Something has infected my family. It has taken over their lives and is the focus of their waking hours. It came from overseas, but it will soon be found in great numbers across North America. It has dragged innocent victims into twisted torture that silences their vocal chords, but also causes them to shout in agony moments later. What is this new evil? It’s called The Game and my family can’t stop playing it.
The Game is a cooperative card game that pits a group of players against a demented psychopath that will only release them if a challenge is completed. That’s a spooky setting, but the only stage dressing The Game has is some skulls, scrawled arrows and a subtitle that dares you to play as long as you can. In reality, it’s pretty abstract and doesn’t need a story to get started. Besides, what were you expecting from a game called The Game? If you want theme, you won’t find much here.
Everyone (or just yourself if playing solo) is trying to play every card from 2-99 onto the table. Each card goes into ascending or descending piles, but most likely you will be unable to play as efficiently as possible. Small skips are nice, but because you have to play at least two cards on your turn, huge jumps are almost unavoidable. If you cannot play two cards, you and everyone else have lost The Game. Despair can turn to joy, however, because cards exactly ten above or below a faceup card can move against the flow, giving much needed space to a cramped pile. After your turn, you draw as many cards as you played, hopefully putting a huge dent in the massive draw pile.
All of this may seem easy, but the maniac forcing you to play The Game also has specific rules about what can be shared between players. No concrete numbers can be revealed, but anything goes about which piles can be played on. But I’ve seen players work so hard at circumventing these guidelines that they might as well be playing with all the cards faceup on the table. Limiting language is an extremely difficult task for games like Hanabi and The Game because speech is fluid and can adapt to any situation. Pidgin languages evolve when two speakers do not share a language, yet they can still communicate. So it is with The Game, but on a much smaller scale.
If entire language barriers can be hurdled, players can get around a simple rule limitation, even if they aren’t trying to cheat the system. In one stream of games my family played, the terminology centered on the jelly beans they were eating. A “hard bean” meant that a player probably had the card ten numbers away in order to get more space on a pile. A “soft bean” meant that a player would like to claim a pile, but it wasn’t a big deal if others played there. This jargon emerges from the game naturally and it is impossible to ban the many permutations without outlawing speech entirely. It’s an interesting part of the experience, but many times may go against the spirit of The Game.
The cooperative nature of The Game is one of my favorite parts of the experience. When you can make an amazing play to empty your entire hand of cards while also putting the piles in great positions in the future, every other player cheers and celebrates your cunning and wit. But when your only options are to implode piles no matter what, your former colleagues now curse your name and hope to clean up after the mess you made. It’s a game of the highest highs and the lowest lows.
The Game, for all it’s issues, definitely has it’s audience with families and friends who enjoy casual games that let them cooperate and chat while playing. It can handle a large range of people and it even plays well solitaire if you don’t want to suffer with anyone else. For those looking for a more focused experience, maybe The Grizzled is more your speed, with a few more moving parts and a stunning view into the hardships of war. But The Game has an addictive quality that makes many people want to play again…and again…and again. The hardest part is stopping.