to the IP. The art is great and there are some fun oversized double sided cards from the main characters and evil exes. I bought a playmat because it has great art on it, but it’s completely unnecessary and may even hamper game play. There is so much going on in the cards that to try and focus on it when using the mat makes it that much more difficult. If you don’t know or enjoy the IP then I don’t know that this is a $45 game in components and rules, so I’d be looking for it in the mid $30s.
I should just title this section TL:DR, because here's the thing. The game is innovative, thematic and entertaining if you like Scott Pilgrim. This is a gamer’s deck builder. What I mean by that is that it’s completely unintuitive and having some decent exposure to modern board gaming will help. It’s a painful teach and first play.
If you don’t know the intellectual property then you are not going to understand why the gameplay and mechanics are structured the way they are. It’s kind of a hot mess much like Scott Pilgrim is, and that endears the game even more to me. It’s odd, quirky, and it appeals to the hipster in me.
I don’t think this game is going to find as much success as most of the other Renegade titles, but I am glad they made Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Card Game. Part of what I like is that I get to be a planner and risk manager, and it’s super fun to get a few combos off and beat the crap out of the other guy.
Are you interested in the world of Scott Pilgrim laid out in cardboard form? Have you already played it? Hit me up on Twitter and give me your thoughts.
-- Matthew Ward, @uncouthtooth on Twitter