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Review: Gubs

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If you think insects are a pest and nuisance above ground, you should see what rages beneath!  Imagine a realm or warring, insect-like gub colonies in a desperate struggle over life, death, and mushrooms.  Now, enter that world and gather your own bugs (‘gubs’ spelled backwards…see what they did there?) – you’ll need to protect your vulnerable gubs and destroy all others!  Nature and magic are at your command in this mystical and whimsical entomological free-for-all.

How it Plays

Gubs is a highly interactive, “take-that” card game.  Players use cards to collect as many Gubs as they can find and protect them from attacks, while attempting to trap, steal, or destroy other colonies.  The player with the most free Gubs at the end of the game wins.

Game play is very straight-forward.  Everyone starts with 3 non-Event cards.  On your turn, you first draw a card.  You may skip this step, but never twice in a row.  Then you play as few or as many cards as you wish – maybe none.  The majority of cards have text which explains what they do.  Lastly, if – and only if – you have more than 8 cards, you must discard down to that hand limit.

There are seven different types of cards.  Gubs are played to earn points, but only if they’re free and protected at the end of the game.  A single gub played all by itself is as exposed as a naked mole rat.  I do not recommend playing one alone, if possible.

A Barricade protects a gub from attacks, but don’t think you’ve just created a little hive of Fort Knox.  An opponent can play another Barricade of similar kind to discard yours.  Hazards are assault cards against free gubs in order to trash or steal them – and some get through your Barricades.  Traps can be played on opposing gubs.  A trapped gub remains with its owner, but does count for points at the end of the game.  Thankfully, you can use Tools to free your trapped gubs, as well as others’, and take them back into your hand.  Interrupt cards defend your colony against attacks, or cancel the effects of Events, the final type of card.  There are 5 Events and none of them are particularly positive.

The game continues until players have collectively drawn the three letter cards ‘G,’ ‘U,’ and ‘B’ – though not necessarily in that order.  These are randomly shuffled into the deck at set-up, roughly divided into thirds so that ideally one letter each is placed near the top, middle, and bottom of the pack.  When the third letter is drawn, the player with the most free and protected gubs wins.  I’m not really sure what they means for you.  Perhaps they make honey or something?

Creepy Crawly?  Or Never Hurt a Fly?

Children whine a lot.  I feel I can stand with some confidence upon that statement – in the last 9 years, there have been 43 of them living in our house for varying periods of time.  Don’t get me wrong – I love children.  I wouldn’t be a foster parent if I didn’t.  But you must have patience when you’re around multiple kids, because they’ll whine at the drop of a hat, many times whilst in contention with another kid over some object.  So imagine (or remember back to your own childhood) engaging with them in some form of competition.  Where one child wins.  And the others lose.  Usually because they were mercilessly attacked by said winner.  Now, if there were only some game that might help acclimate them to such interaction and spite.

Hmmm…?

Oh, I’ve got one!  It’s called Gubs.

Now, there will still be growing pains.  That’s part of the whole acclimation process.  And I don’t offer any 100%, money-back guarantee.  But if you’re looking for a fast, simple, accessible, and kid-friendly title to introduce children to interaction within our hobby, Gubs just may your charm.

The design feels very much like a collectible card game.  It’s not as deep and there isn’t any deck-building, but you’re essentially playing cards to attack your opponents, while building and protecting your own tableau.  Kids familiar with Pokèmon, or gamers experienced with other designs in the genre, like Magic: The Gathering, will pick up Gubs rather quickly.

There is a tremendous variety of unique and interesting actions for a deck amounting to only 70 cards.  Such diversity provides kids with some actual choices and keeps the game entertaining for their parents.  Gubs is certainly no brain-burner, but it’s witty enough for younger gamers and a rewarding step up from those lazy, mass market children’s games that insult their intelligence.  Players quickly learn that there is an art and science to playing certain cards at certain times.  Besides taking care not to leave your gubs exposed, you also want to lure opponents into wasting their precious attack cards when they’ll do the least damage.  Conversely, you want to time your own attacks when then can net you the best results.

Despite some subtle depth, make no mistake – Gubs is very random.  The kind of luck typically associated with card games is compounded here when considering that 14 distinct cards each have only 1 copy in the entire deck.  Plus there are no hand-management mechanics in which you can pull out the weeds and go gardening for better fruit.  So acquiring the rarer powers is purely chance.  There are two things to take-away from the game’s randomness.  It levels the playing field between parent and child.  And even if you don’t get the exact card you would like, you’ll still get something beneficial to use.

Gubs also does a nice job of creating tension.  Part of that is in its array of card actions – you never know when your opponents will nail you.  Much of it is due to randomness – you never know what you’ll draw next.  However, the tension really grows after you’ve drawn the second letter card, thus beginning the countdown to the end.  Only that exact moment is anyone’s guess.  Now players need to decide whether or not to risk unprotected Gubs, and when.  You can’t wait too long, because Gubs sitting in your hand are worthless when that final letter is revealed!

While the excellent card variety is one of Gubs’ strengths, it also comes with a few drawbacks.  The biggest one is that the deck includes only 13 of the titular insects, plus one Elder Gub.  So they’re difficult to find in the first place.  Then, with a number of cards that can trap, steal, or destroy those limited numbers under a variety of circumstances, it’s hard to keep them, as well.  Games are usually low scoring, to say the least!  Second, the card diversity – couple with the limited number of actual Gub cards – leaves 5- and 6-player sessions a bit chaotic.  With it even more difficult to collect and subsequently protect your colony, kids can get frustrated pretty quickly.  Finally, since there are so many unique powers, abilities, and actions, Gubs has a slight learning curve – especially for a kids game.

The artwork is extremely well-done, fantastically creative, and fetchingly quirky.  I would even go as far to call it adorable.  It superbly evokes the game’s magical world, a wonderful backdrop to the imaginative theme.  The cards themselves are of good quality and will withstand many plays – very important for a card game.  Functionally, they are also designed well and are very clear.  Most of them include important text critical to game play, so very young kids with limited reading skills will struggle.  Based on my experience, I’d recommend the 3rd grade level (8+) as the low age range.  Children younger than that will likely need help.

Gubs is a whimsically attractive card game well-suited to younger gamers, but one that parents will actually enjoy playing, too.  It may be random, but the card variety provides meaningful decisions, making kids think tactically about how best to utilize what the luck-of-the-draw deals them.  Simple rules, actual choices, an even playing field, and a quick pace help to dampen the admittedly sharp elements of interaction.  Therefore, Gubs is a suitable title for introducing spite to younger gamers and teaching them how to be both amicable belligerents and graceful losers.  Or, to be fair to children, it’s not like they’re the only bitter gamers out there – so it just might help an adult you know, too!

Summary

  • Rating 7
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Summary

Pros

  • Simple structure and fast pace
  • Subtle depth reminiscent of CCGs
  • Lots of different cards
  • Unknown end-game creates tension
  • Can introduce kids to interaction and spite
  • Attractive illustrations

Cons:

  • Not enough actual Gubs
  • Very random
  • Lengthy card text limits age range
  • Slight learning curve
7.0 Good

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. I think this is a criminally underrated family game. I’m very happy to see it get some love at a place that (hopefully) will sway some folks toward giving it a go. It’s just deep enough that adults can get a little something out of it, even when playing with the little ones. And, it’s simple enough that my 10 year- and 8 year-old have no problem teaching it to friends and playing it together. Anyone who is willing, please join with me in calling for an expansion.

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