Thursday, October 13, 2011

Kid Game Review: Gubs

Gubs: A Game of Wit & Luck
  • Designer: Alex & Cole Medeiros
  • Publisher: Gamewright
  • Players: 2-6
  • Ages: 10+
  • Playing Time: 20 minutes
  • Review by Mark Jackson (11 plays w/a review copy provided by Gamewright)
I’ve played a lot of kid games in my life – some good (Family Pastimes’ The Secret Door), some great (Klaus Teuber’s Kinderspiel-winning memory game Hallo Dachs, soon to be reprinted by Mayfair as Badger Badger), and some downright awful (Reiner Knizia’s Nimbali – the ONLY Haba game I refuse to recommend). With all those years of experience sitting Indian-style next to our coffee table, I’ve learned that there are two keys to making a successful kid game that families can enjoy:
  1. It doesn’t cause the adults or older siblings involved to run away from the table in revulsion. (We will not speak of Pokemon Master Trainer again for fear of causing my gag reflex to kick in.)
  2. It does cause kids to ask to play it over & over & over again.

Everything else (good artwork, high quality pieces, a clear ruleset) is gravy.

And by that measure, Gubs is an absolute success. This clever little “take-that” card game has a well-written set of rules, beautiful cards in a tin box (similar to but smaller than the Forbidden Island tin)… and there are enough interesting things going on in the game so that I’ll gladly play it with my two boys… a lot.

According to the color text in the rulebook, the Gubs are a peaceful lot – but what with the Spears and the Lightning and the various natural disasters (Flash Flood, Rumor Wasps, the Gavock Plague, etc.), it doesn’t sound like these little guys have a very peaceful life. They hide behind Mushrooms or ride toads or Velvet Moths… and try to avoid being Lured away by precious stones (and Rings – these guys have a real weakness for rings).

I pretty much picture the Land of the Gubs as my front yard – like A BUG’S LIFE (delightful film) or THE ANT BULLY (decent if forgettable) or ANTZ (a pretentious waste of time & celluloid). This fast-paced war is taking place in miniature right beneath my feet – and until the card game was released, I was unaware of it.

Or, should I say, re-released. Gubs has a long history: the first version of the game was created by the designer back in the early 90s. In 2005, he began the long difficult process of self-publishing his creation – with the game finally reaching the market in 2007. In the spring of 2011, Gamewright published a new edition of the game with new artwork – and that’s what I’ll be reviewing for you. (If you’d like to read the whole history of Gubs – complete with early artwork – you can check out the website.)

The objective of the game is simple: keep the largest group of Gubs safe when the timer runs out. (In other words, have more Gubs than anyone else.) If there’s a tie, the tiebreaker is which player has the Esteemed Elder Gub in play. (I picture him as kind of a Morgan Freeman type – the Gub steeped in wisdom & a voice dripping with gravitas.)

Game play is equally simple. On your turn, you:

  • MAY draw a card (there are reasons not to draw in the late game)
  • play as many cards as you like
  • discard down to 8 cards (we have NEVER had to use the discard rule)
  • say “Go” so the next player knows it’s their turn

There are a wide variety of card types (Hazards, Tools, Barricades, Interrupts, Events… and, of course, Gubs) – and the meat of the game is figuring out how to use the cards you have to protect your Gubs & make life difficult for the other Gubs at the table.

In this way, Gubs actually belongs to the same gaming family as Fluxx & Munchkin – “take that” card games where players attempt to build a winning tableau in front of them while fending off the attacks of other players. For some of you, that last sentence is a glowing recommendation of Gubs. For others (including myself), it’s a warning that echoes in a Dante-ish fashion: “Abandon all hope, ye who agree to play this game.”

There are a couple of things, however, that set Gubs head & shoulders above the other games I mentioned:

  1. It’s fast. Really, really fast. A long game of Gubs is 15 minutes, with 10 minutes being more typical. That’s due in no small part to…
  2. …it’s got a wertung timer mechanic. (“Wertung” is German for scoring/valuation – and is a common way to refer to a gaming innovation found in a number of Alan Moon games.) There are three Event cards in the deck that spell out G-U-B (or, as my 6 year old noticed, B-U-G). When all three cards appear, the game is over & the player with the most Gubs wins.

There are a couple of cards that can extend the game (the Flop Boat can be used to shuffle one of the letter Events back into the deck – and the Cricket Song – the one wild card in the game – can be used as a Flop Boat)… but the discards are never shuffled back into the deck, so you know that the end is coming.

And while I will occasionally play Fluxx (most recently, Pirate Fluxx) under duress and have sworn off playing Munchkin ever again (ranking it just above – gag – Pokemon Master Trainer), the speed & whimsy of Gubs has me even asking to play this game with my boys.

The game is pretty easy to teach – the card text does an excellent job of explaining what each card can do and the goal of the game is simple enough to grasp. I’ve fallen into teaching the game “as you go”: deal out the cards, give the objective & away we go! However, it’s been my experience that kids deal with the random/chaotic nature of the Event cards much better than adults (and particularly gamer adults) the first time they play. If you’ve got gamer blood in you, you may want to thumb through the deck & see the possible craziness that can ensue – and the various ways you can counter it through card hoarding & smart play.

While the recommended age is 10+, my six year old (who reads well) does just fine with the game. I think success with younger kids will depend on reading level & ability to hold the cards.

The game box says it will play 2-6 players… but I think it’s probably best with 2-4 players. In fact, I enjoy it most with 3.

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