Friday, 8 June 2012


Plays: 2Px3.

I'm well on my way to sample most of the games at BoardGameArena (BGA). Gosu is yet another game I've played for the first time at BGA. Since Race for the Galaxy is one of my favourite games, Gosu caught my attention when it first came out, being a card game with a tableau concept. Also the designer is a Magic: The Gathering champion. I never got around to try it, but now that it's conveniently on BGA, I must not miss it.

The Game

In Gosu, players build up armies of goblins, taking turns adding goblins, using their special abilities, mutating them, and drawing new goblin cards. In each round, players take turns until everyone passes, then a great battle takes place, which is basically a simple comparison of army strength. Whoever is strongest gains one point. After that a new round starts. Whoever reaches three points first wins the game.

You get a hand of cards at the start of the game, but after that there are no more free card draws. You get two activation tokens every round, which can be used to draw cards. Some goblins' special abilities allow card draws. However these are usually quite limited, so you need to play efficiently and squeeze the most out of your limited resources.

Goblins come from five different clans, and consist of three levels - soldiers, leaders and heroes (with strengths of 2, 3 and 5 respectively). Playing your first soldier is free, and so is playing any soldier of a clan you already have in play. Playing a leader requires it to be matched by one soldier of the same clan, and similarly a hero must be matched by a leader of the same clan. However playing a soldier of a new clan costs two cards, which is a lot. So it is expensive to have many clans in play, yet often, depending on your initial hand, it may not be easy or desirable to stick to one clan. Each player has a 5x3 grid to play goblins, i.e. at most five per level.

Every goblin has some special power, some taking effect when they come into play, some when an activation token is spent on them, some when they mutate, and other situations. Some effects kill opponent goblins, some neutralise them for the current round, some let the player draw cards. Players must make good use of these powers to gain an advantage over their opponents. Some powers get boosted if your points are behind at least one other player. This is a handy catch-up mechanism.

The mutation concept is spending cards to replace an existing goblin. This is usually costly, but can be useful when your slots are full, or you want to make use of an ability that triggers only upon mutation.

The Gosu interface on BGA is simple and clean. Flipped over cards are temporarily disabled for the current round. Their strenghs do not count, their clans and levels are ignored. A card with no other cards above it or to its right are vulnerable and can be killed by a goblin with the kill ability. So at the moment I (left tableau) have three such vulnerable cards, and Han (right tableau) has two - the rightmost card of each row.

Of course it's quite impossible to read the tiny text on the cards, so you need to hover your mouse over a card and a pop-up will appear. The discard pile at the bottom is open information. I wish there were a way to sort the discard pile, e.g. by clan or level. That would make it slightly easier to browse.

The Play

The one thing I remember most about playing Gosu is how limited your resources are after the first round. A lot is at stake in the first round. The composition of your army is largely determined in the first round. You have to decide which clans and which goblins to use. You need to consider flexibility in future rounds, not just winning the first round.

From Round 2 onwards, you will have limited actions. You only get two new activation tokens every round, and often you don't carry over many cards from the previous round. However despite the few actions, if you play well, they can be very effective.

The discard pile is open information, which is handy if a goblin ability lets you pick a card from there. Hero goblins, although strong, have powers that may help all players, so sometimes you need to think twice in case they end up helping your opponent more. I had one particular game where I was in very very bad shape, but I came back from a 0:2 deficit with very few cards in hand, to compete in a 2:2 final showdown. It was because my opponent Han had played a hero goblin that let me draw some cards, which turned out to be a life-saver for me. In the end I lost the final great battle, but it was a dramatic turn of events from a rather hopeless situation.

Hanging back from an early lead seems to be a viable strategy, because of how some special abilities become stronger if there is another player having more points than you do. I have not played enough games to fully appreciate this strategy, but I think it is quite viable.

I'm not sure how I managed to afford four different clans in this game. Each clan has a different card border.

In this game we were mostly focused on one clan. I mainly played the black clan and Han the white.

The Thoughts

Gosu definitely has that feel of "how to make the most out of what you are dealt", similar to Race for the Galaxy. So far from the few games that I have played, I have not seen particularly powerful combos, but I have seen how some individual powers can be very effective if used well. Often it is interesting to pick a few special abilities among many to use. You must choose which clans to go for. Once you play the soldier of a clan, you are committed to this clan to a certain extent.

Compared to Race for the Galaxy, Gosu is minimalistic. Other than the cards, you only have the (shared) advantage token and your own two activation tokens to fiddle with. There is a lot of text to read the first few times you play, but once you get past that and get familiar with the goblin special abilities, the game is brisk and tight. I'd say this is a gamer's game, not something a casual player would have the patience to learn. However I don't think it is particularly deep either. The scope isn't wide. Goblin powers mostly centre around killing goblins, neutralising them, drawing cards, and playing around with the advantage or activation tokens. However the powers are interesting to wield and there are plenty of interesting decisions to make in the game. So I think Gosu is a wonderful short game (I wouldn't call it a filler) for experienced players. In that way it serves a similar purpose as Race for the Galaxy. Gosu plays faster and is more tactical (vs strategic).

1 comment:

Scrabble Online Against computer said...

Cool looking game. I had heard about it before but never played. I plan on trying it out this weekend with a couple of friends/family members.