For most people, indie games begin and end with the latest Kickstarter campaign. However, from self-published titles to hidden Game Crafter gems, there exists a vast wilderness of unique and innovating games to explore that never reach widespread commercial production.
We aim to alleviate this coverage cap. To assist us in this, Rob Cramer takes us into the wilds of Frontier Gaming.
Note: This review pertains to the First Edition of Crazier Eights.
The term Gateway Game is often used to describe games that are family-friendly, easy to teach, have some mild strategic depth, and appeal to a lot of different people. These games are meant to be a nice introduction into the larger world of board gaming, like the friendly voice you hear on a roller coaster before you go hurtling down a twisted track trying to keep your lunch down. People experience their first board games in different ways, but many players benefit from a gradual increase in complexity rather than being dropped in the middle of a heavy Euro game.
Alternatively, some argue that any game can be a gateway game if a person has enough interest and are open-minded to learning about modern board games. There isn’t just one way to introduce a friend to tabletop board games, true, but playing a bad or boring game as a person’s first experience with the hobby is like the roller coaster voice saying, “Get out while you still can”.
Crazier Eights just might fit that description.
The box art is the first sign of trouble with this game. After hearing the title “Crazier Eights”, I was expecting a lighthearted spin on the classic card game that I played with my family growing up. The name sounded like the perfect game to casually break out with family and friends who’d want a little bit more from their well-worn deck of playing cards. Instead, the box features an empty-eyed, expressionless mask flanked by dark hybrid creatures. This is not your mother’s Crazy Eights.
The cards themselves also work against mainstream acceptance, especially since their public domain art and layout look eerily like early Magic: the Gathering cards. Yet this isn’t Magic either. Crazy Eights is simple and no-nonsense. Magic embraces the fantasy realm it helps create. Unfortunately, Crazier Eights struggles to decide if it wants to be basic or bizarre.
If you know how to play Crazy Eights, gameplay for Crazier Eights will be familiar territory. The goal of the game is to rid yourself of all the cards in your hand. On your turn, first draw a card. Then you may discard a card if it matches the color or rank as the top card of the discard pile. Additionally, most cards also possess some kind of power, and you can play any card to use its power, from making opponents draw more cards to taking another turn. Turns are very simple, and the game is easy to teach even without the connection to Crazy Eights. But simplicity does not equal exciting.
The deck is laid out similar to a standard deck of cards, with four suits and ranks from 2 to Ace. Each of these ranks have a different special power, and the powers are the same across the suits. That said, even with 13 varying effects, the cards have very similar functions to one another and blend together, making differences feel minimal.
Some cards are even direct counters to other cards, rendering both very limiting and almost pointless to play. For example, Demonic Minions (the 3-value card) forces your opponent to draw an extra card whenever you would make them draw, but Castle (the 9-value card) nullifies extra draws your opponent would make of you. You can stack multiple cards for stronger effects, but it may not get you any closer to winning than before. With so few changes to Crazy Eights, this game is barely crazier than its aged predecessor. It’s hardly crazy at all.
Ideally there would be extra decision-making from playing cards for their powers, especially since several stay on the table and grant powerful abilities to their owners. However, these permanents can just as easily be destroyed or countered by opponents that it makes little difference which card you play and which one you discard. The remaining cards have one-shot effects that can be found in hundreds of other games. Make an opponent draw three cards. Take that! Discard two cards this turn. Oh yes! Yet while potentially intriguing, most turns have an obvious play to make, leaving no room for making future plans. Thankfully, the game doesn’t last long. Once a player has rid themselves of all their cards, their victory is sealed and you can move on to other games.
A second edition of Crazier Eights is apparently in the works which plans to increase the versatility of card powers by giving each one a different ability, but Crazier Eights is a game that needs more work than just adding extra effects to it, such as making the game less linear. Like the scientists in Jurassic Park, the designers were so preoccupied with whether or not they could make the game they didn’t stop and think if they should. But instead of amazing dinosaurs, we’re left with a rather mediocre card game.
Crazier Eights is like the lion / snake hybrids on the cover. Separate, its game mechanisms are basic, uncomplicated, and make sense on paper. But combined with strange use of traditional art and even stranger design decisions, Crazier Eights comes off as half casual game and half fantasy nightmare. It has feet in both worlds but is wholly wanted by neither. This gateway game doesn’t really fit in anywhere.
I don’t mean to sound harsh. Consider me your indie game taste tester, and, well, this game tastes weird. It’s not poisonous, but wouldn’t you rather enjoy your meal? I don’t think Crazier Eights is the worst game ever, but it is certainly lacking. We live in a wonderful age of board games with so much variety. I’m just saving you the trouble of trying out this one, as there simply are better games out there.
If you are seriously looking for a different take on Crazy Eights, check out Pina Pirata by Donald Vaccarino. It features cute, bright art of animal pirates (a hybrid I fully approve of) and gameplay that evolves from round to round. It is casual enough that anyone can play, but goofy enough you can have some fun with it. You can even find a copy for the same price as Crazier Eights. Now that’s crazy.
Rob Cramer is a regular contributor to the site and looks forward to exploring the hidden wonders of the indie gaming world.
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