I ran across this game at the 2011 Origins Gaming Convention in Columbus Ohio. I was working the booth with my other business partners and one of them had stepped out for the moment. When she returned she told me “I got a demo of a game I really think you should try”. The game was FaceEater. A dark cynical dive into a world filled with nerve gas, corrupt politicians, Pugs of Doom, and Cosmic Chickens. I started out just as confused as you likely are right about now.
Face Eater, at it’s heart and soul, is simply a Gin Rummy variant. The game progresses by laying down cards into sets, runs, and straights in an attempt to “go out” first. Pretty simple, and certainly a mechanic I think everyone is familiar with by now (if I’m wrong, shoot me an email and we’ll have a nice discussion about what Gin Rummy is and get you up to speed).
What makes FaceEater more unique is a set of “Power Cards” that have been mixed into the deck, as well as “FaceEater” cards that behave like an “Old Maid” card (aka, you don’t want to get stuck with them in your hand at the end of a round). These power cards each display an ability that may be performed, either on yourself or on your opponents. Things such as the “Pug of Doom”, which causes your opponent to gain 500 points and lose every other turn, are at the heart of the mayhem that is Face Eater.
The first night we had the game, the three of us went and found an open table at the con, whipped out the cards and rules and began to dig in. One hand, a lot of head scratching, and even some bickering later we decided that we needed some rule clarifications. Ok, not “some”… a lot of rule clarifications. So the next day we went and talked to the game’s designer.
He didn’t seem too surprised that we were having trouble. This was obviously a complaint he had heard before. Turns out his publisher had decided to shorten the rules so that they would all fit onto a a single sheet of paper. I have a few choice words in mind for any publisher that pulls that kind of crap. There is no faster way to kill a game then to butcher the rules. If no one can understand the game, how is it ever going to become the grand success that you hope for? (Want to take a look at the rules? You can download them by clicking here.)
So we got some clarifications to many specific questions that we had. The designer was really gracious about answering questions. Unfortunantly, we had only played through one full hand before deciding we should wait and put this game aside, so when we sat down again new questions started coming up. On subsequent games, we have used the FAQ on the designers website and made best guesses at other unclear rules. If you find yourself in a game of Face Eater, here is the link to the designers FAQ: Face Eater Frequently Asked Questions. We have been assured by the designer that these issues will all be resolved in the next printing of the game.
All of that being said, is the game any good? Yes, absolutely, it’s fun… once you know what’s going on. It’s not supposed to be taken super seriously, so house rules to help fill in the holes aren’t all that big of a deal. After all it’s just a little nerve gas, it’s not like we’re playing for blood. The game play has the potential to be pretty fast paced too, once you are somewhat familiar with the cards.
One of the things I like so much about this game is the theme that it is wrapped in. You could have easily made this game with butterflies and ponies. It’s really all about points and losing turns and taking cards and such. However the theme really puts some gruesome perspective on all of this and adds some giggle factor for folks with a dark sense of humor. Cards such as “Parasite” suck away at a players essence, adding to his score each turn. Cards like “Zombification” turns your opponents into the brainless undead allowing you to cheat wildly by laying down any cards you like into “sets”, “runs”, and “straights”. And stabs at politics are no stranger in this game either with cards fondly named things such as “corruption” and “conformity”.
In the end, if you don’t have any intentions of taking this game super seriously, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great beer and pretzel game for a late night with friends. It’s unfortunate that the publisher chose to truncate the rules such as they did, but even so it’s still a game worth your time and your dime.
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