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Subject: You Are The Maniac! -A review rss

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John Moller
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I received You Are the Maniac! over the weekend to preview ahead of it’s Kickstarter campaign (which started Monday and, for reasons that will become apparent, I am not linking here.) I have gotten in a few plays of the game this week and I have made a decision of whether or not you should support this game.

The answer is, probably not. I want to give it an emphatic NO, but I’m not sure that I can do that. There are some people who might…MIGHT…prefer this game to the game that it’s based on.

Based on? Well, either based on or almost completely ripped off from. Wizards of The Coast originally produced the game Guillotine, which I’ve had since the early 2000s. My group has loved that game for a long time and it sees play with an alarming level of frequency for a game so old and so simple. It’s still fun after all these years. Which kind of makes Guillotine a great game. You Are The Maniac! tries to re-implement the system from Guillotine with some adjustments that don’t really improve the game.

Guillotine puts 12 nobles in a line. Each turn players may play 1 card, take the first noble in line, and draw a card. Cards generally interfere with the order of the line, affect other players, and improve score by adding bonuses. The game plays for three rounds called Days.

You Are The Maniac! puts 12 victims against a wall and one Final Girl. Each turn players may play 1 card, take the first victim against the wall, and draw a card. Cards generally interfere with the order of the line, affect other players, and improve score by adding bonuses. The game plays for three rounds called Movies.

Yeah… that’s about the size of it.

You Are The Maniac adds…well it adds Plot Twists, which are events. Most of them would have been action cards or text on Nobles in Guillotine giving them a strategic element. Here they happen randomly after you “capture” a victim which tells you to draw a plot twist card. This is part of what they wanted to do with the game, which is make it more…”social.” They removed some of the strategy and added more randomness. Because randomness means social. No. Certainly the thought is that randomness builds suspense. You don’t know what plot twist you’re going to get. They were speed bumps.

The next thing of note that Maniac adds is Instant Play cards. These are cards that are drawn and played instantly. What do they do? Well, add points to your score and replace (discard) any previously played instant play cards in your collection of the same type. There are only two types, masks and weapons. Again, they’re a random element added to the game with no ability and little strategic value. They are affected by some Maniac cards, Plot Twists and Victims, so there can be some player choice involved in their destruction or theft, but generally they just ended up being discarded to another instant play, plot twist or victim card. They’ve had little bearing on the majority of games we’ve played this week. Random in, Random out.

The tragic part of the Instant Play cards is that they hurt a player’s hand. There is no rule for redrawing on an Instant Play. Come on! Even Killer Bunnies let’s players redraw after an instant play card. The potential exists for an Instant Play card to be a double whammy (decreasing your score and your hand size.) These cards are particularly harmful if you get more than one in your opening hand. A bad draw reduced my hand size to two before I even had a chance to play a card. Pretty rough for a game that bills itself as “Hand Management.” In an instant like that, there was nothing I could do.

The third and final thing that is added to the Maniac to make it not be so much like Guillotine is the Final Girl. This is the the 13th victim. They’re always supposed to be at the end of the wall, can’t have their position altered. The round ends if they are captured, but they’re hard to capture. Kind of like a chase card. In theory they add an interesting element. In practice, they felt inconsequential. Your strategy in the game has to become be the last one to take a turn in that movie to get the Final Girl. They are worth more points than most/all other victims so they might be worth getting.

Of course, they want your strategy to be “get all three.” If you do that you get a bonus of 15 points. So, you’re likely already winning (since they’re the highest points…and then you get a bonus that makes you win even more. It’s kind of like the Ticket to Ride Bonuses which frequently do little more than increase the winner’s lead. They’re great for the winner, but aren’t really fun for the other players. I oppose that kind of scoring bonuses. Maybe it would be better as an automatic win. I’d be down for that. I recognize the difficulty in collecting all 3 Final Girls, so that works for me.

I suppose there’s also the Survivor Stack. It’s basically the discard pile. I think they expect victims to be flying in and out of the survivor stack throughout the game. In practice, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Our Survivor stack was very rarely more than one card at a time and frequently less than that. Here’s the problem, cards come back to the wall from the Survivor Stack with alarming frequency and mostly due to random events on other victims and a few plot twists. Putting a card into the Survivor stack as a choice (and it also happens randomly) is just a stalling tactic that prolongs the game. I just don’t feel that any of us thought purposely sending someone into the Survivor Stack was worth the time and card play.

This leads me to talking about the Maniac Cards. This is a Hand Management game, after all, so let’s talk about the cards in your hand…Having just done some quick counting, over half the maniac deck does deal with altering the wall. It felt, in the last two games, like that percentage would be much smaller. The Victims seemed to be very stagnant with not much movement going on at all. For me, that’s the interaction in the game or it should be. It felt like the core of the cards was about drawing new cards, trading cards and swapping cards…I guess I just really had a bad hand in the last game. I hadn’t felt it so much in the first few games (the two player ones,) but as we added more players the deck (while putting more cards in play) seemed to thin out and the smaller percentage of “hand management” cards came into focus.

I won’t fault the deck. It doesn’t suffer from a clarity of purpose which is okay. Guillotine didn’t either, but somehow it felt like it did. To not have that same feeling is kind of strange though, many of the cards are nearly word for word retreads of the cards in Guillotine. Did the inclusion of the Instant Play cards really mess the balance up that much?

Here’s the thing, I’ve said some pretty rough stuff in here. …And yes, I do not believe this is a good game. I believe the game that “inspired” You Are The Maniac! is a very good game. I don’t think that You Are The Maniac improved on it at all. I think it added more randomness to something that had only a charitable amount of strategy already. I don’t think it makes this game any more social than the original.

What’s good about it? Well, I applaud them for trying to re-theme Guillotine. If it were a more straightforward re-theme they’re actually get a passing grade. I think the horror movie concept is a great one and fits the game in theory. …But even in that there’s bad in my eyes. Putting victims against “a wall” makes far less sense than a line. The way they ask the “wall” to be laid out actually gives it a top and bottom instead of a front or back… but they still substitute the words top and bottom for front and back. Instead of slavishly keeping the “line mechanic” a little creativity might have allowed them to play with the wall concept. Might have been interesting.

Then there’s the fact that players are capturing. In a game that’s for 13 and older and about horror movies you should totally be okay with saying kill. You’re killing these people. Why not go for it? You have a picture of a guy with a bashed in cat and all kinds of blood and gore all over the place. you can’t say killing? You want us to capture them…. but also send them to the Survivor pile? Seriously? I was just a little annoyed with this at first, but then…well, it really bugs me. A lot.

Look, I get what they’re trying to do. I just don’t think they’ve done it. What’s worse about it all…is that, they’re not really admitting to what they did. Nowhere that I have seen do they credit Guillotine as their inspiration. I brought it up in an email and they didn’t address it. People brought it up in the Kickstarter comments section and they simply state that people who like “Guillotine” will like this game as well. I’m not sure that’s true, because I didn’t…and neither did three other people who liked Guillotine.

The saddest part is that they’re over two thirds of the way to funding in less than a week. It’s a slick campaign…but this is a bad example to be setting for people thinking about Kickstarting their own games. I’d much rather see a bad game that’s actually creative do well than a bad game that’s virtually a copy of a better game.

I fully expect that I will receive plenty of hate mail. In this world of reviewing games there’s a way to do things and a way to not do things… but I have always led first with my heart. I stand for speaking passionately about games. I had a real and passionate reaction to this game. …it just happens that passionate reaction is very negative.
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Joseph Soonsin Lee
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I am sure you might get negative comments for what you have said but I appreciate you putting this out there for us to know what someone who has played the game truly thinks. I have not played it so I can not weigh in on the game play, but I loved the theme and art. So thanks for sharing your thoughts. Just do you know as well, maybe in response to this review and other comments it seems the makers of this game are in the process of altering the game. So once they do and release a print-n-play that you give it a go and let us all know what you think.
 
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Joseph Soonsin Lee
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In case anyone else wants to see a another reviewers opinion since there has not been a lot, here is a link to what Drake's Flames thinks of the game http://drakesflames.blogspot.com/2012/10/card-game-review-yo...
 
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Michael Taylor
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Drake's review as great! I wish this message could go out to everyone who's ever funded a Kickstarter!

"Quit funding these half-assed productions that could never get published if they had to sell them to actual publishers."
 
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