With Groo: The Game coming to Kickstarter later this month, now is a great time to revisit this review by Steffan O'Sullivan from the distant past known as 1997. This review was first published in Pyramid #28 and is presented here as we prepare to pull the trigger and launch the new edition of Groo: The Game at Kickstarter.
Please enjoy the review, and don't forget to follow Steve Jackson Games at Kickstarter to receive email notification when the project is ready for your support.
-- Phil Reed
Groo: The Game Review by Steffan O'Sullivan
If you already know who Groo is: rejoice! More artwork! A fun game! Go buy it!
If you don't know, I don't have space to explain the wonderful zaniness that is Groo the Wanderer, star of a long-running comic book of the same name. The comic is by Sergio Aragonés, winner of the 1997 Reuben award (sort of a cartoonists' Hall of Fame award). Groo is temporarily on hiatus now, but there have been over 140 issues over the last dozen years, so go check out some back issues at a comic store.
Good news to both Groo fans and Groo novices is that this is an excellent game. While not a collectible card game, there is already one expansion set, which is also highly recommended.
On the plus side, the artwork is wonderful, the rules simple and clear, the replay value high, all your favorite Groo characters are there (except Bunta), there are enough special effects cards to keep the game exciting, and it's a blast to play – a mix of skill, luck and a lot of laughs.
On the downside, there is no mention of mulching, a serious omission.
The basic set includes 60 cards and seven dice, enough to play with up to four people. The dice stickers include pictures of Supplies, Labor, Kopins, Groo, Rufferto and pointing hands. (Sergio is a very visualoriented person, so pictures are used whenever possible.) The expansion set includes another 55 cards, which will allow you to play with up to six people (and makes it a better game regardless of the number of players).
There are six kinds of cards: Groo himself (only one of these, thank heavens!), Groo Effects, Events, Buildings, Troops and Wildcards. The object is to be the first to build a town worth seven victory points (each building card has a VP value). This is hard because: (1) the other players may send their armies to destroy your town-in-progress, and (2) Groo. In the comic books, any town Groo enters suffers some damage – it's just the poor soul's nature. While not malicious, he's very stupid and clumsy, and a jinx of the worst nature. So the Groo card is a hot potatoe (spelling appropriate to Groo's mentality level) which can wreak havoc on whatever town he visits.
Each player turn has six phases:
- Discard as many cards as you wish;
- Draw your hand up to five cards;
- Make one attack (optional)
- Roll the dice to determine Groo's movement and your resources, then allot your resources;
- Pass any unused resources to your left – that player uses what he wishes, then passes them to his left, etc.;
- Draw your hand up to five cards, and it's the next player's turn.
Resources are required to bring certain cards out of your hand, shown on each card. You need Kopins (money) to build a Castle, for example, but Supplies to bring in The Minstrel (who can double your combat ability if you speak in rhyme). "Groo Head" resources allow you to play Groo Effects cards – when these are played, bad things usually happen to the town where Groo is currently located.
Phase five, above, is a wonderful innovation: pity the soul who rolls six Groo Heads and has Groo move to his town at the same time! You'll hear the other players gasp in admiration . . .
Most cards have a special effect listed at the bottom. This is very entertaining and keeps things from being a simple send- Groo-and-stomp game. The expansion set is very useful even if you don't play with more than four players: it adds a lot of variety in cards of all types (except Groo).
Combat is very straightforward: pick your attacking troops, the defender decides which troops will defend, figure any special effect bonuses, and subtract defense value from offense value. The result is the value of victory points (shown on buildings) the defender must lose. All troops which participated in the attack are then discarded. This simple mechanic allows you to whittle down someone near to victory, while preventing huge army buildups, the bane of certain other games.
This game is highly recommended – smooth, fast, fun play with wonderful artwork – what more do you want? And if your opponent draws a card, looks at the artwork for a few seconds, and bursts out laughing, you don't know whether he has the dreaded "Did I Err?" card (which shows a very embarrassed Groo watching townspeople fleeing from a town being destroyed by an avalanche he accidentally started) or a harmless card such as the Butcher, which simply has a very funny picture.