Let's face it...card games make excellent stocking stuffers or Dirty Santa gifts. They're usually cheap, compact, and the cards themselves can double as thrown weapons in a pinch.
So are Fairy Tale and Monty Python Fluxx the equivalent of coal in your stocking? Or instead, is it like one of those cool pens where you flip them upside down and boom, someone's naked? Or some unspecified third thing, perhaps?
The ancitipation's killing you, I know. Find out more inside.
Monty Python Fluxx
Designer: Andrew Looney
Publisher: Looney Labs, Inc.
Fluxx, the card game that "changed all the rules", launched in 1997 and quickly polarized gamers. There were those who couldn't get enough of the crazy free-form gameplay, and there were those who criticzed it for being hideously random and pointless.
And it's not just the Goal that can change--new Rules can be played all the time that alter the game's "Draw 1, Play 1" rule. It's quite possible for a combination of "Draw 5" and "Play All" to be in play, causing everyone to draw fistfuls of cards every turn and dump them on the table. Truly, the definition of chaos...and for some gamers, that is definitely a lot of fun.
Fluxx was a pretty big success, selling well to comic book store denizens and Magic: The Gathering fans, who would play quick pick-up games in between tournament games. Even to this day, if you mention to a comic-store worker that you're a gamer, you're likely to get asked, "Have you played Fluxx?" (This has happened to me at least twice.) The game was so successful that a slew of rethemed follow-ups were released over the years, including Stoner Fluxx, EcoFluxx, ZombieFluxx, and now the latest, Monty Python Fluxx.
I had played Fluxx years ago during a card game tournament and wasn't horribly offended by it. It was light, definitely random, but not bad. And I'm a Monty Python Fan (Shocking! I know! A gamer who digs Monty Python!) so I wanted to check out the new version. Looney Labs was kind enough to send me a review copy, where I was able to take it for a spin.
The game comes in the typical small game double-deck packaging, though thankfully they were wise enough to put a divider in the box (other card game manufacturers, please take note.) There's a single double-sided rulesheet that nicely details the minimal "out of the box" rules for Fluxx, along with a short FAQ. The cards themselves are a tad thin and flimsy, but not the super-cheap stuff they used for "Transformers Battling Card Game" from last year. Anyway, they didn't appear to show heavy wear after my short time with them, so they should be okay.
Gameplay is more or less exactly like Fluxx before it--only this time the Keepers are Monty Python-flavored items such as "The Animator", "King Arthur", and "Brave Sir Robin" and a handful of the Rules cards have Monty Python flavoring (more on that in a minute.) For the most part, winning is the same--someone will play a Goal such as "He is Brave Sir Robin" which will cause someone to win if they have Sir Robin and Sir Robin's minstrels in front of him.
I was expecting a game that had the Fluxx framework but had a lot of stuff from the short-lived Monty Python CCG in it. I thoroughly expected to be singing, quoting, and doing stupid Monty Python-related gags throughout the game. And that's really the missed opportunity here: though the Keeers have Monty Python names, the theme for those is just pasted on--after all, the Keepers often have no game-altering text on their own. And the Goal cards try to match thematically with pairings of Keepers, but again that's just window dressing.
It falls to the Rules then to inject the most Holy Grail flavoring, and sadly that's where the package truly falls short. I counted only a tiny handful of cards that change the rules in ways that provide the Monty Python experience. There's one that will have you sing a snippet of a song for a small benefit; another few that deal with quoting; and humorously a Rule card that replaces all "3s" with "5s" on cards ("One, Two, Five! ...Three Sir! ...Three!") But there are such few of them that they don't show up enough to make a big difference.
That leaves you with the basic Fluxx experience, and odds are you already know how you feel about that. Again, it's not something I mind in casual doses. If you don't really like Fluxx, the Monty Python theme is so light to almost be negligible and won't be enough to change your mind. If you already have Fluxx then this isn't offering that much new. If you don't have Fluxx and are a Python fan, then I can see this being a good jumping on point to give it a try, and that's probably the whole idea--slap a geek-friendly theme on it and hope to lure in new fans.
I just wish there were more "Python" inside, and maybe they'll release an expansion or something that will do just that. 'Till then, thumbs in the middle.
Overall: 2.5 (out of 5)
Designer: Satoshi Nakamura
Publisher: Several; Reviewed Version Z-Man Games
If you've never taken part in a CCG draft, it's pretty simple--each player has a certain number of card game packs, and these are opened one at a time. You look over the cards in your pack, choose one, and pass the others to the players beside you. You take the stack passed to you by the other player and choose one, and so on and so forth. You repeat this entire process for all the packs you have, and the goal at the end is to take your drafted cards, fashion a deck from them and then play a series of games with them.
There is definitely a skill to this, as you have to make choices on the fly during the draft with hideously imperfect information--you may see a very powerful card, but have no way of knowing if any other cards are going to come your way that will support it or even work with it in any way. On top of this is the need to "hate draft"--knowing when to draft a card you have no intention of using just to keep it out of the hands of other players.
The goal of Fairy Tale is similar to that of your average CCG draft, with the exception that you don't actually build a deck when the draft is done. Each round, all players are dealt five cards. Each player chooses one card of the five and passes them on. Once five cards are drafted, players then take turns simultaneously choosing one of the five to play, carrying out any special text on them if applicable. Special text often takes the form of "Flip/Unflip" certain card types. Flipping means turning a card of that type face down, and this is important because cards that are face down are not considered to be in play in any way--with the exception of "Unflip" cards that can bring them active again.
Players do this three times, playing three of the five. Extras are discarded, and a new round of drafting begins. You do four full drafting rounds, playing your desired cards, and then scores are tallied at the end. All cards either have a fixed or conditional score value printed on top of the card. Cards that are face down at the end of the game are not scored nor do they count towards conditional scoring cards--in fact, the rules indicate you discard all face down cards before scoring.
For cards with fixed values, this is easy--just add those values together. Other cards are the titular "Fairy Tale" story cards and require you to have the most of a certain type of card, giving you a big bonus if you can pull it off. Some cards have a notation like "* x 3", and will refer to another card. An example is "Bronze Dragon", which partner with "Knight of the Round Table." If you have one Bronze Dragon and 2 3-point Knights, then your score for those is 6 for the Knights (3 apiece), then the Bronze Dragon is (2 Knights x 3 points) for an additional six points. That's where a lot of the skill comes in during the drafting process, trying to claim cards that work with cards you've already played while keeping an eye out for cards you need to deny to other players. That's why it's great you're taking five each turn but only playing three, as this leaves you two slots to "hate draft", keeping cards that would give your opponents lots of points and burying them in the discard pile, never to be seen again.
And that's it, really. Highest score wins. There's plenty of strategy in the cards you're choosing as you draft, and a small bit during the actual gameplay. For example, the powerful 6-value cards require you to flip face-down one of your cards of the same type (which will be themselves if you have none others when the card is played.) Then there are other cards which are worth far less but allow you to flip a card face up. Play them in the right order, and you'll get the full value for all your cards. There are shadow cards that are black-backed and have nasty flip effects for everyone--unless you're lucky enough to not have played any of the affected type! It's fun to play a shadow card that flips all dragons only to follow it up with a dragon of your own--unaffected by your previous play.
It plays fast and scales well. The Z-Man production of the game is nice, with linen-finished cards and the typical small card box (though without the divider, a small complaint.)
There are a few minor complaints. The theme is very thin, which is an odd match given the fantasy-style artwork. The anime art isn't going to suit everybody (the cover in particular sort of looks like it's from the Commodore 64 version of Strip Poker or something.) There are fewer types of cards than you might expect--not only are there duplicates of many of the cards, but the cards essentially duplicate themselves by having analogues in each color. Only the Shadow cards are really radically different than the other types. There are going to be times where the cards you have, there's nothing you can draft to help you, but that's just the nature of card drafting in general.
Still, it's hard not to recommend the game based on the great price and "just enough" level of strategic gameplay. For old CCGers like myself this is a great way to get a taste of the old draft fix without spending extra money on packs. Pick up a copy, you're not likely to be disappointed.
Overall: 4.0 (out of 5.0)