The Hungry Gamer’s Few and the Cursed Preview
Before I begin. I was provided with a prototype copy of the game in order to do a preview. This is NOT a paid preview
If you would prefer to watch a video review you can check it out below!
Recently I learned that Mike Gnade (designer of this game) was offering to send a prototype out to folks for to test out. Having backed one of his other games (Set a Watch) on Kickstarter I jumped at the opportunity. I did not even really know what it was all about. I had no clue that this is based on the comic, of the same name, or that it was a deck-building game. I just wanted a crack at it. Luckily for me I got one.
Now this game is a deck-building variant so I will not dive too deeply into how it works, but I will take the time to speak to how it is different from other deck-builders, or highlight mechanics that I really enjoyed.
So the world of the Few and the Cursed is an alternate reality in 1910. This world has gone through, whatever apocalypse, and the two things worth knowing are that water has become currency, as it is extremely rare, and out in the wilds you can come across those that have been cursed, and turned into monsters. Mix that with the old west and you have a solid feel for what this game is all about.
You will play as one of four curse chasers, who travel out from the city of San Andreas seeking bounties, and supernatural artifacts spread to the corners of the maps. Of course this curse chasing invariably leads to the rise of monsters who have had enough of the curse chasing and they are dead set on destroying the city. That’s bad. You shouldn’t let that happen.
The goal is to finish the game with the most “grit” or victory points. You earn these by completing jobs, finding artifacts and killing things. The game ends when one of three things happen. All the artifacts are claimed, three of the big monsters are killed, or a monster enters the city. If the game ends by one of the former then the player with the most grit wins. If by the latter, then everyone loses (as you should because you were to selfish to kill the dumb thing!)
Each player has a player board to track health, bullets, and their curse level, and an individualized deck. There is also a map, and you all start in San Andreas. Around the city are various location which are identified (in the rules) as canyons, ruins or desert.
The game is broken down into several phases. First you get to improvise, which is where you draw two new cards and keep one of them (this is your deck-building, note that you do not “buy” cards like you do in most deck builders). Then you have an event, if you are in town this means getting jobs and making purchases, and if you are not in town it is based solely on where you are on the map. Each region has a different possible encounter, which can gain you bonuses or cost you resources, or both. Next you have your movement phase, you can play cards from your hand, or use items, which allow you to move around on the map. If you look at the map you can see what resources it will cost you to move from one spot to the next. Then you get to take an action. This is where you really get to make a choice, there are all sorts of actions: recover an artifact, camp, take a bounty, draw another event, use a character action. Finally you conclude with your cleanup phase, which includes drawing and discarding cards.
That is pretty much how the game works. There are a couple things to highlight, that are particularly interesting. The first is your curse chaser can use bullets (one of the resources you can collect) and use those to gain attack power. This lets you fight even if you did not draw cards with the damage you need on them, and it is really the only way that you will be able to kill the big boss monsters at the end.
There is also the matter of the curses. Various cards, and spaces on the map will earn you curses. As this curse gets higher you may find that you pass your curse threshold. When this happens you flip your character card and you lose your character ability, gaining a penalty of some kind. It would seem to suggest that you want to avoid being cursed as much as possible, but there are also benefits. Some of the more powerful cards will curse you, and some of the jobs you can attempt can only be successful if you are cursed.
So what do I think?
To start with the art, story and theme are all spot on, as it should be considering the source material. I am not familiar with the comics, but I am very tempted to check them out after playing this game a few times. The world is interesting, and that artwork is just gorgeous.
I also like the use of the map. I like that it exists (the moving about the map is one of the best things about the Clank! series of games), and I like that there are a variety of costs to move about. I like that you are able to acquire items to help you on your way, I have not played another deck-builder that also has a character board where you are able to equip items before.
I am a big fan of the bounty system. On the board there are various bounties that you can claim, however you have to go to the right location, or type of location on the map. However, there are enough of the always available bounties, and more valuable, but only occasionally available bounties that should you have a mind to do it, you can attack one on almost any given turn.
I also really like the way the game game brings out the big monsters. Once you have taken out enough of the tougher bounties you will summon one of the four big monsters. However, should you find that you are not taking out many of those bounties, and rather are focusing on jobs and artifacts, you will still summon a monster once someone hits a high enough grit level. I think that is a good touch, which forces you to fight, which I suspect is more true to the comics.
The last thing, I suspect hardcore deck-building fans will disagree with me on. I like that this game has a very simple deck-building mechanic. Unlike most games you are not purchasing new cards based on your hand. Rather you get a choice of two cards each turn and that is that. Done, move on. There are some cards that will let you do this again later on, but that is only an occasional thing. This significantly speeds the game up, and really makes the game feel more like an adventure, and less like a deck-builder. To me, it makes the game feel different.
Before I jump into this, let me say that I played a pre-kickstarter launch prototype, and the rules actual underwent a revision while I had it in my possession, so there may be changes here.
Now, I could be mistaken, but I do feel like the game WANTS you to battle the bounties and the monsters. However, I found it infinitely more efficient to simply do jobs, and chase down the artifacts rather than spend time battling. Yes this did lead to a monster being summoned, and yes sometimes the game was lost before that last artifact was claimed, but that seems like a risk worth taking. It was just so much more efficient. Again, I do not necessarily think it is a bad thing, but it does not feel like that is the intent of the game. I will also note again, that there may be changes to the rules that makes this not the case later one.
Holy mother of god this game is big. The play mat is ginormous. Now, yes it also has a space for all the cards on it, with the exception of the upgrade cards (that struck me as odd), and yes if you look at my picture there you will see that there is a large black border, which I suspect wont be on the final version, but goodness it takes up a ton of space. The only game that I have that is bigger is Firefly,(which I noted that the only way you can play that with expansions is if you first by a second house to put it in.)
Bringing it all together
The Few and the Cursed truly is a deck-building adventure game, with a focus on the adventure, while the deck-building plays second fiddle. The artwork is amazing, the theme and story are rich, realized, and deep. I think the slight variations to the deck-building genre are for the better in this instance and the game plays relatively quickly, with little opportunity for analysis paralysis (though we all know that one guy that will still find a way don’t we…). I think some of the end game conditions could be reworked slightly from the early version that I played, and hopefully there will be a way to condense the footprint this game takes. It is massive.
I will also point out that this has the potential to be an awesome Kickstarter with tons of potential stretch goals and add-ons. I already feel bad for wallets around the world. Just off the top of my head, I can see additional characters, dual layered player boards, neoprene playmats, digital and hard copies of the comics…it could be never ending.
There is more text in this review than there is in all of the comics put together
*Great theme, amazing art
*Stream-lined deck building mechanic
*Game moves, turns are quick
*Good combination of character building (through equipment), deck-build, and adventure
*Seems like the balancing is not quite there yet, but this is still a prototype version.
*Very large table footprint
*Potential to be an awesome Kickstarter with amazing stretch goals and add-ons.