Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Review: "We Didn't Playtest This at All"

A friend of ours spotted what turned out to be a fun and unexpectedly brilliant card game, We Didn't Playtest This at All. (I'm pretty sure the title lies. I can't imagine a game this elegant developing without a lot of diligent work.) We expected it to be fun, because we love Fluxx, which is another card game of whimsically shifting rules. You can tell that much from the outside of the box; if you like games of this category, this is a great one. Basically you draw and play cards, then do what they say. This part of the game is light, fast, silly entertainment. However, there are other subtleties that emerge during play, which are elegant and impressive.

One is that several cards have variations on a theme. You may be asked to play rock-paper-scissors or hold up a number of fingers -- but the "right" answer varies depending on which card it is. There are also a bunch of Bomb cards, which do some beneficial things, but too many of them can explode. It's a clever way to avoid letting people "learn" how to game the system based on memorizing the cards.

The most impressive for me is that this game makes fun out of something which is extremely useful, but typically a gigantic pain in the ass. You may have seen the Mindfulness of Doors, which is a situational awareness exercise. It is a challenging exercise that yields great results if you can stick with it. This game employs a number of cards which require you to say or do something specific prior to another action, such as playing a card. Forget, and you lose. One of the easier examples involves saying, "Aaaa! Zombies!" More complex cards require you to say a different thing within a broad category every time. The Chaos Cards, which are optional, have some exceptionally challenging requirements. And remember, this all started with me referring to an exercise that most graduate students find difficult! I suggest that you play a few rounds to get the hang of the game, and then consider sorting the Chaos Cards roughly by difficulty level. Because if you play an awareness game regularly, you'll get better, and the lower stuff will start feeling too easy. This way you've got options for ramping it up. Games that grow with you are good games with astute design.

A note regarding gender: Some cards use gender as a determiner for winning, losing, or speaking. I found one that lets you win if you're the only girl left in the game, and another where anyone saying pronouns from the "they" set loses. It did get me thinking about complex gender dynamics in the middle of what I expected to be a fluffy card game, which is in fact my idea of a good time. "It says 'girl' here. Do I count as a girl for the purposes of this card? Do I want to? I could reasonably play based on my crotch or my identity. So, I'm just going to say this card will never do me any good." I figured that it would be fair as long as I picked one version and stuck with it; I just have to remember that I'm playing based on identity. My guess is that some QUILTBAG folks could find this really affirming while others would find it ouchy. Given the game's tendency to use variations-on-a-theme a lot, there may be similar cards touching on other issues. (I haven't seen them all yet.) I suggest that folks keep in mind, something may tap a sensitive spot, until you have played often enough to become familiar with all the cards. You can always leave out one or two if you find them fun-wrecking.

There are blank cards so that you can make some of your own. That includes the regular cards, the Star cards (which are more powerful), and the Chaos Cards. If you are a game designer, or you like customizable games, you're likely to get a real kick out of this.

Quotes on the bottoms of the cards make the whole thing a lot more hilarious. They are warped and twisted. They also distinguish some of the iterated cards, like how the Bomb cards have different quotes on them.

So there's a lot of fluff in this game, it's a rollicking good time, but it is not all fluff. It can go from ridiculously easy to quite difficult in a split second. This has a lot of appeal for nerds in general, but especially for gifted children. It does play fast: if you encounter a parameter that you hate, chances are you won't have to put up with it very long. It only takes a few minutes for someone to win (or everyone to lose) most rounds.

Most highly recommended.

The same company, Asmadi Games, makes a bunch of other games too, so check those out.  I'm pondering the forthcoming release of Impulse.
Tags: gaming, humor, review
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