Pretty Ugly Game Review (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the final game, but it might change slightly based on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s web page or visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review!


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The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up
  • For 2 to 6 players
  • Approximately 30 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Do all you can to win the beauty contest

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek rejected!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek mixed!

Overview

The pursuit of beauty is often in the opposite direction of truth. We cover wrinkles, hide bulges, and cake ourselves with chemicals in hopes of becoming beautiful to others. Some have made a career out of defining “beauty”. Others have dedicated their lives to obtain it. Both groups quickly learn that what is pleasing to the eye today will be shunned tomorrow, making the pursuit of beauty a pretty ugly experience.

Pretty Ugly, designed by Juma Al-JouJou and to be published by Karma Games, will reportedly be comprised of 96 Look cards, 18 Beauty Point cards, 15 Cash tiles, 1 “x2” tile, 1 “x3” tile, 3 Judge cards, and 6 Rule Summary cards. The illustrations on the cards are cartoonish and family friendly, focusing on overstating the obvious areas of perceived importance that define “beauty”. For example, makeup, bosom size, and lip fullness. Nothing displayed on the cards was found to be too titillating or improper by the Parent Geeks. As this is a review of a prepublished game, we will not comment on the game component quality. The number of game bits will change based on the overall success of the game’s crowdfunding efforts.

Note: The Beauty Point cards were not included in my review copy. How they are used is not clearly documented in the current rules. As such, we did not play with them, nor will we comment further on this game component.

Game Set Up

To set up the game, first separate the cards and tiles. When completed, there should be a deck of Look cards, Cash tiles, “x2” and “x3” tiles, Judge cards, and Rule summary cards.

Second, shuffle the Look cards and place them face-down in the middle of the game playing area. This is now the Look card draw deck. Leave room next to the draw deck for a discard pile.

Third, each player takes turns drawing one card at a time from the Look card draw deck until they have 1 “Head”, 1 “Body” and 1 “Legs” Look card each. This represents the player’s model for the game, but the model’s looks will be changing during game play. If a player draws a Look card for a part of the model’s body that is already represented, they place the Look card in the discard pile, face-up. Players should organize their Look cards so their model is properly displayed with the head on top and the legs on the bottom. Players should not concern themselves at this time if their model looks terrible. In fact, how the model now looks might be very close to beautiful.

Fourth, the same action in step 3 is now repeated to create the current ideal of beauty. These 3 Look cards should be placed to one side of the game playing area and within view of all the players. This area is now refereed to as the “Beauty Ideal”.  When completed, the players now know what they need their models to look like to win the beauty contests.

Fifth, pick up the Look card draw deck and deal out to each player 7 cards. Players should look at their cards, but keep them hidden from their opponents at all times. When completed, place the Look card draw deck back in the middle of the game playing area, face-down, next to the discard pile.

Sixth, draw 6 cards from the Look draw deck and place them, face-up, next to the Look card draw deck. This is referred to as the “open cards area”.

Seventh, place the Cash tiles off to one side of the game playing area. Organize the Cash tiles into 3 rows. Each row represents 3 different beauty contests and the cash-prizes for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place individuals. Black Cash tiles are used for the first beauty contest, silver for the second, and gold for the third. Place the Cash cards so the highest value is at top, the second highest in the middle, and the lowest on the bottom.

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Eighth, give each player a Rule Summary card and place the remaining game components to one side of the game playing area. They will be introduced into the game later.

That’s it for game set up. Determine who should go first and begin!

In the Pursuit of Beauty and Truth

Pretty Ugly is played in rounds with each player taking a single turn per round. The game consists of 9 rounds in total. At the end of round 3, round 6, and round 9, a beauty contest will commence. Players have until then to quickly conform to the ever-shifting ideal of beauty in hopes of pleasing the judges.

Note: If at anytime the Look card draw deck is exhausted, shuffle the discard pile to create a new draw deck.

On a player’s turn, they will take one of two possible actions. The actions are summarized here.

Action Option 1: Draw Cards

This action option allows the player to select 3 Look cards from the open cards area. Once selected, they are placed in the player’s hand. There is no hand size limit, but the number of cards in a player’s hand will be used to break ties. Once the player has selected their Look cards, 3 new Look cards are drawn to replaced the 3 that were selected.

This completest the player’s turn for the round and the next player in turn order sequence now goes.

Action Option 2: Play Cards

This action allows the player to select one of the Look cards from their hand and play it to the discard pile to take a special action. Each Look card has an icon. These icons represent specific special actions that allow the player to change the look of their model, bribe the judges, and even sabotage the looks of their opponent’s models. Each special action is summarized here.

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Example of Look card: Special action icon in lower right corner

  • Makeover: This special action allows the player to select 1 Look card from their hand to replace 1 Look card on their model. The replaced card is placed in the discard pile.
  • Cheap Makeover: This special action allows the player to draw 2 Look cards from the Look card draw deck. From these 2 Look cards, the player must replace 1 Look card on their model. The replaced card and the second Look card not used are placed in the discard pile.
  • Luxury Makeover: This special action allows the player to select 1 Look card from the open card area to replace 1 Look card on their model. The replaced card is placed in the discard pile.
  • Uglification: This special action allows the player to select 1 Look card from the open card area or from the player’s hand to replace 1 Look card on their opponent’s model. The replaced card is placed in the discard pile. This special action cannot be used during rounds 3, 6, and 9.
  • Bribe: This special action allows the player to place the “x2” or the “x3” tile next to the head, body, or legs of the Beauty Ideal. A player cannot move a previously placed bribe and there can only be one bribe per Look card. The bribe will multiply the number of points for that specific body area during the beauty contest.

This completest the player’s turn for the round and the next player in turn order sequence now goes.

Judges and Contests

At the end of each round, 1 Judge card is placed next to one Beauty Ideal Look card. When the third and final Judge card is placed (on rounds 3, 6, and 9), the beauty contest is held. Note that the Judge cards only keep track of the number of rounds played and do not influence the Beauty Ideal. They are as much a slave to fashion as the players.

During the beauty contest, each player will attempt to match as many specific characteristics as they can to the Beauty Ideal. For every aspect they match, they receive 1 point. Each body section (head, body, and legs) has 5 aspects to match.

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Once the players have determined their points, making sure to use the “Bribe” multipliers, the player with the most points wins the beauty contest and collects the largest Cash tile. The player with the second highest collects the second highest Cash tile and the player with the third highest collects the remaining Cash tile. Everyone else is out of luck. The cash-prizes for each beauty contest are taken from a single column, not a single row.

If there is a tie with points, the tie is broken by counting the number of Look cards the players have. The player with the least number of Look cards in their hand wins the tie. If there is still a tie, the younger of the two players wins the tie.

After the Beauty Contest

After the first and second beauty contests (rounds 3 and 6), players will take one of the following 3 options starting with the player who had the lowest number of points during the last beauty contest, followed by the next lowest, and so on. If there is a tie in points, the younger player wins.

  • Option 1: Change on card on the Beauty Ideal with one Look card from the player’s hand. The replaced Look card is placed in the discard pile.
  • Option 2: Change on card on the Beauty Ideal with one Look card from the open card area. The replaced Look card is placed in the discard pile, but a new Look card is not drawn at this time to replaced the selected open Look card.
  • Option 3: Do nothing.

Note that a player cannot change a Look card previously replaced by another player. This means the Beauty Ideal can only be changed 3 times, once per body area.

After every player has had a turn, the Judges are removed, the “x2” and “x3” tiles are removed, all remaining Look cards in the open area are discarded, and 6 new Look cards are drawn to replace them. The ugliest model now starts the round. Turn order continues in turn order sequence.

Ending the Game

After the third and final beauty contest (round 9), the game ends. The winner of the game is the player who has collected the largest total cash-prize. This is determined by adding up a player’s Cash tiles. If there is a tie, the younger player wins.

Game Variants

If playing with only 2 players, after the 2nd player has had their turn at the end of the beauty contest, the 3rd unchanged Beauty Ideal card is randomly replaced with the first matching body part Look card drawn from the Look card draw deck.

Additionally, Pretty Ugly has 2 expansions in the works. They are both summarized here.

Catfight Expansion

This expansion allows players to team up and work together in hopes of beating the competition. Teams of 2 players can exchange Look cards with each other. Players win the beauty contest as normal, but the players who have the most beautiful team (determined by total points), are rewarded an additional cash-prize. At the end of each beauty contest, new teams are created, starting with the winner of the last beauty contest.

There is still only one game winner, however, so players should be careful how much help they give their fellow team member.

Action Card Expansion

This expansion introduces Action cards that can be purchased by discarding a number of Look cards from the player’s hand that match the icons listed on the Action card. The Action cards are placed in front of the player, face-up. No more than 2 Action cards can be owned by a player at anytime.

On a player’s turn, they can use one of their Action cards as an optional action. The Action cards allow player to always collect a certain number of points during a beauty contest, win all future ties, and a number of other ways of cheating the system.

To learn more about Pretty Ugly, read the full rules, and view a demonstration video featuring a man in drag, visit the game’s web page or visit the Kickstarter campaign.

Prediction

Here’s the thing…

Games that have a moral or social message, or are perceived to have such a message, tend to not do very well with our groups. People approach games as a fun way to relax. If the game is perceived to have an overbearing message or have an agenda, players quickly set it aside. Not always, mind you, but enough to make me wince at this game’s future prospects with our players.

As far as games go, Pretty Ugly doesn’t appear to be difficult and should be easy to teach. The game play also appears to be fast and very casual. This should appeal to our Parent Geeks if the game is not too heavy-handed with its satirical message regarding society’s obsession with outward appearances. I’m not altogether certain how the Child Geeks will react to the game. If it’s seen as “just a girl’s game”, Pretty Ugly is going to be in trouble. But there is nothing included with the rules to suggest that this game is specifically targeting the ladies or young girls. Although, let’s be honest, it probably is. All the models are woman, after all, and the points to be scored focus on leg and armpit hair, as well as makeup and breast size.

For the Gamer Geeks? Sheesh…I have no idea. The game’s theme isn’t going to win any points, but the game play appears solid enough. It might be approved by the more casual Gamer Geek players, but I highly doubt any Gamer Geek elitist will give Pretty Ugly their recommendation.

Teaching the game is very straightforward. Focus on the goal and how players can work the Look cards to achieve it. The Rule Summary cards are very useful and should be included in all the game. Not only do they provide a summary of game play, but also serve as a quick reference for the Look card actions. For the most part, all of our groups understood what needed to be done, but there was some difficulty in determine how certain aspects of an individual player’s model matched the Beauty Ideal. On this point, there is nothing to be said other than the player’s need to closely observe all the aspects, which are brilliantly included on the Rule Summary card.

Note that Pretty Ugly doesn’t require it’s players to read, but a player will need to refer to the Rule Summary card often until they have memorize the Look card actions. This means that our younger players who cannot yet read will either need to excuse themselves from playing or team up with an older player. And so, after teaching Pretty Ugly to my oldest little geek, I asked him his thoughts on the game so far.

“You’re kidding me, right?” ~ Liam (age 9)

I, for one, am not surprised that a game about making girls look pretty is less than interesting to a 9-year-old boy. My 6-year-old had no interest in the game and opted to leave the table. Let’s see if there is a game to be played here that will entertain, as well as educate.

Final Word

The Child Geeks were uncertain how to approach the game at first. Once they saw how the game was played, they started to get a bit more into it. The first 3 rounds of game play for new players is really nothing more than a tutorial. None of our Child Geeks really “got the game” until after the first beauty contest was over and the cash-prizes were awarded. Overall, the game was well-played and all the Child Geeks did an excellent job of using the cards they had to do all they could to match the Beauty Ideal. Not much was done to sabotage other players, however, as the primary focus was to make sure models looked as good as possible. With only 3 rounds to do so, all our Child Geeks just focused on their own models. When it came time to endorse the game, the Child Geeks were mixed. The boys were very much at odds with the game. They either didn’t want to admit they liked the game or simply didn’t’ care for it. My oldest little geek flat-out told me the game was “pretty good” and didn’t much care what his friends thought. He is, after all, a badass Pokémon Master, which means he has a great deal of self-confidence. Even the girls didn’t know what to think of the game. Some of them liked it and some of them didn’t. In the end, the Child Geeks were simply too mixed to provide a solid rejection or approval.

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My older little geek gives the game a thumbs-up, while his younger brother plays something else…

The Parent Geeks very much liked Pretty Ugly as a family game that could be used to emphasis how fickle fashion is and what a waste of time it can be to attempt to keep up with all the trends. With just their peers, Pretty Ugly was enjoyed, but the novelty of the game wore off after a few sessions. According to one Parent Geek, “I think this is an excellent example of a well designed game with a good message. I’m just not sure how often I need to be reminded of that message or play this game.” Another Parent Geek said, “I give this game five stars for making the fashion world look as stupid as it really is. Next up, Congress.” In the end, the Parent Geeks all voted to approve Pretty Ugly, finding it to be a fun game to play with their family that delivered a positive message through solid game play.

And then we come to the Gamer Geeks…

I’ll be the first to admit that the Gamer Geeks can be highly sarcastic – even cruel – when it comes to game commentary. I’m not sure you can be an “elitist” and not a jerk at the same time. That being said, the Gamer Geeks didn’t have much to say about Pretty Ugly that was positive, but they didn’t have anything negative to say about the game’s rules or play, either. Oddly enough, all the Gamer Geeks thought that Pretty Ugly was an easy game to learn and perfect for the Parent and Child Geeks, but they laughed long and hard when I suggested it was a game for Gamer Geeks, too. According to one Gamer Geek, “Don’t be stupid, Cyrus. You know this isn’t a Gamer Geek’s game.” Ouch. But another Gamer Geek was a bit more eloquent with his thoughts on the game. He said, “The game is fine, but it’s not a game I would ever want to play with my Gamer Geek friends. Would I play it with my family? Sure. With non-gamers? Absolutely. But with my Gamer Geek buddies? No thanks. I have no interest in a game about the fashion world.” In the end, the Gamer Geeks all voted to reject the game.

Despite the game’s title, Pretty Ugly is pretty good. The players don’t’ have a lot of time to change their model and must constantly make small updates in hopes of capturing as many points as possible. Players have to really think through their turns in order to obtain the highest gains. With such little time to improve their models, every round is very important to the game play. It’s also very clear that a model will never fully match the Beauty Ideal no matter how hard a player tries, which is perhaps the most important message the game provides to those who care to listen.

Let’s consider that message for a moment. Is it valid? Is it one we should all take to heart? I think so, especially adolescents who are in the hellstorm that we call puberty. Not once does the game suggest that inner beauty and self-confidence is the key to victory. Rather, the player must constantly chase a moving target that is forever out of reach. The end results are one-dimensional models that lack any true individuality and look ridiculous. While I think this is an outstanding message, I’m fairly certain it hurt its relationship with some of our players.

Would I recommend Pretty Ugly? I can’t say that I would as I am somewhat unclear myself on how I feel about the game. I think the game play is solid, it’s fun, and challenging. It also starts to feel repetitive, has little room for long-last strategy, and tends to make you feel somewhat powerless at times. There is also the game’s theme and message to consider. For some, the not-so-subtle lesson it’s attempting to teach will be an uninvited guest at the gaming table. What remains to be seen is how long the game’s message remains after the game has been put away.

This is a paid for review of the game’s final prototype. Although our time and focus was financially compensated, our words are our own. We’d need at least 10 million dollars before we started saying what other people wanted. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek which cannot be bought except by those who own their own private islands and small countries.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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