Fluxx Roxx!

4 07 2009

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a game review- they’re harder to get around to since I have to find time to get extra people together to play with. Nevertheless, I finally got around to playing Fluxx and Zombie Fluxx, which I’ve had sitting around for way too many months now, convinced it didn’t look interesting. If you’ve been avoiding it for the same reason, I urge you to ignore your suspicions and play Fluxx as soon as possible! It’s quite a fun game, engaging for both non-gamers and hard-core gamers alike.

The basic principle of Fluxx, (as hinted by it’s name,) is that the rules are always changing, or in a state of flux. There are 4 basic types of cards: New Rules, Actions, Keepers, and Goals. The game starts with each player having a hand of 3, and only one basic rule: Draw 1 and Play 1, with new cards on the table replacing anything they contradict. So on my turn, I would draw one card and play one card, which could be a New Rule, Action, Keeper, or Goal. A New Rule might be “Play 2”. So now that the rules are Draw 1, Play 2, I would have to play 1 more card, so that I would have played 2 cards on my turn, satisfying the current rules of the game. An action card might instruct you to do something like taking a card from another player or taking another turn, things of that nature. Keepers are basically just object cards, like a Sandwich, Money, the Sun, Moon, etc, which you simply play in front of you. Having a specified pair of Keepers is the most common way of winning the game, as dictated on Goal cards, which may say something like you win if you have the Sun and Moon in front of you. But as the Goal of the game can literally change on every turn, or even several times within a turn, it can be quite hectic trying to win. With just these basic mechanics, the game could feasibly finish on the very first player’s turn, or last hours, though an average game might be between 20-40 minutes.

As you might imagine, the game can get quite out of control just trying to follow every rule on the table, and it’s quite fun and unpredictable. On the surface, it might seem to be a rather random and fruitless exercise, requiring no amount of real skill. That’s what I first thought as well, which is why it took me so long to finally get around to playing it. But in practice, the game is nevertheless quite engaging and fun for any number and type of gamers. And the best part, which you may have already figured out, is that this is a GREAT gateway game! The basic mechanic of playing a hand of cards which change the basic rules, playing permanent cards in front of you, special cards that have instant effects… sound familiar yet? Magic: the Gathering, anyone?? Maybe it’s just the geek in me, but I think this is a great aspect of Fluxx.

And since we’re talking geek here, I bet you’re really wondering about Zombie Fluxx by now. Well Zombie Fluxx doesn’t disappoint. The basic Fluxx mechanics remain the same, a couple small new rules and card types are added, and all wrapped up in a great, fun, lighthearted Zombie theme, satisfying to you zombie nerds while not being offensive to everyone else. The basic premise of Zombie Fluxx starts with adding a new permanent card type, called Creepers, which generally prevent you from winning, (unlike their counterpart Keepers, which generally help you win.) Most Creepers are Zombies, (though there is a hilarious non-Zombie Creeper card, which I won’t give away here,) and must be played in front of you whenever they’re drawn. (This does not count towards the number of cards you must play on a turn.) Most Goals require you to have no Zombies in front of you to win. Many Action cards help you dispose of Zombies, but the most direct method is by killing them with the new, more weapon-like Keeper cards, like the Shovel, Chainsaw, and Shotgun. Overall, it’s a fantastic expansion. Yes, it can be added to base Fluxx, or played by itself. In fact, in a remarkably generous move by the game publishers, you may even remove the Zombie-themed cards in order to play a regular game of Fluxx without needing to buy the base set.

Both games are published by a small game house called Looney Labs, whose motto is “Smart Games for Smart People.” They’re clearly a nice bunch of people, and they make you happy to support them by playing their games. There are other Fluxx expansions, including a Monty Python set, which look well worth checking out. And the Looney crew have a really complete wiki set up for all their games. Check ’em out!

Pickle Party!

14 01 2009

Board games are interesting animals, with “categories” that span such breadth as to make the statement: “Let’s play a boardgame” have the potential to start a positive row at a given family gathering. Trivial Pursuit players rarely overlap with Risk players, and it’s no fun playing Scrabble with Scrabble players if you’re not one. Finding a game to play for a group which was not brought together specifically to play a given game can be a significant challenge. This is where a good party game can come in handy. Visiting with the family this past Christmas, we frequently found ourselves in this position. Fortunately, we were gifted with In A Pickle on Christmas morning.

In A Pickle seems much like Apples To Apples at first glance, and holds up this impression as it proves to be a great party game. The mechanics are very simple, with only one basic rule, and only one type of playing piece: a deck of 320 cards, each with a single noun written on them, such as “Top Hat,” “Garbage,” “Magazine,” and “Universe.”

The play is simple: On their turn, players place a card from their hand of five on one of four columns of cards on the table, such that their card either goes “inside” or “outside” of the other cards in that column. For example, say there’s a column on the table made up of the cards “Bowl” and “Soup.” Hence, the soup is inside the bowl. Say you’ve got the card “Fly,” which you can clearly play inside the soup. It can’t be played outside the soup because to play a card on the outside of a column, that card must be able to “contain” all the other cards in that column. And a fly can’t have a bowl of soup inside it, (unless you want to start a good argument- see below.) That’s pretty much the long and short of it, aside from a few other rules which allow players to win a column of cards by trying to place the largest item on the outside of that column, in so-called “Pickle Rounds.” But the real fun of the game is not in the details of the rules, but in the silliness of creating an arbitrary narrative wherein you end up with a bacteria in a fly in the soup in the bowl in the jacuzzi in the jail in Paris in the solar system. Especially fun is playing rather abstract cards outside of all this, such as when you might play “magazine” on top, justifying it by suggesting that all of this odd soup service is described in a magazine article. Imprecise? Yes. But goofy fun? Very much so.

As you might imagine, a game of this nature invariably results in frequent calls of “foul” when players try to justify completely absurd notions. My brother-in-law likes to call it the B.S. Rule. Semantics aside, it’s a great way to let a bunch of close family and friends have an accepted reason to yell at each other for a few minutes until the group votes that No, it can’t be a really small elephant inside of the refrigerator, now pass your turn and let’s move on. At best, everyone laughs and you do move on; at worst, well, the game’s SILLY- no one can stay mad for long.

I highly recommend pulling this game out for disparate groups of people. A game only lasts about 20-30 minutes. You should be able to find a copy for about $15. In A Pickle is suggested for ages 10 and up, and for 2-6 players, though you can play with any reasonably sized group, easily letting people play on “teams” together.

In A Pickle is published by Gamewright.

What I’ve played recently:
In A Pickle
Ticket To Ride
What I want to play soon: