Monday, January 25, 2016

Missing the point

Games based on pre-existing properties such as movies, TV shows, or books can be a mixed bag to say the least. More often than not, the point of a licensed game is to cash in on the popularity it's based on, which tends to result in a lot of mediocre games with "pasted on" themes, such as Doctor Who: the Game of Time and Space or Game of Thrones: Westeros Intrigue. However, occasionally a licensed property will fall into the hands of a game publisher who understands and cares about the material, and you get Firefly: the Game or the Star Trek Customizable Card Game.

Chew: Cases of the FDA, a card game based on the comic book by John Layman and Rob Guillory, falls somewhere in the middle, but it leans more towards the "pasted on theme" end of the spectrum.

The comic book is quite brilliant. It's about a world where chicken has been declared illegal, the FDA operates like the FBI or DEA, and there are numerous characters with food-related supernatural powers, such as the main character, Tony Chu, an FDA agent who can tell the history of any object by eating it.

The designers of the game chose to focus on the criminal investigation aspect of the comic, which is by far the least interesting thing about the story. Players start with a crime card and a suspect card, and throughout the game they are required to play a number of clue cards between the two by matching color patterns on the edges of the cards. Players also have a hand of investigation cards which can be played for fairly standard game effects such as drawing extra cards or stealing them from your opponents.

It's not a bad game, it just doesn't reflect any of the outrageous humor or bizarre plot elements that make the comic book great. Other than images from the comics on the cards, and an ill-conceived optional variant that requires players to take a drink or eat something unpleasant as a payment for playing certain cards, it could just as easily be a generic crime investigation game.

The most amusing thing about the game is the bag of miniature Chogs (frog-chicken hybrids that feature prominently in the comic) that are used as currency.

Rating: 2 (out of 5) An unremarkable, overpackaged game, and a missed opportunity to do something fun with a unique property.

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