“Howdy partner. Would you kindly review this?” drawled Tony, dressed like he was in Tombstone. Or Westworld. Maybe even Back to the Future 3. Go ahead and pick your favorite cowboy show.
He handed me The Few and Cursed and then randomly spit into a spittoon.
“….ok.” I replied.
I took the game from his hand. I wanted to leave… I SHOULD have just left, but I just couldn’t. Not without asking…
“Why are you dressed like a Cowboy?”
Tony stared at me for a good minute. Then, after spitting in the spittoon again, simply stated “It is Tuesday.”
“Why do I bother?” I muttered, mostly to myself, as I walked away. At least I had a new game to review.
The Few and Cursed is a deck building/adventure game set in a post-apocalyptic Western-themed world based on the comic series that shares the same name. The Few and Cursed supports one to four players, with games lasting between one to three hours, depending on player count and analysis paralysis.
A game lasts a random number of rounds, with each round consisting of four phases (each phase is completed by all players before moving on to the next one):
- Improvise – draw two cards, add one to your hand and discard the other
- Encounter – draw an encounter if outside San Andreas; otherwise shop or visit the job board
- Action Phase – take one of several actions while playing cards to generate resources
- Cleanup Phase – discard cards and draw your hand for the next round, move monsters and pass the 1st player token
The game ends after either a) three of the four monsters have been defeated, b) all Artifact tokens have been recovered or c) a monster reaches San Andreas. After game end Grit points are calculated, the player with the most Grit is the winner.
I love deckbuilding, especially when it is incorporated as part of a broader game design, such as Tyrants of the Underdark or Trains. I am also fond of The Few and Cursed comic. Because of these two factors, I was looking forward to playing this game.
I enjoyed the Improvise phase of the game. Instead of purchasing cards to build your deck, you draw two cards and keep one. Another change from a “traditional” deckbuilder is that the card you choose goes directly into your hand, not into your discard pile. Because Improvise is the first phase of the round, that card will be available immediately. This drives tactical thinking, as the card you choose may end up altering your original plans.
Cards are used to generate resources for your character actions, from movement to combat to money (water) to buy upgrades or item cards in San Andreas. Planning how to spend these resources after selecting my card was my favorite part of the game. Do I want to stay in San Andreas and improve my character, or should I move through the desert and try to beat my opponent to an Artifact?
My second favorite feature of the game was the different encounters that are drawn when you are outside San Andreas. If you are at a normal location, you draw a card and resolve it where your character is on the board (think Eldritch Horror). They are true to the theme and add to the narrative of the game. The more interesting encounters occur when you are in a cursed location. Cursed encounter cards have one event, but you choose one of three ways to resolve that event. These cursed events do an excellent job of drawing you into the world and force you to make tough choices.
Finally, the game is true to its source material. The art is amazing, the setting is fantastic and the design, from the encounters to the characters, do a great job tying into the theme. I liked going to town to take on jobs or improve my character. I loved the use of your deck as a timing mechanism (when you have to shuffle your deck, you HAVE to return to San Andreas). Of course, to make a complete boardgame experience, some of the components and characters had to be outside of the current source material (they weren’t in the first six comics I read); however, the designers may have been given access to parts of the world that will be explored in future releases. If you like the comic, it will help with your enjoyment of the game.
Unfortunately, I found several flaws with the game. There are, in my opinion, balance issues. While I do like Improvising, if you draw cards that do not mesh well with your character while your opponent does, they will ramp up in power faster than you. This can especially be an issue when it comes to bounty hunting, a significant way to earn points. Several of the items are also overpowered. My wife, playing as Red, who is great at bounties, also purchased the Jacket, granting her a free health every turn. Needless to say, I lost that game.
The rulebook was also more of a roadblock. Its layout was bizarre. It is 32 pages long of which several pages, or significant portions of pages, are just of card art or art in general. The font is very large. There are large white spaces where more examples, more info, more… anything, could have been provided. Game rules are also included in the setup section for some reason. With better editing and layout, the rulebook could have been shorter, more informative, and still included the art.
The board design is also strange. It is HUGE – 39” by 19”, of which the map is only 19” by 16” (roughly). The rest of the space is for placing the various decks of cards, yet somehow, with all of that real estate, there is no place for the character cards or the character card discard pile. Finally, some of the paths between locations are difficult to tell as well as what type of location you are on. Several times we had to use the rulebook, which has a page dedicated to defining each space of the board.
Finally, I was not a fan of how the game ends, especially with two players. It ends as described in the Gameplay Overview, above. With two players, there are two artifacts at each location. That means if a player decides not to buy one, the game cannot end based removing all artifacts (this is not true with three/four players, as there are two/three artifacts at each location). This means the game can only end by either a monster reaching San Andreas or all four monsters being killed. Since completing Most Wanted Bounties is the only way to get to the monsters, characters good at combat (or lucky enough to get combat-heavy character cards through Improvising) will have an advantage. I really wish there was a 1st player to Grit X wins option, but that was not included in the rules.
I enjoyed the theme and several of the design decisions in The Few and Cursed, especially Improvising and the use of encounters; however, the game could have used more development time, both in gameplay and with its components, especially the board and the rulebook. This could have been a more impactful and memorable game had some of these issues been addressed.
Final Score: 3 Stars – A unique deck building adventure that would have benefited from more development
• Improvise mechanism for deckbuilding is clever
• Adventuring/encounters are enjoyable
• Theme/setting is excellent and true to its source material
• Balance issues
• Rulebook needs to be improved
• Board design is mediocre
• End game/Two player game is lacking
If Tony was dressed as a cowboy – it would look like McFly from Back to the Future III.