We’re big fans of Penny Arcade, having read the webcomic three times a week for the past 14 years. And we’re equally big fans of iOS card battling games, especially those with great artwork and online multiplayer like Ascension, Spectromancer, and Magic 2013. But Penny Arcade The Game: Gamers vs. Evil just doesn’t work for us as either PA fan service or an online card game, for two very different reasons.
First, the Penny Arcade license. The Penny Arcade universe is extremely wide-ranging, spanning multiple console generations with theatrical absurdity and genre-busting parodies. Even if you’ve read every single comic, like we have, there’s no connection between, say, a Pickle Recognition Engine and a Faerie Candymancer, except that they both sprang from the twisted minds of creators Tycho and Gabe. Why these randomly-selected cards were chosen for inclusion in the game is a mystery.
Makes as much sense as Twisp and Catsby.
We would have preferred a more direct introduction to the various PA characters, perhaps by grouping them together into packs like Acquisitions Incorporated (their D&D characters), Lookouts (their survivalist Boy Scouts world), and Cardboard Samurai (their manga-inspired storylines). While Penny Arcade The Game contains a card gallery for you to peruse, the comics that inspired these cards should have been included right next to them within the app, or at least as a web link. These cards often use a panel of artwork taken directly from the strip, and without the full comic, they’re taken confusingly out of context.
Even if you recognize every last character and reference, there’s still a fairly dull card battling game to decipher. Each player starts with just six cards– a mix of basic “token” and “power” cards that determine your strength in those two categories. You use this initial hand to buy more cards from the center of the board, which are available to each player during their turn. The cards you buy can add bonus token or power points, or initiate PVP attacks on your opponent.
Each time you use all of your cards, the deck is reshuffled, so the more cards you acquire, the less frequently they’ll appear in play. The early stages of the game are all about acquiring more high-end cards, and then you have to hope they show up in the right order to prevent your opponents from building their deck further. Unfortunately, this also means that the early rounds nearly run on autopilot, with you hitting “play all” almost every time to buy the strongest cards you can early on.
Always, I wanna be with you…
We didn’t think this gameplay was especially deep, but we did appreciate two unique aspects of Penny Arcade The Game. The first are boss battles, which are extremely powerful cards you can acquire by saving up a lot of tokens or power. The second is Pax Pox, which clutters up your opponent’s deck and takes points away from their final score. But even if you play well and make use of every boss card and Pax Pox card, you’ll still be uncertain about who is in the lead, since the game doesn’t show you a running total of Victory Points.
You can play Penny Arcade The Game against one to three AI opponents offline, or one to three human opponents online, but we think the multiplayer mode is actually less desirable. Online play uses a countdown timer, which can range from 15 minutes to three weeks, to keep players focused on playing a round even when they have multiple games going at once.
One of the only games that’s less fun online.
But the unintended result, at least for the shorter games we played, is that you might run out of time and be forced to forfeit a game if you wait too long between moves. If your opponents do the same, you’re stuck with an anticlimactic forfeiture instead of a satisfying win. It seems that you can either sit glued to your game and make a move as soon as possible, or put the game down and let the clock run out. Either way, it makes for a very uneven gameplay experience, when direct head-to-head multiplayer would have been much simpler. Penny Arcade The Game, with its repetitive early rounds, just isn’t well-suited for this kind of forced asynchronous multiplayer.
Penny Arcade The Game: Gamers vs. Evil has a great art style, since it’s ripped from the comics without any kind of context, and the gameplay mechanics are fairly sound. However, we didn’t enjoy the online experience, and playing against the AI is dull without a more organized single-player campaign. We know that Penny Arcade games can be great, like their recent retro-style RPG, but this card battling game just isn’t worth your money or time. Even if you’re a diehard fan of the webcomic like us, expect to be disappointed.