Board Games and Beignets: Quick Look at Grifters

After two days of navigating the paths and queues of Pandora, my brain needed a new challenge. A recent Thursday was Day Two of a short trip to The Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.  I skipped Gumbo Game Night to travel to Orlando for my son’s first lacrosse tourney of the summer, but after two days of misty weather, hot rain and larger than normal crowds — likely due to the recent opening of the Avatar-themed land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom — I was ready for some mental stimulation.

I traveled again back to Cool Stuff Inc’s location right near the Resort. It’s about a twenty minute drive over (but watch out for toll roads on the quickest route). Luckily for me, Thursday is board game night at the store. After perusing some of the daily specials, I wandered over to the open table gaming area.

I was in luck! On the left side of the room, just past a finely stocked game share library, I spotted a table of smiling gamers surrounding a game I knew from my research for The Next Purchase. A four person table playing Quebec, a game I have long been wanting to try, was just wrapping up. As the game began to reach its conclusion, I introduced myself and talked to the group about their play experience.

What I heard was all positive, but there was even more fortuitous events in store. The owner of Quebec, a friendly fellow named “Dave”, had also brought a copy of The Grifters, a card game I own but have not yet played. The cherry on the sundae? Turns out that Dave is Dave Fulton, the co-designer of the game! What better way to learn how to play then to have the designer teach you?

Dave has a lot of experience in teaching games and running a game group, based on our conversation. He recently moved to the Orlando area from Chicago, where he kept a play group going to bring games to the community and as a ready source for playtesting his designs. Now, he is trying to bring a regular game night to the Orange Blossom Trail Cool Stuff Inc store on Thursdays, so if you get a chance, swing on by and say hello.

While this is not a full review, these are my initial thoughts after playing a four person game that night, and doing some post-game research on the mechanics and theme. Does your game group like take that games, but want something with a little more heft than the usual fare? If so, spice up your game night with Grifters!

THE GAMEPLAY

Grifters, a 2015 release published in America by Indie Boards & Cards and Jacksmack Games, is a take-that, deck builder with a twist designed by Dave Fulton and Jacob Tlapek. . The game has an interesting backstory. Dave told me it was originally on Kickstarter, but Travis from IB&C liked the game so much that he decided to publish it (again with Kickstarter backers’ help if I recall correctly), albeit with the Coup Dystopian universe as the background.

Players are competing “powerful crime bosses” who use six specialists working for them to recruit more members for their organization and pull off criminal scenarios. Our group had a lot of fun with the thematic cards, challenging and goading each other about the different crimes our teams of specialists were “committing”.

Cards are played as sets and individual cards on one of three “nights” on the player’s board. Cards slide down each night after each turn until pushed out onto the reserve area. Once they reach that area, they return to the player’s hand. Voila! No shuffling just like another IB&C release from 2016, Aeon’s End, although the format for the replenishing of cards is radically different from that game.

The capers themselves scale in difficulty as the players complete them, requiring bigger and tougher combos. The players are tasked with putting together sets and cards, challenging each player to develop their deck, but successfully pulling the puppet strings will provide the crime boss with special bonuses. Many of the rewards have strictly take that elements, designed to steal cards or coins from other players.

As expected, the crime boss with the most money at the end of the game wins. The end game conditions are triggered when there are no more coins, specialist cards, and/or crime jobs available.

WHY SHOULD YOU PLAY?

Readers of this blog know that I like games with different or interesting themes (New Bedford, The Networks, etc.) There are plenty of games out there with themes that feature the Cthulu mythos or zombies or nobles in the Mediterranean, even though I enjoy those games, too.  Crime bosses convincing their underlings to perform their dirty work for them to become the most powerful boss is a new and interesting theme.

The first thing that caught my eye during our game play was how the game mechanics here fit the theme. In essence, we were the hand that pulls the string in the syndicate, and in this case, Grifters feels thematic. The different crimes all lead to different benefits (or consequences for the other players). The different types of specialists also had points of action that fit with you would expect.

The second thing that I enjoyed was how tight the experience was. Dave the designer said one point would likely separate first and second place, and he was right. The scoring is really close throughout the game, with lots of trades in coins, so you never really feel out of the game.

This is a small box game, so there are not a lot of bits to get excited about. But, the card art is outstanding, and the rest of the components are serviceable for the tasks. The box is small and easily portable, and as Dave said to us, the game play can be taught in five minutes or less. Sure, the strategies that will be needed to be successful will take more than five minutes reflection, but that just means that

THE DOWNSIDE.

One play is not enough for me to see all of the foibles in the game.  One of the other Krewe members has some experience with Grifters, but Carlos calls it fun but forgettable. It is a solid game and a good value for the price.  However, some will question whether the mechanics and game play separate it from similar games. Is the cool artwork and crime theme enough to get it back to the table after an initial play or two?

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I love player interaction, especially in a game like this where it does not feel like you are picking on anybody in particular (although whoever was the leader in coins usually took the brunt of the negative actions.) The short instruction time and quick play scream “filler”, but in my eyes, Grifters is more of a filler plus. It’s a good game to start or end the night, but be forewarned, there is a lot of take that in this game, so you better have the right game group assembled.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.

@boardgamegumbo