Before I begin I was provided a prototype copy of the game, which I will be sending to another reviewer, and will receive a production copy of the game should it fund. This is not a paid review. If you would prefer to watch a video review, check it out below. You can learn more about this game here.
You know there are millions of in the board game world? Fantasy dungeon crawls. You know what there are millions of in the TV world? Shows about lawyers. So obviously, the clever board game designer would find a way to translate this popular TV genre into a board game. I mean if they can just get a single percent of people that watch court TV shows, they will have one of the most successful games in recent memory! (Note that I am making up any and all number/statistics in this article. This is 100% true. Or is it?)
Now, I was a bit skeptical. I like watching lawyer shows, but I have to admit, going through “discovery”, “presenting evidence, “approaching the bench”, and “objections” do not sound like the stuff of a raucous good time on the table top. Actually, I object to that, objections are always fun, but the rest of it does not sound exciting. In fact, had another designer not told me that this game was a lot of fun, I never would have pursued it.
The game game is a two player only game where the defense attorney and prosecutor, go head to head to try to acquit or convict the defendant. I will note that I have only played the murder trial, but there is an art forgery case, and, it appears, that there are some historic cases as well, with a Salem Witch trial case also in the works.
The first phase of the game sees each player selecting their “legal strategy”, the result of this is it will determine how influence is earned during the final argument, and what witnesses are available to be called. Then you enter the discovery phase, which is where the decks are built. You see there are 60 cards that CAN be played, and each player selects three cards. They keep one, give one to the other player, and discards one from the game. This is done until the entire deck of unique case cards is parceled out.
Then you enter the meat of the game. Each player, more or less alternating, gets to call a witness. Then based on the cards in your hand you play them (matching symbols along the card edges, to build your argument, while you opponent does the same. Whomever has scored more influence will win the witness. Winning the witness, gives a bonus, based on the last card played, as well as influence that can then be spent to sway the jurors.
As you can see the jury can be varying degrees on the side of the defendant or the prosecutor, and each jurist has a different thing that will sway them. For some it is emotional moments, others it is logic, others it might be rule of law, you get the idea. Each case will determine how many jurors you have to convince to allow the prosecution to win, this might be all, or just a majority.
There are mechanics that allow you to approach the bench, and to object, and even call surprise witnesses, however, for details on that you will need to check out the video review when it posts later on.
So what do I think?
I think this game accomplishes something that I would not have thought possible, it manages to make court a fun, and thematic game. Not only that it is tight mechanically, where everything makes sense, is simple to understand, and works. I particularly am a fan of the discovery phase where you have to make, what are often really hard choices of what cards to keep, or give away. Sometimes you find that you have to take a card this is less than ideal for you, only to keep the other player from getting a card that would be amazing for them, it is delightful.
I am also very excited about the potential of the other cases after having played the murder trial. It is incredible to me the depth of variety in witnesses, evidence and arguments that are baked into the cards. This game has the potential to be incredibly expandable and, relatively affordable.
Finally, I will say that I like the art, the fluff text, and the clarity of the rules.
I am not sure just how replayable the game will be with the two cases (I think two) that will come in the base game. If the art heist is anything like the murder then it will be great fun, but how many times will you be able to play it before you feel like the excitement is gone? I am not sure. So it is possible that you will have to continue to pick up expansion cases to keep the game fresh. I will add that this is purely speculation, I have played the one case a few times, and would play again gladly.
This is a bit of a rehash on the Tasty thought, but I think this has the potential to be a game like T.I.M.E. Stories…simmer down, let me explain! The core of what T.I.M.E. Stories was, and is, fantastic, however the longer it went on the less amazing it became. If the new cases are all up to the quality of the murder case then, you have a potentially incredible game, however, if like T.I.M.E. Stories it suffers from a bit of diminishing returns then you will have a game that actually gets worse over time. I also am going to reiterate, that this is merely a warning of something that could happen, I ONLY have the murder case to go on, but so much of the enjoyment of the prototype is based on the excellence that is that particular case.
Bringing it all together
Lawyer up is a quick, delightful puzzle game that manages to gamify a theme that I would not have thought possible. You really feel like you are in the courtroom making your claims and presenting your evidence while doing your best to undermine your opponent. The game is tight, and almost always is close. The mechanics of the game are quite fun, even down to the building of the deck, which has become its own little mini game, as you have a chance to cripple your opponents case before they even start. You are a bit at the mercy of the draw, and it is possible to find yourself in a deep hole early on by not getting a hand that is useful. This is also a game that is significantly slower the first few times you play, as there are a lot of cards to read and learn. The case that I have played is good fun, hopefully the others cases will compare.
OBJECTION, READING! Sustained.
* A unique game that nails its theme
* Tight mechanics, fast and fun
* Imminently expandable, however it will require new decks in order to keep it fully fresh
* Good art, and fluff text on the cards
* Excellent rule book
* Runs the risk of diminishing returns if future cases are not as well crafted as the demo case
* I can only assume being an expert at this game will allow you to practice law