Everything that sucks! And some things that don't.

Sure, that's one way of looking at it. And it isn't totally wrong. But it's also not helping much.
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Spreading the plague

Christian Heckmann
Germany
Mainz
Rheinland Pfalz
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Damn, here I've been wasting a couple of days with semi-interesting posts when I could have used the time to tell you that the great Rise of the Necromancers has been picked up by Mythic Games for their Phoenix Line (that's them teaming up with the original publishers of games they deem good and bringing them back/trying to introduce them to a bigger audience) alongside the new and super-cool looking Undead Sea expansion. This is exciting stuff. I can't wait for that new expansion. The first one was already excellent but that sounds and looks even better. Cool? Cool.

Now that that's done, here's something about Viral.

Board Game: Viral


Viral came out four years ago, got some good buzz early on, then kind of faded into obscurity over time and has probably gotten a second push just recently, due to the ongoing pandemic, which syncs up nicely (in a kind of tragic way) with the theme of the game. I mean, it got a new addon just this year, which was called "Die zweite Welle", "The second wave", in German (stroke of genius or a bit tacky, that's for you to decide). I had ample opportunity to play the thing years ago, but I somehow never did. Couldn't really say why back then, I am a proponent of unusual themes, but this somehow did nothing for me. But now, a bit over three weeks ago, P. brought his copy of the game over and so him, D. and me played it. Without that expansion, even though he had it with him as well.

Viral is a simultaneous-action-selection area-control/majority game with a bit of deckbuilding (not very much of it) thrown into the mix. You are a virus and you want to infect a patient while other viruses are trying to do the same. You do this by playing cards that give you actions and cards that determine where you take (some of) those actions face down to your personal board and then reveal them and do stuff that changes the majorities in different organs so that you can profit best from those. Your grasp on these organs is fleeting at best, though, because a) too many viruses within the same organ lead to crises that do give points to viruses present but then afterwards destroy all of those, b) majorities net you points but also "research points", which mean that those pesky humans invent cures against you and once that's done, you're (mostly) wiped from the board, and c) there's an event per turn that usually gives special scoring-opportunities for specific organs, but those quite often also eject your viruses from the system. Let alone those pesky other players who try to wreck your shit, leading to a constant cycle of building up a presence and having that presence then removed from the board again.

Which happened to me quite frequently. I got ahead early, grabbing some cool new cards in the process (you get new cards added to your "deck" for reaching certain VP-milestones) and kind of making everybody hate me, which is always a great thing to do in games like this. I did fly a bit under the radar come mid-game when the others started to catch up and thought that I had a pretty good shot at winning the whole thing with a final push during the last round, but then D. sneaked out a couple of additional points and beat me narrowly while P. came in third.

From gallery of Harblnger


Here's something very weird: I find Viral's theme (and presentation) strangely icky. I know that this is an unlikely thing for me to say. I love the grotesqueries of Cave Evil and Eldritch Horror, the over-the-top violence of Psycho Raiders and the dark implications of stuff like The Bloody Inn. But a relatively sanitized depiction of human organs and arteries and veins connecting them gives me the creeps? Yeah. Some people are weird that way. Did I ever tell you that the most yucky thing I can imagine is breaking off or otherwise harming/removing a finger- or toenail? Just thinking about this gives me goosebumps. But I digress.

Surprisingly uncomfortable theme aside, there is a lot to like about Viral. It is a quick, easy to play yet decently involved game. It looks good (in a gross way), the way you make points and interact with everything makes both thematic and mechanical sense, the way you add three cards to your deck over the course of the game by reaching VP-milestones is kind of fun and many of these cards have interesting and unusual combinations of actions on them and the general gameplay, where you kind of program not only the actions for the current turn but through this also determine what isn't available for you during the next round does have some merit.

Ultimately, Viral didn't enthrall me, though. It is a fine, simple, relatively light entry-level area-majority-game that is inoffensively playable and does its darndest to keep everybody invested in the game and keep the usually rather confrontative nature of games like this in check by making everything so transitive and impermanent, but that also makes it lose its edge to me. Theme notwithstanding, this is a safe and slick product that shouldn't offend anybody and is therefore unlikely to produce any form of strong response. Plus this constant resetting of majority-ratios and board presence and stuff makes it hard to care for anything. And I also think that the final player in any given round has a definite advantage, that could be match-winning come game-end (this is kind of offset by the players earlier in turn order potentially preventing swingy moves by those playing later, but if that doesn't or can't happen, the final actions in any given turn can completely change majorities and therefore scoring-opportunities).

Viral isn't bad. It's quick and looks good and the icky theme does induce a certain morbid fascination in me. But as a game, it's too nondescript and vapid to leave any lasting impression.

Which is also that someone could potentially say about my musical endeavors. I don't know. Nobody has yet, but YOU might be exactly the person to do so. Go over to my Bandcamp-page to find out. Now!

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