- Designers: Jake Tlapek and David Fulton
- Publisher: Indie Board and Cards
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 14+
- Time: 30 minutes
- Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Indie
Grifters is a game set in the Dystopian Universe. All games set in The Dystopian Universe share a similar art style and most of the games have hidden identity and social deduction game mechanics. The first game set in the Dystopian was The Resistance. The Dystopian Universe became a “shared universe” when Indie Boards and Cards decided to set their reprinting of Coup in the universe they had previously created for The Resistance rather than France. Grifters marked the first game set in the universe that did not feature hidden identity and social game mechanics.
Though I honestly have not been a big fan of previous Dystopian Universe games (mainly due to my general dislike of social deduction games), a quick demo at GenCon 2016 was enough to convince me to take this one home and try it, because as much as I don’t like social deduction games, I really love me some deckbuilding games.
In this game, players are crime bosses who run their gangs at night trying to steal ISK (victory points) from the government and from rival gangs. Their gang members are found on cards – each player starts with three identical ringleader cards and then 3 random Specialist cards dealt to them from the deck. The 3 Ringleader cards represent the basic actions for your gang, and these three cards can never be removed from your deck. The rest of the Specialist deck is set down as a draw pile. Each player gets a player board which has 3 slots for cards on it where cards will be played as well as a refresh area just to the right side of the board.
There are five decks of job cards, they are separated by color and then ordered with the lowest number cards on top and highest on the bottom. These jobs can be completed by playing the icons depicted in the center of that card. Finally, a number of ISK tokens based on the number of players is set on in the center of the table as the Coffers.
On each turn, players go through three phases, and play continues in clockwise order until one of the three game-end criteria is met. The three phases are:
1) Advance Time – in this phase, all cards are moved on space to the right. That is Night One cards go to Night Two, Night Two to Night Three, and Night Three to the Refresh area (which is to the side of the board).
2) Play Specialists – There are two different options here. First, you can perform a Caper; play a single Specialist card from your hand, perform the special ability printed on that card, and then place the card in the Night One slot on your board. Alternatively, you could complete a Job. Each card has one of three icons in the corner (red, blue or green), and you play cards whose icons match the entire set of icons on one of the face up job cards. The entire group of cards is played as a Team to your Night One space. You do not use any of the special abilities on these Specialist Cards; instead, you get to enact the special action printed on the Job card that you collect. These actions tend to be better than those found on any single Specialist card, so you get a good payoff for your team of cards. You are motivated to try to collect job cards of the same color as that gives you an endgame bonus.
3) Refresh – after you have played your Specialist card(s), you now take whatever cards are in your Refresh area and add them to your hand. These are the only cards added to your hand – there is no personal deck to draw from. All of your cards are either in your hand or on the board.
The play then shifts to the next player in order who goes through the same three phases. The game ends immediately when one of three criteria is met:
- the last ISK token is taken from the Coffers area on the table
- all Job cards have been collected
- There are no cards left in the Specialist Deck and Discard pile area when someone needs to draw
At this point, players count up the ISK tokens they have collected as well as taking any bonuses for having multiple jobs of the same color (scoring bonus chart is on the bottom of each Job card). The player with the most ISK wins the game. If there is a tie, the player with the most Job cards breaks ties.
My thoughts on the game
The folks at the booth said that calling Grifters a deckbuilding game though might be a bit misleading as they referred to the game as a “handbuilder” – but in the end, it’s all semantics for me. Sure, the important thing is what is in your hand at any given time, but you’re building your deck at the same time in order to provide yourself with that hand. I will say that the added circulation of cards through the night slots helps you plan ahead for particular hands a bit more than regular deckbuilders – but in the end, you have to have the cards somewhere in your deck/board area in order to eventually get them into your hand when you want.
Of course, it does play different as there is no luck of the draw as you never deal yourself a new hand. You are always able to hold and play any unused cards, and much of the game revolves around adding new cards to your hand or figuring out how to cycle cards faster through the three night slots so that you can use them again.
In that regard, it does feel fairly novel within the genre. The cards themselves are fairly easy to understand, and we didn’t have any problems with their actions. There are a few situations that you might need to slow down to follow a chain of events. As an example, let’s say that most of your cards are in two teams on your board. You might play a card (Hacker) that allows you to duplicate the action of any card in an opponent’s Night One slot. That chosen card (Fall Guy) might then tell you to show a card from your hand, do the action printed on the card (Femme Fatale) and then return the card to your hand (to be played again later). The card (Femme Fatale) that you expose might then allow you to move all your played cards one slot ahead and then play another card to your Night One slot. Finally, you might choose to play the same Femme Fatale card that you showed earlier – thus moving everything forward another slot, and then finally you can play the Mastermind which allows you to draw 3 Specialists, keep one and discard the other. In the end, you’ve managed to move three piles of cards into the Refresh area (one at the start in the Advance Time phase, and two due to Femme Fatales) as well as drawing one more card into your hand with the Mastermind. You’ve essentially recycled your entire deck into your hand at the cost of three cards (the Hacker, Femme Fatale and Mastermind).
I have admittedly created a very convoluted example to show how some of the cards can work together – rest assured that they’re not always that complicated – but it’s good to know that that sort of play exists. I myself find this sort of thing appealing, and the discovery process of combos like this is what usually draws me into a deckbuilder. Some of the simpler actions involve stealing cards from other players, taking their ISKs, or just taking ISKs from the Coffers. Like I said, it’s easy stuff.
In the early game, it seems to be all about getting more cards into your hand/deck. You will need to grow your hand size significantly in order to collect the Job cards. At the lower levels, the job cards only need three or four icons to get a card, but this increases to six or seven at the higher levels. In order to collect these (and match the right symbols), you need to get a bunch of cards in your hand. Furthermore, you’d like a bit of surplus so that you can choose amongst the cards carefully – hopefully leaving yourself with actions in your hand that allow you to cycle cards back into it faster. If you don’t have these actions, it can be a long three turns waiting for all of those cards to come back home…
Additionally, there may be times when playing for the job cards isn’t the best play. Some of the regular actions can gain you 5 or more ISKs, and that’s almost as good as some of the job cards. You’ll just need to see what’s in your hand and figure out what is the best play at the moment.
The artwork is the same futuristic, dystopian, grey/silver/metallic stuff that you find in the Resistance and other games in the series. It’s an interesting idea to tie things together thematically – though I’m glad to see that they don’t all share the social deduction game mechanic. The whole thing reminds me of the Android universe of FFG, though I think that Indie Board and Cards has done a better job of creating the universe and filling it with different games.
Every time that I think the deck building genre is reaching a saturation point, I play a new game that makes me think that there is more room for exploration. This month, I have come across two such games (the Grifters and Mystic Vale) that have gotten me excited to play new ones again.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, John P
- Not for me…