Penny Arcade: Gamers Versus Evil is Light and Fun, Sick and Twisted

Thirteen years after starting the Penny Arcade webcomic, writer Jerry Holkins and artist Mike Krahulik have more successes than anyone could have expected. Multi-million dollar charity? Check. Two of the largest gaming conventions in the world? Check.

The list continues, but these satirical critics of the game industry have never had much success making games of their own. Their video game series had a lukewarm reception and the original Fantasy Flight-published card game was a mediocre offering at best. That was then and this is now, though. Cryptozoic Entertainment holds the license and is taking another stab at making a PA-themed card game. Will it put previous offerings in its shadow? Read on for the full review.

Just the Facts:

Players: 2-4

Playing Time: 30 minutes

Age: 15 to adult

Publisher: Cryptozoic Entertainment

MSRP: $44.99

Release: November 2011

The Gameplay:

Penny Arcade The Card Game: Gamers vs. Evil is a fairly standard deckbuilding card game where all players have a small starting deck, which they must then use to acquire more powerful cards. If players add the right mix of cards to their starting deck, they will eventually draw powerful combos with potential to earn victory points. There are 16 different types of cards available for purchase, with multiple copies of each arranged in two rows of individual stacks.

The game's basic starting setup of 16 card stacks. Advanced gamers can instead choose to play with 12 stacks of randomly-selected cards (there are 28 total card stacks to choose from).

The stacks of available cards come in two varieties: gamers and evil. These two types match up with tokens and power, the two competing currencies of the game. Gamer cards must be purchased with tokens while evil cards must be defeated with might, but only evil cards come with victory points attached.

Penny Arcade tries to separate itself from other deckbuilers in a few ways. First, each player takes on the role of a specific character (10 are included, with Gabe and Tycho themselves in the mix). Each specifies its own mix of starting token and power cards, as well as a unique ability. For instance, Tycho gains +1 power on every turn.

The rulebook gives a clear explanation of Tycho's starting power and deck

Another twist to this game is the inclusion of boss stacks. Both the gamer and evil cards each have a stack of boss cards, which are some of the most powerful in the game. After several of either is purchased, though, the boss levels up and future purchases become more expensive. The last boss card in any stack is the most expensive, and also ends the game immediately upon purchase. Alternatively, the game can end when six other individual stacks are depleted, and the player with the most victory points wins.

The Components:

  • 411 Game Cards

    • 10 Hero Cards
    • 28 Cardboard Tube Starting Cards
    • 28 Quarter Starting Cards
    • 126 Gamer Cards (9 each of 14 different cards)
    • 126 Evil Cards (9 each of 14 different cards)
    • 6 Gamer Boss Cards
    • 6 Evil Boss Cards
    • 32 Boss Loot Cards
    • 20 PAX Pox Cards
    • 3 Unique Hero Starting Cards
    • 26 Randomizer Cards

  • 1 Rulebook
  • 1 D20 die

I'll admit that I am a huge fan of the Penny Arcade comics, so it's a hard call for me to say whether Krahulik's art is great or not without a little bit of bias bleeding through. What I can say is that not using his artwork in this game would have been a huge and obvious misstep for Cryptozoic, but one that they have avoided. By most card game standards, the artwork on these cards takes up a massive amount of real estate, so it's good to see that this game's design is playing to its strengths. That's amplified by the fact that the character cards are huge, giving them plenty of room for artwork.

As for the production quality, there are a few gripes, such as the randomizer deck having a different colored back but no identifiable difference on the card's face. The cards are rather flimsy, which leads me to question how they will stand up to extended play. I am not someone who sleeves cards, but for those who do, the majority of the cards here are standard Magic: The Gathering size.

Lastly, the box includes a labeled insert but doesn't do a particularly good job of actually separating different card types from each other. It's obvious this box was built with room for expansion in mind, but to keep your cards from flying around in the meantime, you'll need to provide some foam for a tighter packing.

Final Thoughts:

Penny Arcade is a humor comic, and the jokes contained on these cards pull mostly from the more juvenile side (which is a large side to pull from given the source material). That will likely be a positive for some and negative for others, particularly those who have no history reading Penny Arcade. If the players aren't uptight, there should be no issues, but just know what you are getting into here. This may not be the game you want to break out with the family during the holidays.

There are some things you just don't want to explain to grandma

As for playing with other gamers, Penny Arcade The Card Game: Gamers vs Evil also feels like a lackluster entry for those already familiar with deckbuilding games. It is entering into a crowded field, and I just don't see this becoming anyone's favorite game to play.

Where Gamers vs Evil does have potential is as an introduction to deckbuilding. In that crowded field of deckbuilders, most games have gotten increasingly complex in an effort to show themselves as unique. This game in particular chose the opposite route by adding a few wrinkles, but none that makes the game overly complex. Even the selection of 28 gamer and evil cards is filled with fairly straightforward actions and abilities. The game plays light and fast, and with its slightly twisted sense of humor, does not take itself too seriously. That makes for a good no-pressure entry point for this sub-genre of card gaming, but one that veterans will likely pass on.

Disclaimer: MTV Geek received a complimentary review sample of this game