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Subject: Ten Things to Like - And Five Things to Dislike - About Nefarious rss

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Trent Hamm
United States
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See this text? It's a gratuitous waste of GeekGold.
The game itself isn't important. Spending time intellectually jousting with likeminded folks is the real reason to game.
Nefarious is a simultaneous action card game for two to six players, designed by Donald X. Vaccarino and published by Ascora Games, and playable in fifteen to thirty minutes.

In Nefarious, you take on the role of a mad scientist bent on taking over the world with his inventions, which are represented by cards. Each invention has a financial cost, a value in victory points, and a straightforward special ability that occurs when you play it. All players also have four "role" cards.

Each round, players choose one of these "role" cards and place it face down in front of them. When all players are ready, the role cards are revealed simultaneously and resolved. One role, "speculate," allows you to invest in a prediction of what your neighboring players will do in their future turns, earning you a somewhat steady income stream in future turns. Another role, "work," allows you to earn money. Still another role, "research," lets you earn a bit less money but also draw a fresh invention card for your hand. The final role, "invent," allows you to play a single invention card from your hand (provided you have the money to pay for it).

A big part of what makes Nefarious interesting is the "twist" cards. The game comes with a sizeable deck of these twist cards and, at the start of the game, two of them are turned over. These "twists" modify the rules of the game in some basic fashion, perhaps providing more money to players for doing certain things or enabling repeated use of the abilities on invention cards. The "twists" can radically shift the gameplay.

The first person to have a set of inventions worth 20 points is the winner of the game.

Ten Things to Like About Nefarious
Here are ten things I like about Nefarious.

1. It's very easy to teach.
This is one of those games that can be taught in just a few minutes. It's not weighted down with a lot of rules or specific loopholes.

The rulebook isn't particularly strong (mostly just unnecessarily wordy), but the rules of the game are simple enough that it can be picked up from the rules after a readthrough or two and taught to a new player really quickly.

2. Repeated play makes the game incredibly fast.
Our first play took about half an hour. After that, games started averaging about twenty minutes. Our quickest games now approach the ten minute mark.

Since there are relatively few mechanisms in the game, it's very easy to just get into something of a "flow" with this game in which the rules no longer stand in your way and you're simply thinking about the best move almost intuitively. That makes for a very quick game.

3. The symbols on the cards are very easy to interpret.
After a single game of this, every symbol on the cards will be very easy for you to understand and utilize. The set of symbols you actually need to know for this game is very small and, for the most part, they're incredibly intuitive.

The symbology also makes the game largely language independent. Some of the humor of the card names might be lost on someone who doesn't speak the native language of the cards, but the actual functionality will be completely clear.

4. The art and the theme are quite enjoyable.
Speaking of the humor on the card names, the entire game is all about a humorous examination of the "mad scientist" subgenre, with crazy inventions abound. Some of the card names are actually quite funny.

The art helps with this, too. The artwork in this game is quite solid, conveying the less-than-serious theme without being overwhelming and providing a nice smile if you spend a few moments studying the art along with the names.

5. The "twist" cards add significant life to the game.
The basic gameplay of Nefarious isn't quite deep enough to really sustain a large number of plays. The twist cards really help with that, giving this game extended legs.

The pair of twist cards that are randomly revealed at the game start skew the game fundamentally, causing you to sometimes play more aggressively, sometimes play more conservatively, and sometimes utilize really strange patterns for the inventions you choose and the roles you select.

6. There's a high "let's play it again" factor here thanks to the short time and variable game conditions.
Because of the "twist" cards and because the game is so short, there's often a strong desire to "play it again" as soon as you're doing with a game of Nefarious. This is particularly true during your first few sessions with the game.

The game itself harbors a high density of choices per minute of gameplay and the twist cards create such variety between games that you almost can't help but want to play it again very quickly.

7. The simultaneous action and the "speculate" mechanism create some interesting player reading and second-guessing.
To me, "speculate" is the most interesting part of this game.

At the start of the game, you have five minions that aren't doing anything at all. By choosing the "speculate" action, you can spend a small amount of money to place one of your minions onto one of the four spaces on your player board which correspond with the four action cards in your hand. For example, you could place a minion on the "invent" spot on your board, the "research" spot, or even the "speculate" spot.

When you have a minion on that spot and the player to your left or right happens to choose that action, then you receive a coin. If you have two minions on "invent," for example, and both the player on your left and on your right choose "invent," then you'll get four coins.

Speculate ends up being a very interesting mechanism, then, as it allows you to predict what your opponent will do (to a certain extent) while also slightly discouraging them from taking a particular action.

I really like how speculation works in Nefarious. It adds the reading of other players to the game.

8. The game changes noticeably with different player counts.
With two players, the speculate mechanism is considerably weaker, as are all invention abilities that affect other players negatively. Many twists are also affected. There are simply fewer things that can interfere with your plans, so you can actually come up with a strategy based on the twist cards.

With five or six players, the speculate mechanism is a lot stronger, invention abilities that affect other players go way up in strength, and you simply have to expect that the inventions of other players are going to mess with your plans. It feels like a very different game, and I consider that to be a strength of Nefarious.

9. The "tiebreaker" rule makes for some incredibly intense final rounds.
If two players simultaneously reach 20 (or some number over 20) and they reach the same exact total, the game does not end. Instead, it keeps going until some player stands alone with the highest score total - and often it's not any of the players who initially tied (if you're playing with more than two players, anyway).

This creates unbelievable tension near the end of the game, where almost any invention can win the game and there are usually several players in contention (the two people at 21 with just a few coins versus the two people at 18 with a fistful of coins, for example).

10. It's a strong choice for new gamers, particularly to introduce simultaneous action selection.
This is a wonderful way to introduce new gamers to the hobby. It's not very complicated, it plays quickly, and the rules are light.

At the same time, it shows off the simultaneous action selection mechanism that shows up in more complex games. I find that introducing mechanisms in simple games goes a long way toward making more complex games easier for people to digest as they become more experienced.

Five Things to Disike About Nefarious
On the flip side, here are five things that some gamers might dislike about Nefarious. Other gamers might find these concerns to be a non-issue, while still others might view these as a positive.

1. Strategy doesn't do much in this game; it's an extremely tactical one.
You can play this game with a strategy. You can sure look at those twist cards and the initial cards in your hand and choose a strategy right off the bat, then do your best to stick with it.

However, that strategy is going to be hammered left and right, particularly when you play with more players. With two players, you might often get away with sticking with your early strategy, though nowhere near all of the time.

With five or six? Don't bother with an overarching strategy. Focus on tactical play and make the move that gives you the biggest leg up in the moment. If you stick hard with your initial strategy in a large game, you'll come in near the bottom of the pack.

2. There's not a ton of depth.
After you play several games of Nefarious, a lot of gameplay patterns start to emerge and the games, even with the twists, begin to feel a bit "same-y."

Keep in mind that Nefarious probably does fall under the banner of a "filler" game because of its brevity, but in the base game at least, there's not an incredible amount of variety.

Expansions could definitely help with this, but there are none on the horizon, as far as I can tell.

3. Some twist card combos are painful.
As I mentioned earlier, some of the twist cards speed up the game, while others slow down the game.

If you get two of them that have a speeding-up effect, the game plays incredibly fast and seems entirely dependent on the draw, as players can just play cards very rapidly and win in just a few turns if they get good cards.

On the other hand, if you get two that have a slowing-down effect, Nefarious can really drag. I mean, really drag. It turns what should be a fifteen minute game into one that's pushing the forty-five minute mark, one that leaves players walking away from the table happy to put Nefarious away for a while.

4. The component quality is a bit lower than one might like.
The cards themselves are fine, but the boards are flimsy and the minions don't match the colors on the back of the action cards (they do for some and don't for others).

It's not a major concern, but this is a game that could show serious wear pretty easily, and the color mismatch is a minor but notable frustration.

5. You can get painfully unlucky with invention draws.
Sometimes, the deck in this game just says, "No, not today." You'll draw nothing but incredibly expensive inventions when the twists are encouraging people to play cheap ones or vice versa.

Sometimes, it's bad enough that the card draw will just eliminate you no matter what you do. Other times, it's really clear to others that you're struggling in a particular way and they'll just sit on top of you by speculating your actions correctly. This can be really frustrating, but thankfully the game is short.

Who Would Like This Game?
Nefarious is a game with a fun sense of humor and theme that is short, easy to teach, and works with a variety of player counts. In other words, it makes for a great opening for a game night, though there's not quite enough depth to keep players playing it forever. For me, the positives outweigh the negatives, so Nefarious will stick around on my game shelf.

People who will like this game include:

Gamers who like a dose of humor in their games - Nefarious is a very tongue-in-cheek affair. If you like a healthy dose of humor with your games and "mad scientist" jokes seem appealing, you'll like this game's theme at the very least.

"Gateway" gamers - Nefarious is a game with simple rules that plays quickly, offers an enjoyable theme, and really hammers home a game mechanism that shows up in more complex games. In other words, I'd call this a "gateway game."

Gamers looking for a filler that has a lot of tactical choices - This is a quick game that works well with a variety of player counts, plus it has a lot of little decisions to make in a fairly rapid-fire fashion, so it's a great way to start off a game night.

A Video Review
I also posted a video review of this game, which touches on many of the points described above in a reasonably short package. If you want a good glimpse of the game components, this is worth watching.

This review can also be found at [i]
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Mike DiLisio
United States
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Nice review as always. It is really a shame that I had to struggle to get a copy of this, but I'm so glad that I did. Had the distribution not been bungled, and had this not already gone out of print, I think it could have filled a similar niche to King of Tokyo. This is not to suggest that the games are in any way similar in style of play, but rather to say that it has a great sense of humor, is light and fast, and has the "let's play again," factor in spades. As it is, I'm afraid that this may get relegated to "hidden gem" status. The cache of the developer could eventually lead to a reprint, but until then, I'm afraid this isn't going to get the attention it deserves.
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