Please Take Note: This is a review of the game’s final prototype. The art, game bits, and the rules discussed are all subject to change. 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 Kickstarter project page. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review!
- For ages 7 and up (publisher suggests 10+)
- For 2 to 4 players
- About 30 minutes to complete
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Pattern/Color Matching
- Strategy & Tactics
- Risk vs. Reward
- Hand/Resource Management
- Child – Moderate
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, embarks on an epic crusade to restore the balance to the universe
- Gamer Geek approved!
- Parent Geek approved!
- Child Geek approved!
Great Scott! Dastardly ne’er-do-wells have tinkered with the very fabric of time and space! The balance of existence is at risk and only one man can save us! Calling President Lincoln; you are needed! And being the kind of man he is, he answers the call. Equipped with only his wits, surprisingly amazing athletic ability, and a beardarang that defies logic, Lincoln boldly brings the fight to the enemy! On the way, he will find friend, foe, and items aplenty. Mini Bosses will block his way, but if he manages to overcome them, the President of the United States will fight the BIG BOSS! If he succeeds, we are saved! If he fails, say good-bye to reality and what promised to be an important political career.
Pixel Lincoln: The Deck Building Game, by Island Officials and Game Salute, is comprised of Item, Enemy, Mini Boss, Boss, Character, Checkpoint, Life, Player Number, Player Movement, Starting Item: Beardarang, and Starting Item: Jump cards, just to name a few. The final count for all the cards has not yet been released. As this is a prototype, we will not comment on the quality of the components. The artwork, however, is more or less complete. What you get on each card is an outstanding illustration rendered in classic 8-bit video game style. For those of us who grew up on Super Mario Brothers and Mega Man, your heart will melt.
The following briefly summarizes each of the card types in the game.
Item cards are collected throughout the game and kept by the player for later use. Lincoln starts the game with two items. These are Jump and Beardarang. Jump is for avoiding enemies and the Beardarang is for fighting. These weapons are weak and won’t do much good against stronger enemies. Along the way, Lincoln will find and can make use of fire breath, a chicken cannon, and a living swordfish (just to name a few of the many strange weapons available to the President). There are also secret items that are much more powerful and rare.
Bad guys will attempt to stop Lincoln at every turn. While they are a constant threat, they are hardly an insurmountable one. The enemies are very unique and will come at Lincoln wave after wave after wave. Lucky for Lincoln, they are not altogether bright and can be jumped over or taken out with exotic weaponry. That is, if Lincoln has them at the ready.
Mini Boss Cards
If the enemies are the grunts, the Mini Boss is the sergeant. Bigger, stronger, and smarter, the Mini Boss lurks about and will eventually jump into the level to do battle. What Mini Boss will attack is random, but one thing is for certain: they like to fight and are good at it. There’s a reason why they are in charge.
The Boss is the “big baddy” and the one responsible for causing all the chaos. The Mini Bosses take all their direction from the Boss, meaning the Boss is bigger, smarter, and a heck of a lot better at combat. The Boss will be the final challenge for Lincoln on each level. And by “final”, we mean “win or die”. Yeah, it’s that serious.
While traveling through a level, Lincoln will meet individuals who wish him well and want to help (for a price). The player’s can opt to collect these cards for bonus points at the end of the game.
Levels can be rather long and it isn’t fun for anyone if they have to start all the way from the beginning. Through the use of Checkpoints, no player is required to go all the way back to the very start of a level. Once the checkpoints are found, players get a bonus, but this is also when Mini Bosses can come out. While progress is good, it also increases the threat level.
Lincoln, as cool as he is, isn’t invincible. In total, Lincoln has 3 lives. The first is his Player Movement card and the other two are Life cards. Life cards are lost during battles and found while traveling the levels.
Player Number Cards
Each player has a number. These cards are used to help determine player order and sequence of movement.
Player Movement Cards
These cards are used to represent where Lincoln is in a level. Each player has one and its number corresponds with the Player Number card. Convenient!
Starting Item: Beardarang Cards
The most basic of weapons (and not even remotely the weirdest Lincoln will use), the player will start with this bearded tool of destruction for combat purposes. Yes, it’s his beard.
Starting Item: Jump Cards
When in doubt, jump! All players will start with this ability which will allow Lincoln to jump over enemies. The look on the enemy’s face when they realize they have been hurdled is priceless.
To set up the game, gather 1 Player Number card per player and then shuffle. Deal out 1 Player Number card (at random) to each player. Now each player will take 1 set of starting player cards. A complete set consists of 5 Jump cards, 5 Beardarang cards, 1 Player Movement card, and 2 Life cards. Each player should also receive a quick reference card.
Each player will place their Player Number card in front of them. The 2 Life cards are placed directly underneath the Player Number card. The players now shuffle their 5 Jump and 5 Beardarang cards to form a single deck. This is the player’s draw deck and is placed face-down.
Now the two levels in which the players will traverse must be built. This is the most time intensive portion of the game set up but can be reduced (greatly) if the owner of the game organizes their cards.
Each level deck will have 3 sets of Enemy cards (5 cards in each set, for a total of 15 cards), 3 sets of Item cards (5 cards in each set, for a total of 15 cards), 3 Character cards, 3 Checkpoint cards, and 1 Secret Item. Once all the cards are put together, the decks are shuffled separately. These are then placed to the far right of the playing area, face-down. Directly to the right, shuffle the Mini Boss cards and place face-down. Also directly to the right of this deck, shuffle the Boss cards and place face-down.
When you are done, your playing area will look something like the following:
All done! Ready player one!
Insert Quarter to Play
The object of the game is to defeat the main boss for each level and be the player who has the most points at the end of the game. Points are earned by collecting cards and taking down enemies. On the player’s turn, they will attempt to do so by completing the following steps in sequential order:
Step 1: Resolve Ambushes
If the player starts their turn with their Player Movement card in front of an Enemy card (that is, located directly to the left of an Enemy, Mini Boss, or Boss card), they have been ambushed! Lucky for the player, Lincoln has ninja-like reflects and the wit to quickly react. A player can choose to either battle the enemy or simply jump over them (which you know must feel terribly insulting to the enemy). Of course, if the enemy in question is a Mini Boss or a Boss, then jumping is out of the question. They are wise to such tricks and will quickly slap Lincoln down if he attempts to leap out of harm’s way.
If the player chooses (and has the card) to jump, they play it in their Equip area and the Player Movement card is placed to the right of the enemy who was hurdled. The jump card, having been used, is placed in their discard pile.
If the player chooses to battle, the player must equip items that have a total power level higher than or equal to the enemy’s power level. There is no limit to the number of items a player can equip in an attempt to put the enemy down. All items that have an immediate effect are completed as soon as they are played. When the total power level of the equipped items is higher than or equal to the enemy’s power level, the enemy is defeated. The card that belongs to the enemy is placed in the player’s score pile unless the card states otherwise. Any used items are placed in the player’s discard pile
If the player is unable to defeat the ambushing enemy or jump over them, they take damage! One Life card is taken from the player, their Player Movement card is placed to the far left (beginning) of that level, and they immediately go to Step 3.
If the enemy was not ambushing Lincoln, the player can chose to simply end their turn rather than losing a Life card.
Step 2: Travel Through Level
If there is no ambush, Lincoln jumps over the ambush, or puts the enemy in the dirt, he is free to travel the level. This is done by the player encountering each card directly to the right (never to the left) of the Player Movement card. Depending on the card, the following decisions need to be made by the player:
- If the card is an Item or a Character card, they can purchase it by putting cards in their hand in their spend money pile, horizontally. The total must be equal to or higher than the cost of the card. If purchased, the card is removed and placed directly in the player’s discard pile. The cards that were used to purchase the card are then placed in the discard pile, too. If they do not want to purchase the card, they move their Player Movement card to the right.
- If the card is an enemy, they can play a Jump card or battle it, as described in Step 1.
When a card is passed, it is placed to the left of the Player Movement card, and all cards are shifted to the left. Once the Player Movement card is immediately left of the Level deck, all the cards are shifted to the left and new cards are drawn to bring the total number of Level cards up to 5. If the level already has 5 cards, the left most Level card is discarded and a new Level card is drawn.
If a Checkpoint card is drawn when refilling a level, nothing happens the first time and another card is immediately drawn. When the second Checkpoint card is revealed, a Mini boss is added to the level from the Mini Boss deck instead of a Level card. When the third Checkpoint card is revealed, a Boss is added to the level from the Boss deck. Once the Checkpoints are reached, regardless of where the Player Movement card is located, all players in that level receive the Checkpoint bonus. This allows the player to either draw a card from their deck and place it in their hand or remove a card from their hand and place it in the score pile for the duration of the game. The player who reached the Checkpoint gets to choose two bonuses instead of one. Finally, all players may now choose to exit the level, moving their Player Movement card to the other level, but only if it is available. Play continues for the active player if they want to continue exploring the current level or the level they just jumped to.
But wait! There’s more! Items cards have special suit icons on them that allow the player to take specific actions on their turn. The player discards the card they want and takes the action provided. The suits and the actions they allow are as follows:
- Score (looks like a star) allows the player to place any card in their hand into their score pile.
- Time Travel (looks like a clock) allows the player to look at and rearrange the top 5 cards of the level deck.
- Key (looks like a keyhole) allows the player, after ambushes are resolved, to jump levels but it also ends their turn.
- Cancel (looks like an “X”) lets the player, on any turn, cancel an item’s or an enemy’s ability.
This step continues until the player chooses to stop or runs out of cards.
Step 3: Draw
Once the player has stopped, they can discard any number of cards from their hand and draw cards until their hand size is no more than 5 cards. If there are not enough cards to refill the player’s hand, the player’s discard pile is reshuffled and cards are drawn from there, becoming the player’s new draw deck.
After the player has completed all three steps, it is the next players turn.
Losing Life and Continuing the Game in 10…9…8…7…
As the game progresses, Lincoln could take damage. If he takes enough, he will eventually die. Each player has 3 lives (the two Life cards and the Player Movement card). Once the player looses their third life, the player has the option of continuing or sitting out the rest of the game. Regardless of their choice, their turn is over for the round.
If the player chooses to continue, they reshuffle all their cards in their score pile and randomly remove half from the game (OUCH!). They then take their Player Movement card and place it to the far left (beginning) of the level they want to play. Note that the player only has one life (the Player Movement card). All the remaining cards are placed in the player’s draw deck.
If the player chooses to not continue, all their cards are placed into one pile to be counted at the end of the game. They can now twiddle their thumbs until the game is over.
Clearing a Level and Game Over
A level is cleared once the Boss has been defeated. All cards in that level are removed from the game and the Player Movement cards are moved to the next available level to the far left side (beginning).
If the level cleared is the last of the two levels, the game is over and all players now score their points.
To count points, a player collects all their cards in their draw deck, score pile, discard pile, and in their hand. After doing so, they complete the following:
- Add up all the points on the bottom right corner of each card.
- Put aside each Character card and determine if they fulfilled the character’s request – if they did, they score extra points – cards used can only be used once!
The player with the most points wins the game!
Deck building games are hard for new players. Instead of thinking of “what do I need right now”, the player must consider what they need in the future to attain their goals. This is the very essence of strategy and tactics. For new players, what is needed is not readily obvious. This can be very harmful to the player’s perception of the game, especially when they have no real idea what all the cards do. As such, this is going to be one of those games I have to teach carefully. If I do it wrong, the players will walk away feeling abused without really understanding the game and I will have failed to get a good read from our test groups.
For the Gamer Geeks, this game will not be an issue. Deck building games are well-known to this crowd and I’ll only need to show them the cards, demonstrate the game play, and we’ll be good. Depending on the Parent Geek, I won’t have to do much, either. Dominion continues to be very popular with my friends, making all who understand Dominion’s deck building mechanism an easy test volunteer to teach Pixel Lincoln to.
Child geeks are another story. I have played Dominion with my oldest a few times with limited success, but he is not totally in the dark about how deck building games are played. After all, he plays Pokémon and knows the importance of thoughtful card placement and collection. That’s really all that is needed to establish a firm base of understanding for Pixel Lincoln and for any deck building game.
When I taught the game to my 7-year-old, I first set it up so as to be able to present it visually versus describing the game play in an abstract way. This took longer, but was well worth it. Seeing how the cards interacted and how the player controlled their Lincoln in the levels made it all very clear to him. He was ready to play in about 10 minutes. But before we sat down for our first game, I asked him his thoughts on Pixel Lincoln so far.
“This is the craziest game idea I have ever heard of. Awesome.” ~ Liam (age 7)
Oh, how I love it when new players at the table are excited to play! Let’s jump into the action and see if the level of excitement grows even more or sadly sputters out.
SUCCESS! Pixel Lincoln not only amused our test groups, it had them ready to play more! All three test groups enjoyed the game and thought it to be a creative new way to play. My 7-year-old spent most of the time playing the game standing up, jumping up and down in excitement. He only slowed down when he had one Lincoln life left, playing more carefully so as to avoid killing his Lincoln off. When we finished our first game, he was ready for another and wanted to be the one to create the levels.
Parent Geeks also enjoyed the game and were filled with nostalgia. Most Parent Geeks my age are intimately familiar with the classic 8-bit scrolling-world video games. The game’s visual presentation and game play greatly appealed to them as they jumped and explored each level. The goofy weapons also pleased them as did the simple, but engaging game play. Non-gamers had a difficult time, but only with the turn order and using the cards for their suit action. Despite grasping the game a bit slower than the rest, they still completed the game with a smile.
Gamer Geeks were tickled by this game, but all agreed it wasn’t doing anything terrible new in regards to deck building. What makes it unique is how the game is played out, and of course, the theme and narrative. This is what really drew in the Gamer Geeks and they had a lot of fun running through the levels, picking up bigger and better weapons, and crushing their foes. When the game was over, they all agreed it was a refreshing and enjoyable experience. A unique take on an old standard that breathed new life and interest in deck building games.
Gamer Geeks, this is a fun and refreshing way to play a deck building game. There is nothing new here in regards to deck building, but the player movement through levels and multiple ways to either avoid or pursue conflict in the game is really interesting. You will also find the theme and narrative of the game to be a great deal of fun, as you encounter stranger and stranger foes and characters. Most certainly a game worth looking into if you enjoy deck building games today but are getting tired of the same-old-same-old. The game is a race, of sorts, but a player will only win in the end if they cross the finish line with the most points. This makes the race much more tactical, making the players think about risk versus reward, survival, and speed in equal measure.
Parent Geeks, this is an excellent game to bring to your table, but might be a bit too heavy for the non-gamers. The game is not very straight forward at times as the cards in a player’s hand can make choosing what to do next a bit of a mental exercise. Do expect to play this game at least once before you really understand it, but we think you’ll enjoy it even more the second, third, and fourth time you play it. For those of you who have little geeks who think board and card games are “old news”, this game will quickly demonstrate how much fun a game can be. This is especially true if your little geek is a huge fan of video games.
Child Geeks, this is a colorful and funny game that lets you guide Lincoln through video game levels full of wacky enemies. You’ll need to do your best to arm Lincoln with some very strange weapons and make sure you make the right choices when it comes to choosing to fight or flee. Remember, the goal is to collect point, not necessarily be the first to take out the bosses. If you do get in a situation where your Lincoln gets knocked out, don’t worry about it. You have unlimited lives in this game and you’ll be back playing quickly.
So how much do I personally enjoy Pixel Lincoln? Let me put it this way. I was fortunate enough to receive a final prototype of the game. For the most part, it is complete, having everything I need to play. And yet, I still backed the Kickstarter campaign. Not because of the extra stuff I get, but because I believed in the game and found it so entertaining. The level building element was just as fun as the deck building game play, which allowed me to create a game within a game, tailoring my experience in a way not yet seen in deck building games. Each card I collected made sense and served a purpose. I passed some items cards because I already saw a better item card in front of me. It then became a race with the players behind and in front to get to that item first!
While there is little player interaction, I never felt like I was playing alone. Seeing my opponent’s Lincolns move about the levels, fight foes, and collect items made me feel like we were all playing the game at the same time, side-by-side. This gave the game a slight cooperative feel without actually being a cooperative game. This also meant I could hold back a bit and let my opponents take on an enemy I didn’t want to or I could slightly hinder or assist them from afar to cancel their item or enemy abilities. In the end, it felt like a wonderfully involved game that kept me delightfully and fully engaged.
This game has incredible potential of being one that will be talked about years after it has come and gone. It’s a great game and has been enjoyed by every player who has had a chance to play it. Do save up your quarters and play Pixel Lincoln the very first chance you get!
This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.