Girl Genius: The Works is a reworking of the earlier, collectible, R-rated card game Xxxenophile. It's essentially the same game although there have been some simplifications and you get all 108 cards in the one box, no collecting. While the mechanics are very similar the theme has been modified to depict characters and objects from Phil Foglio's Girl Genius series of comic books.
The production on the game is top notch. James Ernest has released it under his own James Ernest Games label rather than Cheapass Games. The cards are full color and of excellent quality. The artwork is by Phil Foglio and very clean and attractive. I'm a real fan of Phil's work and so this really enhanced my enjoyment of the game. Each card depicts a character or device of some sort. Along each edge there will be one or more of a specific symbol and these are what drive the game, more on this later. There's also a point value for the card (these are the victory points you get for "capturing" the card) as well as a description of the card itself. (The description is actually an important part of the game as cards will often refer to each other based on this description.) Finally, most of the cards have certain instructions that take effect when you capture that card.
The game starts with twelve cards being dealt face down on the table (two of these will be immediately turned over) in a specific pattern (see photo below).
Players are dealt a hand of five cards and play is around the table as one would expect. A players turn consists of the following steps:
Flip one of the face down cards face up. Note that the orientation of the cards is important so there are two ways to flip a card, along the length or along the width, it does make a difference!
Spin one card. Take any face up card and rotate it 180 degrees. Now you check to see if anything "pops". (Popping is simply removing the card from the table and adding it to your score pile.) If any of the symbols on the card you spun match with any of the symbols on adjacent cards you "pop" the card with the most symbols. If there are multiple cards that qualify you "pop" them all. When you pop a card you also follow any instructions listed. This will often involve popping other cards or affecting the board some way.
Replace any cards you popped with ones from your hand (face up) and then draw card to fill your hand to five.
The game continues until one player has 100 points in his or her score pile.
So the gameplay and tactics in the game are pretty straightforward, you examine the board hoping that there will be a rotation that will allow you to pop a valuable card. Often there are moves that at first don't seem too valuable (say popping a card worth but three points) but due to its instructions a great series of moves result which add considerably to your score. It's performing these types of maneuvers that are really the most fun for me. Unfortunately this can really tend to draw the game out as players inspect the field over and over trying to find their best move. What often ends up happening is that every player can instantly see the move for Bob that lets him pop a six point card. Bob then spends two minutes going over the board looking for a more valuable play. Not finding one he says, "Oh well, I guess I'll take the six-pointer." Not exactly exciting or dramatic and certainly not fast paced. The real problem then is that the game would seem to dictate a fast pace but such a fast pace means that you're much more likely to miss out on the really clever moves which are, as I stated above, the most enjoyable aspect of it all.
The game is described as being for two or more players usually played by two or by two teams. I only played the game with two or three players and so can't comment on how it works with more or as a partnership game. It worked well enough with three but I think it really should be played two player only. First off, this greatly lessens each players downtime but more importantly it actually gives you something to do while waiting for your turn. With multiple players the board will often change so drastically between your turns that it really does little good trying to plan out a move. With only a single opponent it becomes much more feasible to think about your next move while awaiting your turn.
Even so, I found that the game often overstayed its welcome taking closer to an hour than the listed 30 minutes (especially with three players). I suppose this would be speeded up with familiarity but even if it doesn't there's an all too easy solution; play to fewer points. The game is very evenly paced (that is, there's no discernible mid-game or end-game) so altering the length doesn't really affect its feel at all. I'll probably play to 65 points from now on.
- Greg Aleknevicus