When I initially heard I’d be reviewing Gremlins Inc, I was amped. A steampunk board game? Sign me up! I was excited to see how it would work, how a steampunk theme with gremlins could be transformed into an exciting and fun digital board game that can be played with friends or alone. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting to see it, because as cool as the game is in many ways, it also falls short of expectations.
Gremlins Inc is a board game that makes heavy use of cards. You move around the board using your cards as each one gives you a certain number of moves. However, when you land on certain key points, you can also play a card to get a special effect, for example earning more currency at the bank, improving your gambling chances in the casino or framing another player when you get stopped by the cops. Yes, that’s a big part of the game – foiling the other players’ plans as much as possible. It sounds like it will be a whole lot of fun, but unfortunately there are too many random mechanisms that get in the way.
At its most basic, players must accumulate a set number of cogs to win. Cogs are earned by playing cards at certain points around the board, an activity that costs money and can also result in more political votes, malice or extra cash back. Some of the cards also trigger events against other players – revealing or destroying their cards, sending them to jail or swapping locations on the map to name a few. Obviously, this is intended to make life more difficult for your friends. However, players can also opt to use different victory conditions, instead vying to become the most evil or highest prestige after a set number of turns, which can radically alter the game’s duration.
All across the board, though, are random and not so random misfortune tiles. Land on a police tile and you’ll run the risk of getting sent to jail based on the roll of the dice (unless you have a card to deflect the activity). Land on a misfortune tile and any number of calamities might befall you. Plus there are many, many tiles that will make you lose money. Additionally, some misfortune tiles that other players land on can also make your own luck run out. At least sometimes jail can be worthwhile – if you become enough of a an evil genius in jail, you could actually level up your jail experience enough to actually earn money simply by being incarcerated.
As a result of so many random setbacks, it often feels like the game is unfair. I’d save a card so that when I got to a specific tile I could play it and earn cogs, only to lose too much money along the way, making it impossible to play said card. Or I’d strategically maneuver around the board, gathering as much money as possible, only to randomly be sent to jail just before I could spend my hard earned loot on a cog-worthy experience.
At its core, the gameplay simply ends up feeling unbalanced and pretty boring in Single Player. With the plethora of bad luck tiles all over the board, it ends up feeling like success isn’t a result of cunning strategy or a game well played, but simple luck of the draw. Plus, without friends to envy or commiserate with, I found I was usually too tired or bored of the experience to stick with the game past a certain number of turns.
That doesn’t mean it’s all bad in the world of Gremlins Inc. The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic, combining natural and mechanical elements in a way that feels distinctly steampunk. Plus, the game board and card designs are also well crafted, adding to the aesthetic. That said, the UI can become a bit overwhelming and certain mechanics (like player’s unique abilities) are often left unexplained, plus I often found myself forgetting what certain icons meant.
If the game is boring and frustrating in Single Player, that’s probably because, like all board games, it was built to be played with friends. Sure, the random setbacks scattered around the board will still be problematic in multiplayer, but they simply add to the amusing story of the game when you play with friends – like any board game story, it’s most amusing when you can laugh at a friend’s strange route towards victory or defeat.
Whether you work together with a friend to cheat another friend out of victory, or you all simply try your hardest to make life harder for each other, it makes for a much more interesting and hilarious experience together.
Last Updated: July 18, 2016