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Deck-Building Game Review – 3012

3012When you’re designing a game, it’s important to try to make it timely, to make it relevant to current events, to make it resonate with your audience (those are words I learned from working in a marketing department – if you don’t work in marketing, you probably think ‘resonate’ has something to do with music or noise or wave frequency. Silly you.). It’s good to see that Cryptozoic was shooting for that goal when they made the 3012 Deck-Building Game.

3012 takes place a thousand years after the Mayan apocalypse. You know, the one that was supposed to happen in 2012 but then did not? The game was actually made in 2012, in anticipation of the terrifying end of the world that was going to occur when the Mayan calendar ran out (which may or may not have happened because the Mayan guy in charge of making calendars retired, and when the bosses looked at his gig they were like, ‘do we seriously need a calendar that goes this far out? Who let this guy keep this job this long? Now we have to pay his pension for the next 20 years and we’re stuck with a calendar that won’t do anyone any good until they’re traveling in flying cars.’) (Even the Mayans thought we would have flying cars by now.)

So anyway, in 3012, the Mayan apocalypse actually happens, and then the human race is all turned into anthropomorphic jungle critters. There are jaguar people and snake people and monkey people and fish people, and they don’t get along very well. So you take over one of these animal clans and try to earn glory by beating the bejeezus out of weird creatures that pop up whenever we have a magical apocalypse, like the Kraken (which was not Mayan, it was Greek) or the basilisk (also Greek) or the Monolithicus (clearly Greek. Or maybe Roman. But not Mayan).

You do this by having a main hero who can hit almost nothing, and buying him weapons and allies and special actions that do special stuff and make you kick more ass. So far, this is standard deck-building fare. But it gets a lot better.

3012 adds some really fascinating twists on the entire deck-building genre by mixing up the way you can buy the actions. Every turn, two new actions will become available, just for you, and you can buy them. If you don’t buy them, you discard them, so that the next player has two completely different actions he can buy. And the really cool mechanical twist is that even if you don’t buy those cards, you can just use them like you had them in your hand, which leads to all manner of surprising wackiness when you get to use a really powerful card for free, then throw it out so nobody else can have it.

There’s also a neat element when you decide to fight one of those Mayan-slash-Greek-or-Roman monsters. You say, ‘OK, I’m going to fight a level 1 dude,’ and the other players have a chance to help (for a share of the reward) or to try and stop you (which is obviously way more fun). This keeps players engaged all the time, instead of those long Dominion turns when you just sit there and watch some indecisive asshat hem and haw over which card he will buy with the fifteen cards he played that turn because Dominion is the only game he has ever played more than twice.

All the while that you’re using actions without paying for them, cooperating to take down big monsters, buying allies and equipping them with weapons, you’re looking at some pretty damned cool art. It’s got a dark, painted style that looks dramatic and exciting and animalistic, because 3012 isn’t just a clever deck-building game, it’s fun to look at.

And I won’t play it again.

It’s like 3012 outwitted itself. Some of those action cards are really powerful, and many really suck. Let’s say you get an action card that lets you trash a cheap card to get anything available, so you do and take a huge ass-kicker. Then the next guy gets two cards that let him choose between whistling between his teeth or pointing at his genitals. You go on to break faces and score big, and that guy goes on to point at his genitals. One good early-game card can make it so that everyone else at the table spends the whole game playing catch-up, and then still loses.

Not only that, but the game has an experience track where your hero gets stronger as you play. This would be cool, except for that early-lead thing, because when you get going, it’s nearly impossible to stop you. The tougher the bad guy you can beat down, the faster you’re going to get out ahead of everyone else and lead the pack. You’re going to wind up with a game where everyone is gunning for you, and you can’t even really do that because opposing an attack only makes it a tiny bit harder, and you’re cancelled out if anyone helps.

This won’t happen every time you play 3012, of course, There will be times when nobody sees that cool card for a while, or everybody gets an early crack at the good cards, and in those cases, you will see the biggest problem I have with 3012 – it lasts way too long. Whether one dude is running the table or not, 3012 would be a lot more fun if it ended about 30 minutes earlier. There’s plenty of opportunity to ponder over your cards like Rodin’s Thinker while everyone else gets frustrated and wishes someone would just win so you could go back and play Once Upon a Time again, because that game is freaking magical.

It’s very disappointing to see a game really bring some new ideas to the table, and then see those new ideas actually kind of suck. I wanted to like 3012. For one thing, I paid money for it, and I hate paying money for games I don’t like. I should have grabbed the Super Dungeon Explore expansion instead. That has vampires. 3012 is a cool idea, and would make a great comic book, but sadly, it just didn’t deliver as a game.

Summary

2-4 players

Pros:
Some really nifty new ideas
Looks bad-ass

Cons:
Goes on too long
Can easily become imbalanced
Those great ideas don’t make a great game

OK, so I’m not really happy with my purchase of 3012. At least I got it real cheap, right here:

BUT 20 BUCKS IS STILL TOO MUCH FOR SOMETHING YOU DON’T WANT

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