Friday, September 30, 2016

Groo the Game: was it a hidden gem?

I spent years looking for a copy of Groo the Game before I finally got a copy of it. Then, of course, I have barely gotten any play out of it. Despite that, I am definitely hanging onto it.

Groo the Wanderer is a comic book by Sergio Aragones (who has been drawing for Mad Magazine longer than I've been alive) about a walking catastrophe who is an amalgamation of Conan the Barbarian and the Three Stooges. I read it for years, never ceasing to amazed at how funny Sergio Aragones managed to make Groo accidentally racking up more kills than the American Civil War.

The game came out in 1997, years before not only I got interested in designer games but before other folks in the US were really starting to notice them. Settlers of Catan was out but that juggernaut had barely started rolling. I'm not even sure it was available in English.

As much as I enjoyed the comic book, my interest in the the game has been from the mechanics. Years before it was really a concept to get batted around, Groo the Game was a mashup of German Family Game resource management and infrastructure building and nasty Ameritrash take that.

The game consists of a deck of cards and a set of resource dice which is where get the resources that let you play cards. The cards include buildings which will give you special powers and victory points, soldiers that used to attack and defend buildings, and Groo cards which are horrible disasters.

What really struck me about the game at the time when I first discovered it and I still think is really neat is how the resource dice work. The active player rolls the dice and uses however many they can or want to. The unused dice get passed to the next player who has a chance to use them and so on down the line. In theory, everyone might get a chance to play a card every turn, which definitely keeps the game interesting and ticking along.

There are some elements that I don't care for. Groo cards, which are horrible but require a special Groo resource, can only be played on the player who has the wandering Groo card in front of them. Which makes perfect the thematic sense but it adds an additional level of randomness to attacking players. 

It has been more than 10 years since the last time I played Groo the Game. I really wonder, not only how well will it hold up the next time I play it, but how balanced it really is.

At the same time, I feel like so many elements of the game were well ahead of the pack. Building a tableau of cards that represent buildings with special powers? While the first card version of Catan covered those ideas, Groo was ahead of a lot of other games like Citadels or San Juan. And I still think that the dice passing mechanic still has a lot of room to be explored.

Well I would have to go back and actually replay it, I do suspect that Groo the Game has some issues. At the same time, I think that it had a lot of neat, even innovative ideas. I am going to bet that if it had a bigger print run and wider distribution, it would be considered a milestone in game design.

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