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Subject: A Meeple Pusher Review of: Debtzilla rss

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David McMillan
United States
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Before I get too far into the weeds about how the gameplay makes me feel, let’s talk about how the game looks. Anytime illustrations in a game start getting cartoony, it’s easy to slip into territory where it’s TOO cartoony and it’s hard to take games like that seriously at face value. Andy Choo and Alan Bay have done an excellent job at avoiding that pitfall. While the artwork in the game is definitely on the cheeky and silly side, it’s also got pizazz. The artwork here reminds me a little bit of King of Tokyo… incredibly silly, yet somehow really awesome at the same time. I dig it.

As far as gameplay goes, any good cooperative game is going to have to find a balance between introducing randomness as well as giving players the means necessary to overcome it. Too much randomness and the game begins to feel hopeless and pointless. Not enough randomness and the game feels way too easy. When I play a cooperative game, I always like to feel like there’s some faint glimmer of hope on the horizon… as if the right card draw or the right die roll could tip the scales in our favor. I do not like being shut out by the game any more than I like running over everything that the game throws at me.

These kinds of situations make the game unbearable and not very fun for very different reasons. As a player, I like to feel challenged without feeling overwhelmed or overpowered. Debtzilla has managed to find that balance. In all of the games that I have played so far, we either won or lost by the skin of our teeth. In either circumstance, it felt like it could easily go either way up until the very end… with one single exception.

There was at least one occasion where we realized that there wasn’t even a point in finishing up the final round. Debtzilla was at exactly 90 health and none of us managed to draw a debt card. Without a debt card to pay off, there was no way for us to bring Debtzilla’s health down before the end of the round and we knew that he was going to gain 9 interest at the end of the round. So, regardless of whether or not we managed to kick all of the villains’ collective butts, we were still going to lose. On the one hand, this left a pretty bleak impression on the players involved. On the other hand, though, this is exactly the kind of situation that I was talking about earlier where one lucky card draw could have pulled us out of a nose dive. If even one of us had managed to draw a debt card, we could have paid it off, lowered Debtzilla’s health, and staved off disaster.

We regularly argue in the Meeple Mountain staff chat about randomness in board games. Some of us really hate it while others embrace it and thrive on the chaos that it brings. I am one of the former. Randomness in board games, without a method of mitigating it, really bothers me. Debtzilla introduces randomness on top of randomness by not only having the players drawing cards but also chucking dice to determine outcomes. This might be a huge turnoff for some. However, I find that I don’t mind randomness so much when I am playing cooperative games. Maybe it’s because we’re all getting equally screwed or we’re all equally benefitting. It’s just much easier to choke it down when we’re working towards a common goal as opposed to working against each other.

Debtzilla really surprised me. When I opened the box for the first time, I thought that the game looked and sounded weird. The theme is a little over the top. Debtzilla thrives on debt and there are plenty of avenues available for him to obtain that debt on which he thrives. Even the heroes are guilty. It’s inescapable. This serious subject matter is counterpointed by the puns and humorous artwork. Somehow, though, it all works. The more that I play it, the more that I find myself trying to figure out how to master it. The game requires a fine balance between incurring debt, getting geared up, and paying off those debts as quickly as possible. It’s a puzzle that I haven’t figured out yet, but I’m going to keep trying.

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