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Subject: Grifters - A review of a game that isn't really about grifters. rss

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Scott Sexton
United States
Silver Lake
66539
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Grifters isn't really a game about running cons, its a game about building a crime syndicate that takes on all sorts of illegal tasks, most of which are most certainly not con-jobs.

Elevator Pitch - Grifters is a fast paced hand management, hand building, take that game that gives off an illusion of chaos while rewarding efficient and clever card play. It is effectively a gamerly take that game.

How does it play? - Check out a quick how to play video. Each turn you play through 3 phases. 1- you advance cards you played on previous turns through your tableau's "cool down" timer. 2- Play 1 card for a card effect or play multiple cards (a team) to complete a "job" (fill recipe requirements). 3- If any of your cards have completed their cool down timer, they are drawn into your hand and play passes to the next player.

Grifters feels a little bit like a lot of games. It has a hint of Concordia's hand building and quasi-rondel. It feels a bit like Skyway Robbery in theme and in the hand building / recipe fulfillment. It feels a bit like how hand management and take that are handled in Battlecruisers. I even get a feeling of Kemet from Grifters in the way that Grifters forces you to go after your opponents (you can't turtle and play nice forever). For me, there are a TON of familiar ideas floating around in this game, but they are done so in a rather refined and streamlined manner.

What do I like about Grifters?

1- The art is GORGEOUS. Not only is the art a joy to behold, but the use of color (and even its absence on "wild cards") on the cards is brilliant. The art does an excellent job of portraying women as strong and interesting characters, while never objectifying them. The artwork for the Fem Fatale card is IMHO especially clever because of how it depicts the character in a manner that is both powerful and unexpected (meaning, that the artist didn't go after the low hanging fruit idea of what a Fem Fatale would look like). The layout of the cards is clean and very easy to use. I don't think I could be happier about the look of the game, it is arguably one of the nicest looking card games I know of. All in all, the art in Grifters is gritty, nuanced, and above all, smart.

2- Very limited down time. This is listed as a 2-4 player game, but 3-4 is the sweet spot. Turns move quickly and you'll want to take time during your opponents' turns to come up with your next move.

3- Grifters is a smart, combotastic game. This is a game that rewards players for efficiency and combo building. There is a never ending puzzel of how to act most efficiently in this game. Because of the clever "cool down" mechanism where your cards typically take several turns before returning to your hand, you will often be forced to figure out what the best option is while you wait to get your best cards back into your hand. The solutions and combos a player can devise give the player a sense of real satisfaction that they have come up with a clever solution.

4- The player interaction effects player efficiency, and almost never completely wrecks a player's strategy. 99% of the player interaction in this game comes from competing to be the first to complete jobs, copying your opponents abilities, and from stealing money from one another. The last 1% comes from actually taking opponents' cards, which is the game's token effort to allow players to stop someone from having a broken card combo. Stealing money from players is a fact of life in this game. You will steal a bunch of money from your opponents and they will steal a lot from you. Once you get past the initial sting, you realize how meaningless any single theft of cash is and that loss of cash only becomes a problem if it is left unchecked.

What do I not like about Grifters?

1- There is something to be said about the randomness of the card draw in this game. This is in many ways the exact same criticism you see in Race For the Galaxy. I don't think that its quite as bad as in Race (where you go fishing for certain high point cards) but I do sometimes feel like I'm relying too much on finding just the right card or cards to fit with the combo(s) I'm building. I don't find it quite as frustrating in this game because just about every card in the game feels balanced, so in theory I should be able to change my plans to fit whatever I draw.

2- There seem to be some rules issues that are not currently resolved. The game has a very simple set of rules, but the cards offer such a variety of rule tweaks that there are some odd situations that will likely confuse players. This is especially true with the Kickstarter bonus cards. The Informant card is perhaps the most obvious example of this kind of issue. You have to have the typo ridden rules sheet (which wasn't even sent to KS backers mind you) to find out how the card works (sort of, like I said, typos). How you include the "wild cards" is also problematic and doesn't make much sense to me (I play with 2 copies of each of the wild cards for balance and variety purposes).

3- I HATE it when you have a game that relies on point scoring where the game ends immediately when a game condition is met. This leads to inequity due to some players having more turn then other players. Grifters ends immediately when a player empties out the coffers, the specialist deck, or the jobs decks. The VAST majority of games will end with somebody taking the last job or credit from the coffer, meaning they are ending the game AND scoring points. The player(s) who goes last is at a disadvantage because they get fewer turns to act. I've house ruled this with the standard "finish the round" ending so that each player gets an equal number of turns. The publisher has said that in their extensive testing of the game, they didn't find this to be a balance problem, to which I call shenanigans.

4- The promo Informant card completely ruins the flow of the game. Without fail, if this card is played, it grinds the game to a halt so that everyone can debate what to do. Its such a ridiculously rules laden card that it feels completely out of place compared to every other card. DO NOT USE THIS CARD (unless you are desperate to change the feel of the game).

5- There needs to be an understanding that players need to keep the "leader" in check. There is room for a runaway leader problem unless the table understands that they need to keep the leader in check. Keeping the leader in check is very easy, but it takes cooperation. If you are playing with players who don't understand this, you will be frustrated.

Conclusion - Grifters is a very good to great game. For the $25 I paid on Kickstarter, its a steal. Grifters is a solid "super filler" game (clocking in at 30 to 60 minutes). As far as my collection goes, I'm keeping this one without any hesitation. This game fires Phillip DuBarry's Battlecruisers AND possibly Skyway Robbery too. Grifters gives me some of the best parts of both of those games without the frustration and in only a fraction of the play time. Grifters gives me everything I look for in a quicker card game: Gorgeous art/components, streamlined game play, clever card play, and an overall fun experience. If you are looking for a polished game with a high level of player interaction, but without all the hurt feelings, give Grifters a try. For those of you looking for a game about grifters, cross your fingers that the Legendary Encounters team gets the rights to "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels."
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UA Darth
United States
Boca Raton
FL
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The non equal turns is something that turns me off in nearly every game that has it. I usually just house rule equal turns for the final round.
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Mike Smith
United States
Richmond
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Given that the end game condition triggers the abrupt end of the game one should be able to strategically plan for it.

I find it silly to call shenanigans on the designer when "they" said they extensively playtested the game for balance issues.

Your review indicates the unique nature of planning the cards you play as the resolve through to the refresh pile. Seeing what your opponents are doing and planning the end game is just part of your overall strategy.

The game is a meaty filler and this endgame does not take away from the in depth strategy of the game.
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Richard Galati
United States
Manalapan
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I demoed this game a lot at Gencon and nobody had a problem with the end game conditions. One thing I did notice was that just because the end game condition was met by one player does not mean that player had enough to win the game.

Usually by the time one condition is met there is not much else left on the board. The coins are usually almost out, the cards are all almost gone and the is maybe one job left.

Part of the strategy is preparing yourself for the end game. Its not like its a surprise to everyone on the board. Everyone knows its when its going to happen.

I have not had a chance to play with any of the promo cards yet. All the games I ran were with the base set. Looking forward to playing with those cards though.
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Andrew Jackson
United States
Sacramento
California
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The end game is all part of the strategy. It's a game in which you get used cards back after a couple turns so you should constantly be working out your next few turns always with the end game in mind. End it when you have have a lead or can take a small lead. Swap a completed job on the round before for a bonus. It's a plan ahead game.
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Andrew Jackson
United States
Sacramento
California
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I'm not a huge fan of the informant card. Give the ability for everyone to do a job first turn with his multi-skill. Card's op and I"ll probably remove it for future plays for now.
 
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Scott Sexton
United States
Silver Lake
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Malshun wrote:
I'm not a huge fan of the informant card. Give the ability for everyone to do a job first turn with his multi-skill. Card's op and I"ll probably remove it for future plays for now.


I've gotten enough games in now so that I've pretty well settled into what cards I do and don't use.

I don't use the Informant or the Veteran, but I'll use everything else mixed in. The Veteran just feels a bit too good (powering through jobs is amazing) and there is no tension in how to use the card (fewer interesting decisions to make).

I stand by my statements about the end game though. Giving people unequal turns causes an imbalance no matter how you shake it out. In fact, I would argue that all of your points about how strategic the game is regarding the end game and manipulation of the hideout emphasizes my point. If I have 1 extra turn to score points and/or manipulate game state then you do, I am at an advantage.
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Jacob Tlapek
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Lake In The Hills
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scottatlaw wrote:
Malshun wrote:
I'm not a huge fan of the informant card. Give the ability for everyone to do a job first turn with his multi-skill. Card's op and I"ll probably remove it for future plays for now.


I've gotten enough games in now so that I've pretty well settled into what cards I do and don't use.

I don't use the Informant or the Veteran, but I'll use everything else mixed in. The Veteran just feels a bit too good (powering through jobs is amazing) and there is no tension in how to use the card (fewer interesting decisions to make).

I stand by my statements about the end game though. Giving people unequal turns causes an imbalance no matter how you shake it out. In fact, I would argue that all of your points about how strategic the game is regarding the end game and manipulation of the hideout emphasizes my point. If I have 1 extra turn to score points and/or manipulate game state then you do, I am at an advantage.


As a note, players should only use 1 type of wild in a game. If the informant is included, remove all other wilds from the deck. If not, Choose a single type of wild or mix them up, but the deck should contain no more than 3 wilds for a "balanced experience".

I would also not recommend the Informant in a learning game atmosphere. it is designed to give advanced players an extra level of counterplay.

All in all, the game is designed to be a perfect experience without any of the extra promo cards. Pepper them in to your tastes.
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Brenda Thorpe
United States
Rochester
New York
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I don't much care for the informant in the starting hand. Starting with a wild tips the challenge of the early game and knowing that everyone starts with an informant, takes a good chunk of the bluff out of things.

when first playing we had several cries of "how the hell is the veteran balanced?" now that we've played it some it's like "damn you got all the femme fatales, I'm screwed" I still dont like the veteran though, because he's just kinda lazy and uninteresting...wish I'd discovered the rules sheet before like my 10th play though...
 
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