Monday, July 6, 2015

Game Review: Double Feature

The latest game from John Kovalic, best known as the brilliant cartoonist behind Dork Tower, Munchkin, and the apple from Apples to Apples, has hit gaming shelves. Like Kovalic’s previous outing ROFL, Double Feature is a party game akin to the aforementioned Apple to Apples, Cards Against Humanity, and the like. Double Feature is published by the newly founded Renegade Game Studios, founded by ex-Cryptozoic Games CEO Scott Gaeta. (Coincidentally, Renegade is also the new publisher of ROFL as well.) So, does Kovalic have a new party game hit on his hands? Let’s rip this baby open and find out!

Presentation and Unboxing:


The first thing you’ll notice when you look at Double Feature is Kovalic’s trademark cartoon art, this time featuring a fun image that is a throwback to the singing and dancing food of the ‘Let’s All Go to the Lobby’ cartoons that used to feature at the drive-in theaters of yesteryear. This art combined with the red box coloring which is clearly a reference to the traditional red movie theater curtains immediately screams entertainment for an old movie buff like myself. Even if you’re not an old fogey like me and don’t know the what the cartoons reference, it’s still a walking hot dog, popcorn, and soda so it still looks like fun. The artwork is wrapped up with a logo that’s a film reel and dancing around the sides of the box are even more animated foodstuffs like candy bars and jelly beans. So far, so good, but fun box design doesn’t make a good game so what’s inside this cool-looking little package?

Inside the box is a thin little rule book and six stacks of cards featuring the same characters from the box cover. These six decks are labeled: Characters, Setting, Theme & Genre, Scenes, Props, and Production. Each of the decks art has the food characters posing in humorous poses that go with the theme of the deck. My favorite of these is the Theme & Genre deck where the look on the foods are holding the comedy and tragedy masks, along with a new mask that I would call ‘unimpressed’. The faces of the cartoons are this card back are just spot on and, several game play sessions in, the soda and popcorn have yet to cease making me grin just looking at them.

Gameplay Basics:


The gameplay of Double Feature is very much akin to the aforementioned Apples to Apples in that the players take turns being judge, in this case called appropriately the ’Director’. The Director chooses two card categories, flips over the top card from each of those decks, and reads the category and card text aloud. For example, you might flip over a Theme & Genre card that reads ‘Science Fiction or Fantasy’ and a Production card that says ‘is not always in English’. After the cards are read aloud, the remaining players begin yelling out movie titles that fit the criteria of both of the cards. The Director chooses the first one that he hears that he thinks fits both of the cards and that player is rewarded the point for the round. Play then continues around the table, giving each player a chance to be Director.

Normally, that type of gameplay works with Apples to Apples and the like where the decision is just the opinion of the judge. However, in a game where movies are involved and the answers are based in fact and my first thought is ‘What if the Director hasn’t seen a movie? Or what if the players misremember a scene or something?’ Kovalic and his fellow game makers thought of that too and there are rules included that address these issues to keep the game fair and, more importantly, fun. For example, there are rules that state that the movies have to be actual films that were released in theaters. That means no made for TV, direct to disc, or television shows. Also no movie can win two rounds in a row. Finally addressing my concerns, if the Director hasn’t seen a movie or the players feel he picked a movie that didn’t fit the criteria, the players have the option to try and convince him that they’re right and the Director can change his or her decision.

There’s also a rule to cover a scenario that I didn’t initially consider. What if there are two cards out and none of the players can think of a movie that fits the criteria? In that case, the Director, at their discretion, can choose a third category and flip over another card. Then the players must come up with a film title that fits at least two of the cards.

The game ends when one player gets a set number of points which varies depending on the number of players. The rule book provides a good set of numbers to keep the game fun without running too long with games consisting of more players needing fewer points to win. Of course, with many games like this, I tend to set my own goal for winning depending on how long I want the game to be.

Playtest:


My initial playthrough was with five players ranging from players like myself, who’ve seen waaaaay too many movies, to a couple of younger players that are limited in their exposure to film history. This was intentional to see if the game would be skewed towards the movie aficionados or if it would be fun with the random assortment of people that would generally end up at a party where this game would be played.

What I instantly found out is that the cards are written in such a way to allow as many answers as possible. Many of the cards actually have multiple options, like a character card that reads ‘barefoot or pregnant’. Even when the cards get semi-specific, they are still pretty general, like a setting that reads ‘in the future’. This allows for players to choose which part of the card fits their film. For example, the above set of cards could think ‘pregnant in the future’ to refer to a movie like ‘Children of Men’ (a lady is pregnant in the future) or ‘Planet of the Apes’ (many of the characters are barefoot). This open wording also gives options for the younger players because you could just as easily have chosen something like ‘Big Hero 6’ which one of our players called out because the robot Baymax doesn’t wear shoes.

Because of the open phrasing of the cards, in our playthrough, there were only two instances where the Director had to use the three-card option and only one instance where the players had to argue for their film choice. (The player won the debate by the way.)

In the end, I did win the initial playthrough but the game was close enough that the players didn’t feel that the game was skewed to allow players with more film knowledge to take the win. In fact, I have yet to win again in our subsequent gaming sessions.

Overall:


Double Feature is a near perfect party game. It’s fast paced and easy to teach. It’s light enough that non-gamers can jump right in without getting bored or mired down in too many rules but fun enough that the geekier players can enjoy it by trying to show off their encyclopedic film knowledge.

The only drawback I find with the game is the limited number of cards. The fact that there are six different decks offsets this limitation to an extent by having a huge number of possible card combinations but I can see it getting repetitive if put into heavy rotation at your gaming parties. Of course, like my other recent go-to party game Snake Oil, Double Feature could easily be expanded upon by simply adding more cards. Here’s looking forward to ‘Double Feature: The Sequel’ expansion at some point in the future.

Until then, Double Feature has taken a spot in my top 3 go-to games along with Snake Oil and Apples to Apples for when I have game night parties with my usual group and it should be with yours as well. Go get it HERE!

Update (07/06/2015):

After posting this review, the publishers of Double Feature have informed me that that needed expansion IS coming this Christmas season. It's to be called 'Everybody's a Critic' and will include a new stack of cards, a new gameplay feature, and more cards for the existing categories. I can't wait!

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