Sunday, February 2, 2014

Guts of Glory Review

Guts of Glory was another Kickstarter I supported back when I first got into Kickstarting projects.  I probably Kickstarted way too many games in a row back then, as evidenced by the glut of Kickstarters I received over the holidays.  However, Guts of Glory stood out with interesting artwork and novel gameplay.  It also looked like it had a substantial amount of development already.  Lastly, the guy who designed it, Zach Gage, also designed an iOS game I enjoyed called SpellTower.

Well, Guts of Glory shipped towards the end of of December 2013, although I got my copy early in January 2014.  I've played it a good amount since, and so far I've really enjoyed it.  It's a drafting game, themed around a post apocalyptic eating contest.  Everyone is a mutant, and you are eating everything left in the world.  It's quite charming actually.

Rule Summary

To set up Guts of Glory, first you lay out the central board.  It contains a Glory track, the plate which holds 3 cards, and room for the draw pile, discards, and the Glory cards you'll attach to spewed food items.  Each player also gets a Mouth board, and a matching meeple to place on the Glory track.  Depending on the number of players you'll constitute the deck out of a number of green Condiment cards, and a lesser number of blue Food cards.  Place the deck on the board, and fill up the plate with three cards.  Lastly, put out all the Chew tokens in reach of all players

All set up and ready to play.

On a player's turn, first they fill the plate.  Then they Feed a card off the plate.  They Froth, taking two Chew tokens, then they Chew, placing those tokens on the cards in their mouth.

To get more detailed, when a player takes a card, it can only go in certain slots of their Mouth board, depending on the type of card it is.  Food goes in the two side pockets, while Condiments go in the three middle ones.  Generally Food cards are worth points, and Condiments give you abilities.  Every card has a Toughness, which is the number of Chews you must place on the card before you can swallow it.  Some cards are also worth Glory, either innately, or because they have Glory cards attached.  Many cards also have a Swallow power, a Mouth power, or both.  The Swallow power only happens once when you swallow it.  But the Mouth power stays active as long as you can keep it around.

Food cards can only go in the cheeks.  Condiments go on the tongue.

Players must take a card every turn.  If their mouth is full, they Spew a card at their opponent.  Attach a Glory card to it, enriching it's value, and offer it to your opponent, with any Chew tokens still on it.  If they have space for it, they must accept.  If they don't, they can choose to take it or not, which may result in them spewing a card as well.  This can repeat for a while until everyone is happy with the cards in their Mouth.

This card has some
of everything.
Frothing is also important to highlight.  At first all you do when you Froth is take the two Chew tokens you will eventually place in the next phase.  However certain cards give you extra powers during the Froth phase.  So it's important not to skip over it too quickly.

Lastly, you Chew.  Which is just taking the Chew tokens you took during the Froth phase, and actually placing them on cards in your Mouth.  You can only place one Chew token on a card, unless an ability allows you to Double Chew.  Also, extra chews you place directly on cards thanks to abilities don't count towards that limit.  When you put chews on a card equal to it's Toughness, you swallow it immediately.  This frequently earns you Glory which you will award yourself on the Glory track, and triggers abilities which you perform.

Play continues like this until one player has earned 7 Glory.  They have proven their guts are truly glorious.

Timelapse of play.

How accessible is the game to new players?

Guts of Glory has super simple rules.  There are only a few phases, most of which are obvious.  The only thing that needs explicit explanation is the difference between Frothing and Chewing.  Only because certain cards specifically reference the Frothing phase in their effect.  Everything else is rather intuitive.  Fill the plate, take a card, chew, swallow.

It's also a fantastic game for new players in that pretty much everyone has a chance to win.  It's extremely difficult to run away with a lead, and luck of the draw has a huge impact on the game.

What could have been done better?

Guts of Glory doesn't have any reference cards!  Yeah, it's a really easy game.  But still.  I love my reference material.  It helps teach the game, and it lets people answer their own questions.  Which is always great, especially in a game that is such a fantastic candidate for a gateway game.

How does the new player versus experienced player match up go?

There are some non obvious uses for cards that you only realize after a while.  Like The Masticator.  It lets you put 4 chews on an opponents card.  Now why on earth would you ever help them like that?  Well, maybe that person has a power up you desperately want to get rid of.  Like the Side Jaw which gives them extra chews, and hurts them when they swallow it.  That Masticator is looking a lot better now isn't it?

In fact many cards have a non obvious uses and can result in powerful combos when you use the correctly.  Learning those combos is one of the more interesting facets to Guts of Glory that will keep you coming back.  That, as well as the variable deck of cards you play with, which also keeps the game interesting.

What could have been done better?

Scores tend to be very close in Guts of Glory.  Almost artificially close.  Sometimes it just feels a little too strongly balanced, and that pure luck of the draw is the only thing that pushes one person just slightly ahead for victory.  Occasionally you'll have a game with a blow out victory.  But I find it's not often because the card availability is just too random to reliably build a strong combo.

What are the feelings the game evokes and why?

I enjoy this game well enough.  It's not the most exciting game I own.  Nor is it the most fascinating from a gameplay perspective.  But it's a nice light game with some interesting artwork and a very unique theme.  It reminds me a lot of those bizarre MTV cartoons.  Like the random logo animations, or the mutants in Aeon Flux.

Everyone in the post apocalypse has 6 fingers.

The theme comes through extremely well thanks to the artwork.  It took me a little while to think of the game in terms of drafting cards.  The theming just completely overwhelmed me and had me thinking of it purely as an eating contest.

What could have been done to make the game more enjoyable?

Gameplay in Guts of Glory has a slow pace and lot of momentum.  You slowly chew cards, a process made all the slower by your inability to put more than one Chew on a card in most circumstances.  So you see most things coming a mile away.  And you may or may not be able to slowly intercept that event from happening.  In fact, many cards that are easy to swallow, or speed up swallowing somehow, are the most coveted in the game, because they allow you to act with more agility.

What I'm getting at is that most things happen quite slowly in this game.  It's unfortunate that a game this light has such a plodding feel to it.  Light games should be punchy and fast.  At least that's how I feel about them.

It's especially plodding as a four player game.  With 4 players Guts of Glory has consistently outstayed it's welcome on the table.  With two players very familiar with the game, it takes about 10 to 20 minutes, which feels about right.  A lot of people prefer playing Guts of Glory with two players only, because it's the fastest way to play.  Although I enjoy three players as well since it has more varied player interaction.  I don't think I'm ever again playing it with four.

Long term strategy, short term tactics, both or neither?

First off, I want to come back to how Guts of Glory always feels like it has artificially close scores.  A great deal of who wins can come down to luck of the draw.  But sometimes you do have opportunities to set up clever combos.  Like having two Tires of Doom which gain chews off one another.  Or slowly placing chews on the difficult to swallow Water card, and using it to immediately chow down on the high scoring Moon that just came out.  But because of the slow pace and the random card pool, I feel like what thought that can be put into the game is mostly strategic, and highly dependent on luck of the draw.  It can frequently be difficult to impossible to draft the right cards to get a good combo going.

Are the dilemmas the player is presented with of sufficient quality?

It probably hurt to
spew this card
Guts of Glory definitely goes through phases of decisions as the game progresses.  Initially you are drafting cards for potential combos.  Or trying to at least.  But eventually, your mouth fills up and you still have to take cards.  At this point there are tougher decisions about which cards you can part with.  Worse, you need to figure out which cards you don't mind your opponent getting, with the added Glory.  This probably is the high point of the game, and the most interesting.  Unfortunately it's a bit of a let down from there.

What could have improved the dilemmas?

I find the end game for Guts of Glory boring.  Once a player has developed enough momentum towards scoring, there is little another player can do to stop it.  Unless they planed to do something about it 3 turns in advance.  Because you can usually only place one chew on a card per turn.  So if you want a trick up your sleeve, you've got to prime it early, if a card even comes out that would let you.  This often results in the last 2 or 3 rounds of the game just being people realizing there is nothing they can do to stop a person from slowly winning.  It just feels anticlimactic, and I wish Guts of Glory had a more dynamic end game.  Perhaps if the cards were scaled up to require more chews, and you got to allocate 3 per turn, or just 2 on a single card.

Physical component design and limitations?

These aren't for an upset stomach?
One area where Guts of Glory doesn't skimp is in the components.  The artwork is great in my opinion.  They even went so far as to do alternate card art for many of the items with multiple copies.  The meeples are also fun post apocalyptic mutants to match the theme, and each one is unique.  Guts of Glory also has a fantastic insert, and great wooden chew tokens.  Although we joke that they look like Pepto Bismol tablets.

What could have been better?

I have to admit, from the physical production perspective, I have no substantial complaints.  But if I had to nitpick something it would be the thickness of the mouth boards.  Mine have already begun to warp slightly, although it's not a huge deal.  Also, I have some trouble with the light shades of color they used to match the meeples to the player boards, since I am color blind.  But it's not impossible, and people can usually agree on which uniquely shaped meeple they are.

Long term prospects?

Guts of Glory is a good game, but I do wonder if it has the staying power to win table space from other games I already own.  Personally I found Star Realms to be a much more engaging two player game.  With three or four players, your mileage with the game may vary.  My girlfriend actively avoids playing with more than two because it has such a potential to drag.

For me, I'm not sure I'll hold onto Guts of Glory.  It's theme is one of a kind, and it has some novel mechanics.  But it's just not consistently engaging enough for me, nor are the decisions quite interesting enough to hold my attention.

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