A Meat-Filled Evening with Pixel Lincoln

August 05, 2013

All right, so I played this game a few weeks ago and there are no pictures (I hope this doesn't become a recurring theme), but the game stuck in my mind (for bad reasons), so I thought I'd beef up the review archives with Pixel Lincoln as well. Pixel Lincoln is a Kickstarter project come to fruition, and, at the risk of downplaying my future Kickstarter project, you gotta be careful with these things. Because it's just some dude who thinks he has a good game, and thinks he's playtested it enough, and thinks people will enjoy it, but the game hasn't really gone through any stringent quality control. And to be fair, it is a good idea, and for those people who need to scratch an 8-bit retro game itch, Pixel Lincoln will do that for you and you'll enjoy it, much like I enjoyed scratching my dungeon crawling itch with Tomb. But this game could have used a serious amount of further playtesting. The game started off innocuously enough. Much like a lot of uninspired deck builders these days, you start off with a hand of 5 cards out of your deck of 10, which consists of an even mix of two types of currency - attack power and money. Then you proceed to move left-to-right through a level, either buying items you come across (which add to your deck) or killing enemies you encounter (which give large score boosts). It's really all very simple an unchallenging. You're going to buy and kill everything you can, so your success largely comes down to whether you draw a good hand to accomplish what's in front of you. Playing into another popular trend among deck builders, there really is no way to plan ahead in the building of your deck, as you have no idea what challenges you will be facing in the future - everything is boiled down to very simple non-decisions of "do I have enough money to buy this?" or "do I have enough power to kill this?" I'm sorry, but this shit is like the Farmville of board games, and I hate it. Anyway, obligatory rant over. Back to the session. I was playing with three other people and everyone got the choice of which of two levels to start in. I was the only one to choose the upper level, so I had free reign to kill and collect everything, and that, combined with some really lucky draws, cemented my victory early on. I was mildly entertained and my success did in fact bring forward some warm fuzzy feelings in my heart. Eventually another player jumped up to my level and both levels ended up arriving at the boss (read: end of game) around the same time. And then something happened. Something that brought into stark contrast exactly how basic and underdeveloped this whole business was. To fully explain, I'll have to delve a little bit deeper into the mechanics of the game. Like I said, you're dealing with hands of five cards, and at the beginning of the game, half your cards give you no power, and half your cards give you 1 power. Throughout the game you will buy items. Some of these items will also give you no power. Some will give you 1 power. A small handful may give you 2 power. If you were to, say, collect all the item cards on a given level, I would say the average amount of power you would have in any given hand would be around 4. The less cards you collect, the less this average would be, given the higher prevalence of your "0-power, 1-money" starting cards. You could try to trash these cards, but then it would be even harder to buy new cards. So when the boss of my level pops out and requires 7 power to kill - power that you have to supply with a single hand of cards - I'm thinking, "Whaaaaat?" Because the mechanics are so basic, there is nowhere to run. No way I can try to increase my overall power when the boss pops up and no way I could have effectively done it earlier in the game, either. I need a hand with 2 2-power cards and 3 1-power cards or I'm done. And if you can't do it, you lose a life and get to try it again next turn (i.e. disard all your 0-power cards - or even some of your 1-power cards - and hope you draw 2 of the maybe3 2-power cards you have in your deck at the same time). Mind you, I was rocking the crap out of this game the whole way through. And I got up to 6 power against the boss once. Nobody else got that close. He quickly and effectively ate all of our lives. "Oh, but don't worry, guys," the manual tells us. "You didn't really lose! There's still a winner even if everybody dies. It still goes to the person who has the highest score!" So I won. But did I feel like a winner? No. When your fragile band of adventurers gets murdered by a hydra in Tomb, it's not that big of a deal. The game has made certain parameters clear and, "Your heroes will die, so don't get too attached to them," is paramount among them. But when you stroll merrily along through the poppy fields of Pixel Lincoln easily overcoming everything in your path, and then suddenly face an unbeatable boss who proceeds to punch you in the face repeatedly while you plead desperately with your draw pile to, "Just please give me another sausage-link card," this is another beast entirely. And that beast is random and poorly designed and just no fun to play with.

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