Gubs, one of the new summer releases from Gamewright, comes with the subtitle “A Game of Wit and Luck”, which describes it precisely. It can be a little intimidating when players open the six-page instruction sheet and flip through the convoluted deck, but the learning curve is not nearly as steep as originally anticipated. Instead, Gubs proves to be a game where experienced players can deduce intricate plots to maximize the effect of their cards, but the luck of the deck gives newbies a chance to get ahead blindly or frustrate other players’ plans, which is always entertaining.
The aesthetic of Gubs is one of my favorite aspects. Gamewright has worked up a trailer video online that displays the cartoony yet fantastical hidden world of gubs along with epic classical music. High production value makes the game very pretty, but it is the play that makes Gubs good.
Under the aesthetic is a complicated system of game mechanics. While the rules sheet is indeed long, half of it is actually just a list displaying and explaining each of the cards. There are several levels to the game, but the end goal is clear: have the most Gubs at the end, which is randomized with the game length determined by hidden cards in the deck. First the “G” comes up, then the “U”, and when the “B” appears, the game is over, and whoever has the most standing Gubs takes the victory.
Getting the Gubs and keeping them, however, is quite a task. On our first play through, the temptation was to use cards as quickly and blindly as we drew them from the deck. As we learned better, the game proved to be a clever mix of patient strategy and quick action. Each round allows players to draw a single card, but they may play as many as they wish during their turn. It is much better to wait and play Gubs when they can be “protected” by Barricade cards such as Mushrooms, Toad Riders, and Velvet Moths. Other cards, such as Hazards and Traps may be used to capture or destroy opponents’ defenses or Gub populations. Then there are Tools and Interrupts which create a web of strategies blocking moves or stealing cards or destroying defenses and capturing Gubs. Finally, there is a wild, the Cricket Song, which allows a savvy player to mirror any temporary card in the deck, giving good reason to study the card list and hold the Song until it is most useful.
Other cards are Events, marked with a lightning bolt, that are played immediately upon drawing. These add a new level of calamity to Gubs, kicking the feeling of eagerness when playing to greater heights. Players could be wiped out with Dangerous Alchemy, Gubs can get washed away in Flash Floods, or hands may be traded and shuffled. While wanting to pick up a card to gain more Gubs, there is always the sense of danger while drawing, which shows the nightmarish life the cute little Gubs must endure.
Gubs is listed as a game for two to six players (three to four seems most fun), ages ten and up, which is suitable for the complexity of the game. Younger players might be bored or confused, but those who like witty games with a little luck on top will certainly enjoy it. Rounds are short, only about twenty minutes or so, making it great for breaks on vacation or as the school year starts back up.