Board Game Gumbo: Spice It Up! with Bad Doctor
Gen Con 2018 was pretty exhausting for me. After my shift as a volunteer game demoer, I spent my afternoons wandering the exhibit hall trying to ignore the numerous texts from my buddies asking what the hot games were. Or if I could pick up their Kickstarter game. (I kid, I didn’t ignore anybody and I brought back more stuff for other people than for me.)
There are so many booths at Gen Con that you just cannot stop at every one. Something needs to catch your eye…..or catch your ear…..to make you stop.
So when I wandered by Mayday Games’ booth, and I heard the sounds of laughter, I was interested. I glanced over at the table nearest to the corridor, and I saw a group of players pointing at tiles and laughing out loud. Color me intrigued.
I talked with Seth, one of the owners at Mayday, and he introduced me to a game that fits a lot of the elements that I look for in a gateway or filler game. Does your game group like art with a smile on it, and a quick playing, tile laying game that can be taught to anyone and played in under a half hour? What if I told you that it has some juicy player interaction, to boot?
Bad Doctor is a 2018 release designed by Dan Germain and Eric Magnan. (Most of the funny illustrations are from noted comic book artist, Bill Holbrook.) I was provided a copy to review from Seth at Gen Con, thanks to an introduction from another publisher who reads our blog.
It’s a tile laying game on the surface, and really an abstract game at its core -- but the heart of the game lies in the theme’s premise: players play really bad doctors....check that...I mean really, really bad doctors -- the kind with punny names, cigarettes dangling out of their mouths, and a look of incompetence with a lack of care that borders on extreme diffidence.
The recitation of the game's premise alone probably conjures up all of the mechanics for you. But, I'll give you the brief overview. Players will take turns as their mauvais, malpracticing body mechanics “visiting” patients at a hospital -- the kind of place I used to find in the pages of Mad Magazine circa 1982 -- and desperately try to cure those patients of all of the various maladies on the cards. (Or will they?)
How is this accomplished? Players use their turns to draw random “treatment” tiles, which can sometimes completely cure the patient, and other times, the cure itself creates even more problems. (Apparently, our characters skipped that 6th hour Wednesday talk on the Hippocratic Oath for Highball Hour at the Hyatt). Cure a patient of all of its woes, and players will score points for every treatment they connected to the patient. Each cure is a race to the finish, because all of the connected treatments done by other players are removed from the patient without scoring any points for any other player besides the doctor who cured the patient. That's pretty mean, but wait...there's more.
Ah, my dear doctor, you only have so many actions, and there are always at least four (and sometimes five) patients in the hospital. So what happens if you don’t check on one of the patients? Well, of course they get worse. You will add a complication cube on each patient that you don’t visit, and if there is not enough room for a cube, that patient dies. That’s right, there’s patient elimination in this game.
You lose all of the connections you had on that patient, and EVERY OTHER DOCTOR scores. Yes, modern medicine at this hospital means that doctors won’t get sued for malpractice in this game if they can just blame you for killing the patient instead of them. Hey, it is a tight race to get eight treatment connections score (which triggers the end of the game) and it is every doctor for himself or herself. They have to pay for that Tesla somehow.
Mayday has done an excellent job with the production of this game. The tiles are colorful and very sturdy. Each player gets an individual player board which essentially teaches you the pace of the game. The symbols on the patients and on the treatment tiles are colorful and also have symbols for colorblind friendliness. The game fits into a nice sized box that will not dominate your shelf, and befits its gateway or filler game status. I have no problems with the presentation of this game from a cardboard standpoint.
What about the artwork? Hmm, that may be a little more problematic for some. When I play board games, I am usually on the lookout for two types of art -- the gorgeously illustrated classic board game art that you find from a Dutrait or an O’Toole, or something that pops off the page like you see from Kwanchai Moriya. I am all about the dreamy landscapes and unusual denizens of a game artist like Ryan Laukat, but Bad Doctor does not have that classic or dreamy or edgy look. Instead, Mayday commissioned zany artwork from Holbrook that probably fits better with the theme and game play than your ever present euro style art. I am not the biggest fan of this artwork, but I have to grudgingly admit, it really does fit the game better than something more serious.
BUT IS IS FUN?
I know you, dear reader of this blog. You have plenty of tile laying games on your shelf already. You are sitting at your breakfast bar, drinking a cold Barq's Red Creme Soda and asking yourself: Why should you play yet another variant? And that’s the rub. This game is just a little different, and here’s why.
First, you have the theme. How many tile laying, hospital patient saving, patient killing but you score points games are there on BGG? I couldn't find any others. And let's face it. It’s just funny to see the puns on the cards, the crazy mishaps that befall the patients, and, yes, the artwork.
Second, and maybe more important -- the idea that players are trying to save patients to score points, but not are really not that unhappy to play a tile that jams another player into killing the patient, thus losing that competitor all of her treatment connections and scoring all of your own, well, that’s just a gloriously funny outcome. And it certainly fits the theme of this terrible bastion of bad medicine.
Third, the game feels like it has some pretty big decisions in every round, and yet you only have two actions. The pace is quick, and the game play has just enough take that to give some laugh out loud “screw you” moments. That’s usually pretty tough to find in a shorter game like (dare I add “boring”) tile laying games like Lanterns. (editor’s note: that's too inside baseball, BJ, but thanks, John.) But, it is definitely present in Bad Doctor.
So the two twists in the game are really what make this game stand out from the crowd. There’s more direct and indirect player interaction than you usually see in short tile laying games, and you can score not only for helping patients but also for causing other players to send them to that great hospital bed in the sky. If you like tile laying games, that have a thirty minute play time and where the rules are approachable enough to even qualify as a family or as a gateway game, then Bad Doctor might be just the….ahem...prescription you need.
Let me know on twitter @boardgamegumbo if you have tried Bad Doctor. Thirty seven out of fifty one doctors who’ve played this game recommend it for those patients who play board games.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!