Girl Genius: The Works
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What if everything in the world was a cog in a giant machine? That's the idea behind Girl Genius: The Works, a new strategy card game from James Ernest Games.
The Works is a puzzle game featuring artwork from the new Phil Foglio comic series, Girl Genius, available from studiofoglio.com. In the game, players are manipulating a board made of 12 cards, flipping and spinning the cards and trying to make them pop out of the machine. When a card pops, it has a special effect, and then it goes into your score pile. The first player to collect 100 points wins.
The Works has an ingenious and simple set of rules, and it's a blast to play. You can play with only two players, or as many as 6. The game is self-contained, with nothing more to buy and no extra parts to use. It even comes with four "lost turn" cards to help you remember when you've been forced to lose a turn.
Girl Genius: The Works is a game designed by James Earnest (of Cheapass fame) with artwork and concept by Phil and Kaja Foglio, the much-loved comic book artist/writer duo.
As the prior reviewer noted, GG:TW uses the same game mechanic that underlay XXXenophile (another Earnest/Foglio collaboration). However, there are key differences that make gameplay more accessible, even aside from the difference in content. You see, in XXX, before you take any action, you have to verify that there aren't face-up cads on the table that would affect it, because cards in play can change the rules. In GG:TW, these are absent; cards only take effect when they're 'popped' off the tableau.
As a result, gameplay of GG:TW speeds up as people get familiar with the mechanics, whereas gameplay of XXX slows down as more cards come into play, and typically the most rules-conscious of the players take over the process, explaining how everything bears on the current situation.
Also removed are the trading-card aspects of the game, so the group plays with a single deck of 112 cards.
What remains is a very spiffy strategy game for 2 players, and a fun but more random game for 3+ players. As options become more limited, you begin to have opportunities to force the next player to leave the board in a favorable position for the player after them. In a 2-player game, this is a clever move. In a 3+ player game, it's a wash.
After you turn a face-down card in the tableau face-up, you then spin (turn 180-degrees) any face-up card in the tableau, which may cause one or more to 'pop': i.e. they come off the board, probably score you points, and probably have other effects. Then you have to replace the empty spots from your hand face-up, thus creating or blocking options for the next player. Once all 12 cards are face-up, the only legal spins are those that cause pops, which makes it possible to start driving each other's play. One has to make a decision sometimes between cashing in on an opportunity (and ceding the initiative), or keeping control (while leaving yummies to your opponent).
The characters on the cards are drawn from a new comic book series by the Foglios, which sounds great but which I have not seen. I still appreciated the game's theme--the characters' names and portrayals are amusing in themselves, their effects often relate well, and the whole makes a consistent theme (adventure, romance, and mad science in an age when automaton-building got going before electricity). Phil Foglio is a master at portraying enthusiastic expressions.
The real difficulty with this game is how hard it is to develop any strategy. It's a fun enough game, with lots of interesting twists, not to mention creative use of cards as a board, and Phil Foglio's beautiful artwork.
If you're a fan of puzzle games in which you can set up tons of chain reactions, give this one a whirl. There aren't that many other card games which offer that kind of thing.
The way it works is this: Xxxenophile. That might not be terribly clear to most of you out there, so I'll clarify. Xxxenophile was a collectible card game Phil Foglio whipped up a few years ago. It was, however... somewhat inappropriate for younger viewers. So, for the sake of making a good game accessable to a wider range (because the only thing wrong with Xxxenophile was the artwork) James Ernest revamped it and Phil Foglio did some new, more family-oriented artwork.
The way the game plays is that 12 cards are laid out in a pattern, face down. Two of the cards are turned face up, and then players take turns turning over cards and spinning them 180. When the symbols on the edge of two cards match up after you've spinned one of them, the one with more symbols 'pops' off the board, scoring you points, and usually doing something else interesting.
It wears down a little because of how easily the board locks up. When all the cards are faceup, you must pop something on your turn, otherwise the board gets reshuffled, face down.
This is one that's more for puzzle fans than strategy gamers.
When I picked up this game I was expecting an almost overwhelming number of chain reactions to be available on any given move, with thought required to optomize a given turn. Sadly, there is little to no strategy, and the optimum move is fairly obvious, and usually not that interesting or long.
Rather than creating a system in which the game mechanics cause the larger chain reactions, Ernest simply gives the cards special abilities which force other types of cards to 'pop' (removing the card from the 'machine' or board and reaping the benefits). Whenever this happens, and this is the only way to get a good chain reaction, I felt cheated and didn't the entire concept of the machine was lost to me.
This one fails whole heartedly to deliver.
Ingenious mechanics make this game feel like part puzzle and part toy. The "works" is a layout of 12 cards (10 of which start facedown) in a cornerless square arrangement. On your turn, flip a facedown card if possible, then spin any faceup card 180°. If the colored symbols on the spun card's edge match the edge of an adjacent card, you have "popped" the card that has more symbols. Follow its instructions (frequently causing surprising chain reactions!) and put it on your score pile. Popped cards are replaced from your hand of five, which is then replenished. The first person to accumulate 100 points wins. Girl Genius is sure to be a POPular hit.