It was time to take over Earth. We had cunning plans, but then, we were also all trying to sabotage each other at the same time. We knew we had to convince a couple of different regions to be loyal to us and the rest would happen automatically. We also had a super secret weapon. We were going to bribe the Earthlings with Cake of Doom by Amar Chandarana and Pearl Ho from Rainy Day Games.
As their first self-published game, it's no surprise that Amar Chandarana and Pearl Ho decided to go for a card game. The game is not in its final form yet. The rules and components for Cake of Doom are pretty much 99% there, but like with every crowdfunded game, some tweaks may yet be implemented and there is still a certain amount of card artwork to be completed.
I guess it won't surprise anyone if I say that Cake of Doom is very much like many other card games. After all, it's very hard to reinvent the wheel in a genre that's already quite mature. However, as a card game, Cake of Doom has to work really hard to stand out. There is a huge mountain of other card games already on the market and more regularly find their way to crowdfunding platforms.
So there are two decks of cards: the cake cards, which you use to take control of a region of Earth, and so-called mischief cards, which allow you to somehow interfere with other players or block them from doing so. Everyone starts with a mix of these different types of cards, which remind me a little of Exploding Kittens.
On your turn, you can play any number of mischief cards to steal cards from other players or otherwise mess with them. Next, you bid on a region. That's the core of the game. You have to control two regions of Earth and the Doom region to win the game. Each region requires a minimum amount of cakes before it can be controlled. If another player already owns a region, you have to bid more cakes than the owning player played originally. So it gets harder and harder to steal regions from other players.
Also, other players have the opportunity to sabotage you with their cards at this point. Other card games can become quite chaotic at this stage, but Cake of Doom is different. To avoid a huge amount of confusion, there is a very specific turn structure. Players can each only play a single sabotage card to try and stop you. For every sabotage card played, you get the opportunity to block them with one of your block cards.
So far though, Cake of Doom feels like quite a common fare. It's not too different from other card games that you may have come across. It'll probably remind you of the aforementioned Exploding Kittens or Fluxx.
Of course, the designers are acutely aware of how much competition they are up against. So Cake of Doom does offer a few things that make it different from other, similar games.
First of all, every player is randomly assigned a different alien character to play. Each and every one has a different ongoing ability, giving the game an asymmetric twist. Secondly, and I think that's the biggest difference, the number of cards you draw after your turn isn't fixed. Instead, it goes up each round. In the first round, everyone only draws one card. In the second, it is two, then three, then four and so on until round 10 - not that you're likely to ever get that far into the game.
So Cake of Doom starts quite slow and sedate. The clearly defined order of play makes it feel very civilised and ordered. Then, as the rounds go on, everyone will end up with more and more cards. Suddenly, outbidding others with cakes becomes a lot easier. However, you do need to decide if you focus on cake cards or also draw some mischief cards. After all, mischief cards keep you safe from other players' interference.
Overall though, there is never much chaos in Cake of Doom, despite the randomness of the mischief cards. You can plan pretty well ahead, which is helped by the fact that cake and mischief cards have different backs. So you can immediately see if other players have any mischief cards left to mess with you or block you. That makes the game much more predictable.
Unfortunately, you never feel like you have much agency in Cake of Doom. The game is over very quickly, in around 15 to 30 minutes. Given that players only draw very few cards to start with, everyone is heavily reliant on a good starting hand. So you're always just reacting than actively making decisions. Eventually, players will be controlling two regions, so everyone else will do their best to steal regions from them. Again, you're just doing what you can to stop someone else from winning and not making an active decision.
If you're in the lead, you'll only draw cake cards. That ensures that you get the third region without anyone else being able to stop you. It's going to be obvious to everyone else that the game is lost and that you will win on your turn. It also feels like there is a first-player benefit in Cake of Doom. If everyone plays optimally, then the first player is the one who has the first shot at winning the game.
So, Cake of Doom isn't for me. A game like Fluxx is much more my thing. As random as this game often is, it does give players more control. You can try and plan ahead. If you keep certain cards and build up your hand over a number of rounds, you can finish and win the game in a single turn. Bad luck may stop you from getting there, but you still feel like you have agency. You feel like you can do something to increase your chances of winning. Exploding Kittens is also very random, but even there you feel like you have some control and you can influence the outcome, at least a little. I don't get that feeling when playing Cake of Doom.
Cake of Doom Isn't Doomed
Now, this sounds like a criticism, but ultimately, Cake of Doom does achieve what it seems to set out to do: it's a very quick card game with a fun setting. The illustrations are fun and the game itself, if you don't take it or yourself too seriously, is really enjoyable. There is no promise of a deep strategy or difficult decisions. It's all about spending 15 minutes with friends on a game that allows you to continue chatting. It doesn't require you to pay too much attention.
So, if that's what you're after, then Cake of Doom is certainly for you.