Let’s be honest. As a gamer, unless you’re living under some kind of rock in an Afghan cave or something, chances are you’re at least passingly familiar with Penny Arcade. It’s more statistically likely that you’ve followed them devotedly, and I’d even go so far as to say that a small minority of you may actually have gone ‘The Full Gabe’ and shoved a copy of Kingdom Hearts into your pants directly against your wang.
I fall into that middle category and have actively tracked the adventures of Gabe and Tycho since about 2002. In the time since, I’ve bought their shirts, I’ve looked into attending PAX (and failed), I play their video games and I collect their strip collections and retrospectives. I give the guys my support. As such, I will now begin my incredibly biased (and one hundred percent truthful) review of their collectible card game, Penny Arcade: Gamers vs. Evil.
At First Glance
Upon placing the box in your hands you are faced with some of the more recognizable and infamous cast of characters from the Penny Arcade universe. It appears as if Gabriel himself had lovingly vomited his rogue’s gallery directly through the printing process in such a manner as to assault your visual cortex. I mean, really – the box art is super busy. And the box itself is hefty. It has a lot of weight, and it should – there’s a shit ton of cards in there once you open the box. It’s a little haphazard to look at at first, but, soon enough, you find yourself flipping through a book of instructions that looks intimidating at first, but really is only as big as it is so that you can get game play examples big enough to read everything. Once your trembling hands have set down the rules, you expectantly grab your included D20 and begin to play.
The game begins with you selecting one of several Penny Arcade characters to play at random. The basic set has twelve separate characters that you can play, all of which I’m typically pretty stoked to play with very few exceptions. Hell, I even got excited about playing Kreazie. Each character has some special ability or specific card their decks will start with. Once selected, by means of mortal combat it is determined who will go first. Or you can use that handy D20 they included and roll for it.
Every player starts with a number of tubes, quarters and unique cards as indicated on their character card. They get shuffled up and the game begins. It’s a deckbuilding game, so anyone who’s ever played a collectible card game should be familiar with the mechanic. Quarters turn into tokens (which buy green cards) when played and tubes become power (which buy red cards). These are used to buy cards from stacks that are randomly determined from the start of the game via red randomizer cards. The cards bought have a variety of uses, and there’s always a couple that make it into the game no matter what (The Merch and its dark cousin the Fleshreaper are always in play). In addition to the usual red and green cards, you also have two boss stacks which are difficult to buy. In the boss stacks are unique cards that give insane advantages. Red cards lean towards offensive capabilities and provide victory points. Green cards trend towards defense and drawing cards. Then there are Pax Pox cards that remove victory points and are basically junk cards – they are the penalty for not having any kind of defensive game going on in your constructed deck.
Victory conditions are met in one of two ways: all of the boss loot from any single boss stack are purchased, or six of the game’s stacks (excluding Pax Pox and boss stacks) are bought in their entirety. At that point, the game concludes and all players count up their victory points. Whomever has the most points wins the game.
I’m going to get this out of the way. There is only good in this box. Insofar as I am aware, there is no reason to dislike this game. So, I’m gonna gush a little.
The mechanics, which can hang you up the first couple of rounds of the game, are incredibly well thought out and given one game become incredibly simple. Some of the tougher aspects circle around keeping track of your token/power points and straightening out the order of operations. However, these are nuances quickly picked up on.
The biggest benefit though for me as a long time PA fan is that every game is a nostalgia trip for me. There are gags that show up on the cards that I hadn’t thought about in years, characters that are as iconic as they are obscure, and most of it is inappropriate beyond words once you know the inside jokes. I love revisiting every inch of the Penny Arcade property.
Especially the art. Mike Krauhlik (aka Gabe) has grown as an artist in ways that I cannot really aspire to. Speaking as a former designer myself, Mike’s style has grown over time, and these cards are like looking at that growth in snapshot, as if on a time progression camera view. The art is really what makes the game fun and playable for me personally. It’s like having an entire game based around an inside joke that only me and a couple million others are in on (that sounds a lot more exclusive when held against the six billion humans hemming us in as of this writing).
Did you not read the above? There is no bad.
Okay, maybe there’s a little gripe.
PA: G vs. E can only allow for four players. It’s possible to play with two I guess… but why? And, the game is so much more fun when you have the full four. My problem with the game is that more than four rules aren’t in there. Not yet anyhow. I have way more than three friends. And way more than three of those friends are PA fans and card game fans. I’d love for this to expand the number of players possible with every expansion – of which I already have on (Rumble in Ry’leh).
The Sum Up
Buy this. Do it now. Go and make a purchase at your chosen purveyor of fun. Or else, Tycho may sic Div on you. Or worse, the savage juicer who shall not be named.
And then you’ll need a whole box of q-tips.