Before I begin I was sent a prototype copy of the game, which was sent on to another reviewer afterwards, in exchange for an honest review. This is NOT a paid review. If you would prefer to see a video review, check it out below!
One of my very favorite types of games are deck-builders. There is something innately satisfying about the mechanic. You have a physical reminder of your progress, which you mess with every turn. Your deck grows and changes and you can see your progress. Its so good. There are so many types of deckbuilders out there now a days as well. You have the more traditional type (Dominion), or those that have a little theme attached to them (Shards of Infinity, Ascension), to those that are chocked full of theme (Aeon’s End, Battle for Greyport, Shadowrift), and even those that use deck building as a mechanic in a more traditional style game (Clank, The Few and the Cursed).
So when anyone asks me if I want to play a deckbuilder I will always say yes, then if they tell me it is Dominion, I will say no (I am possibly the worst Dominion player in the world). So I was quite happy to receive Surviving, which falls more into the Battle for Greyport level of story.
In Surviving, you are a soldier or cyborg that has entered into a military simulator combat game. You are battling your way through trying to earn cash and prizes, and most importantly, not die. (Apparently the ancient Egyptians had it wrong, and you really can’t take it with you.) In this game you progress through multiple floors, each one granting greater challenges and rewards, and you are able to move back and forth through the floors. The player with the most points at end is the winner, though you have to actually escape the Game to win.
When the game begins you get 5 rounds of “training” which is a chance to use your purchase power to buy you role, and some solid starting cards. The game comes with three roles, soldier, cyborg, and bio-gene. Each of these has a slightly different play style, as well as gaining discounts of certain categories of cards for the rest of the game.
As you play through the game, rising to higher floors you are provided with stronger and stronger equipment to purchase, until you feel you are ready to take on the big bads blocking the exit.
So what do I think?
Let’s start with the theme of the game. It does a good job making you feel like you are in this futuristic blood sport, a la The Running Man with Arnold. While we are talking about the fluff of the game I also am very pleased with the diversity of characters that you can become. Each of the ID’s you can claim come with male and female options and there is alternate art on each of the three cards, giving you plenty of options to feel represented in the game.
I also enjoy the ability to “train” at the beginning of the game, allowing you to start the game without an utter trash hand. This is a masterful mechanic, because otherwise there is a good chance that you get killed before you can get anywhere. It takes a game that would be impossible and makes it merely hard. Somewhat related to this I am very happy with how quickly you get to cycle through your deck. In most of my games I cycled through the deck between 5 and 10 times.
Finally I really like the limited movement in the game. I think it is fun that you have the the option to move to a harder floor if you think you are ready for the challenge, but if you find out that you are in over your head, you are not stuck there, you can always move back down. This ability to move up and down as you please adds an element of push your luck to the game as well. Do you want to just get out, or do you want to go back downstairs and risk getting yourself killed before you even face the final baddie.
While there is plenty to really like about this game, I do feel the need to say that it is not particularly innovative. Yes, there are a few fresh feeling things about it, which I mentioned above. It does just feel like a really solid deckbuilder in the same vein as many that we have seen before.
I will also include the artwork here. The art is solid, really, really solid. It all works, and evokes the theme of the game but it is not anything that you are going to be wowed by. Though I will say that I think the layout and iconography is clean, clear and well done.
I really only have one complaint worth writing about, and to be fair, plenty of you are going to say it is lame. When I first opened the box and looked at the character options I was pumped. They had 70 or 90 health. This had me thinking that the players were going to be battle gods, battling through an insane course. Then I learned that everything is simply multiplied by 10. Damage is all 10, 20, 30, or 40, the same with damage reduction, and healing. So really, I had 7 or 9 health. This bothers me, perhaps irrationally so. To me, if you are going to have these big numbers then there should be a reason for it, and since everything is in multiples of 10 I do not know what it is.
Bringing it all together
Surviving the G.A.M.E. is a worthy entry into the deck builder genre. While it does not reinvent the wheel, it does stick the landing on its theme, which does feel unique to the genre. The artwork is solid, the character diversity wonderful, and the game play streamlined and easy to pick up. To me the game has some oddities of health and damage scaling, though that does not actually effect the gameplay in any meaningful way. This is a game that will really come into its own as more content it released for it. If you like deck builders, and are into the theme then you will be happy with this game.
I could actually watch Running Man in less time than it would take me to read that
* A fun deck builder that nails its theme
* Does not reinvent the genre, but utilizes expected mechanics well, and adds a few fun twists.
* Solid art work, and refreshing diversity for characters
* A very worth entry into the genre, with a unique theme