Penny Arcade: The Game – Gamers v. Evil is a deckbuilding game from Cryptozoic. In traditional deckbuilding fashion, 2-4 players start with a deck of weak cards and improve their decks by buying and adding cards from stacks in the middle of the table. Penny Arcade uses a two-resource system, and also adds “boss” cards that you can defeat for loot cards to put in your deck. Penny Arcade retails for about $45.
What’s In The Box
As you’d expect from a deckbuilding game, Penny Arcade comes with cards, cards, and more cards. There are 28 different “stack” cards for in the middle of the table (plus randomizers), the two starting cards, four bosses (each with 8 boss loot cards), PAX Pox cards, and 10 oversized Hero cards (and three unique cards for use with particular heroes), for a total of somewhere north of 400. The cards were of acceptable quality, but nothing amazing. There are no dividers to separate out the different cards, or Dominion-style individual card slots. All of the artwork on the cards is from the Penny Arcade webcomic.
Plus there’s a d20 (for use with some of the Gamer Boss Loots), and of course a rulebook. The rulebook was colorful, with large images, and should be easy to read and comprehend, even for those unfamiliar with the deckbuilding genre.
In Penny Arcade, players add green Gamer cards and red Evil cards to their decks from stacks in the middle of the table, building up enough resources to challenge the two bosses for that game. Each class of card has its own resource – Gamer cards are bought with Tokens, while Evil cards are bought (or defeated, if you prefer the more flavorful term) with Power. The Bosses get harder to deal with as the game goes on, and the game ends when one Boss’s final level is purchased, or when six of the middle stacks are gone. Whoever has the most Victory Points wins.
Starting decks are primarily made up of the two starting cards – Quarters and Cardboard Tubes. Quarters are Gamer cards and generate 1 Token when played. Cardboard Tubes are Evil cards and generate 1 Power when played. The “generic” starting deck is six of each, but a player’s starting deck is defined by his Hero card. Some characters have unbalanced decks – Tycho and Gabe, for example, start with a 7/5 split in their decks. Others add a unique card to their starting deck in place of one of the generic starting cards – Catsby adds Twisp, Annarchy adds a Bat’leth, and Rex Ready adds his License to Kill. In addition, most of the Hero cards have some sort of special ability, such as extra Token or Power generation, or card draw. I found the Scout Master, in particular, to be interesting because the designers were creative enough to think of giving a Hero a more powerful ability, but then balancing that ability by having him start with more of the generic starting cards in his deck.
In each game of Penny Arcade, there are 14 stacks of cards available for purchase. Two are always the same – a Gamer card that produces 2 Tokens and an Evil card that produces 2 Power. The rest are random (although, like Dominion, you might want to fiddle with it to have a more balanced experience, depending on whether you like or dislike the possibility of unusual spreads of costs). Gamer cards tend to have more powerful effects for their costs than Evil cards, because Evil cards are worth VP and Gamer cards are not. For example, the +2 Token Gamer card costs 3 Tokens, but the +2 Power Evil card costs 4 Power. Or, at the top end, the Gamer card Werewolf with a Top Hat costs 6 Tokens while generating 3 Tokens and 3 Power, while the 6 Power Evil card Winter King generates 3 Power and is worth 3VP. Gamer cards tend to produce Tokens, while Evil cards tend to produce Power, but there are some cards that go the other way. The most expensive normal cards cost 6, and you have 6-card hands, so it is possible to buy the most expensive cards right off the bat. There are other differences between how the Gamer and Evil cards play. For example, PVP Attacks are Evil and PVP Defense is Gamer. And there are several Gamer cards that work better when you have more Gamer cards (and one Evil card that punishes other players for having Gamer cards).
In addition to the normal stacks of cards, each game of Penny Arcade features one Gamer boss (the Cardboard Tube Samurai or Santa) and one Evil boss (Evil Tycho or Satan). Each boss has three “levels” and 8 Boss Loot cards. Each boss forms a stack that is the level one boss, then 4 loot cards, then the level 2 boss, then another 4 loot cards, and finally the level 3 boss. Each boss has his own specific 8 loot cards, but where they go in the stack is randomized. You beat the boss with Tokens or Power, as appropriate – 8 for level one, 10 for level two, and 13 for level 3. Each time you beat a Boss, you get a Loot card (ok, technically you just buy the Boss Loot). The boss “levels up” after the first four loot cards are taken, and then again after the second four are gone. Each of the loot cards is worth 5 VP, and defeating a level 3 boss to end the game is also worth 5 VP.
The final cards that can go in your deck are PAX Pox, which are mostly added by your deck by other players, and which are worth -1VP.
Penny Arcade is a competent, if derivative, deckbuilding game. If you’re a Penny Arcade fan, and you don’t have a bunch of other deckbuilding games around, then you’ll probably enjoy it. If you are a deckbuilding game fan, and you already own Dominion, Thunderstone, Ascension, and so on, then you might find that it adds little to justify buying yet another deckbuilder for your collection. You could buy it just for the theme, but don’t expect the mechanics and the flavor to mesh all that much – the card titles and card art may be all Penny Arcade, but there’s only so much you can do to sync that up with “+2 Power.”
To me, the most interesting, innovative, and flavorful addition from Penny Arcade was the Boss cards. While the comic/website/empire has expanded its reach, Penny Arcade is still mostly about video games, and the Boss cards and Boss Loot played right into that. Additionally, the Boss Loot cards had some of the best flavor/mechanic integration in the game. For example, the Boss Loots for Satan are the Deadly Sins of Gaming, including Ninja Looting (lets you steal other players’ cards) and Kill Stealing (lets you use your Power as Tokens). After that, I liked how the Hero cards – adjusting your starting deck and/or giving you an ability – could tweak what sort of strategy you would pursue from game to game, giving things a little more variety.