Review: Fluxx

Fluxx_!

In this modern age of electronics, it’s sometimes easy to forget the basic joys provided by more low-tech pursuits. Whether it’s sitting down with the rest of your family for a roast dinner on a Sunday instead of sticking something in the microwave or feeding the ducks in the local park instead of flinging grumpy avians at malevolent pigs, sometimes it can feel like we have things a little too easy these days and have lost some of the more simple pleasures in life.

One of these simple pleasures is card and board games, which have fallen by the wayside for many.

Thank God for smartphones and tablets, then. In a majestic meeting of old and new, many classic games have been enjoying a new lease of life, reincarnated in bits and bytes instead of decks and dice.

Fluxx is one of those games, developed by Playdek, who has made a name itself with quality digital versions of popular physical games.

If you’re not aware of it, Fluxx is a card game where the rules and goals continually evolve as you play, as decided by the players themselves and what cards they put down on the table. To an outsider, it can look bafflingly complex on a first look at a game in full-swing; but in reality it’s no more difficult to learn than that perennial family favourite, Uno.

Each player starts by being dealt 3 cards. At the start of your turn, you draw one card from a deck shared by all players. Cards are split into certain categories – a “Goal” card, when played, establishes the win condition for all players and is always to have a combination of two cards – called “Keepers” – in play that match the requirements. “Action” cards can be played, forcing other players to draw a card, swap their hands, remove or introduce certain cards from play, etc. You then have “Rule” cards, and it’s here where the often chaotic joy of the game lies.

Initially, there is only one rule to consider at the start of your turn – draw one card, play one card. A fresh game doesn’t even have a predetermined goal to start with – players set that themselves by playing certain cards, and it continually changes throughout the course of play. However, very soon the rules will change. That “Draw one, play one” starting rule will suddenly change to “draw four, play all except one” before changing to “draw four, but you may only have two cards in your hand at a time and now you have a choice of two different goals to aim for and can only have two Keepers in play at a time”, etc. etc. If a new rule card is played which contradicts an existing rule, the existing rule is removed from play and returned to the bottom of the deck – unless another rule or action removes it from the game entirely, of course.

With all of these rules, goals and actions being played with every turn, things can quickly take a turn for the riotously complex, until someone plays a card that junks all the rules currently in play and returns the game to its original “draw one, play one” stage. This is a game in constant motion, hence the name.

It might sound as though all of this chaos makes it impossible to play tactically and to a large degree that’s correct – the sheer unpredictability of it renders it impossible to set down and stick to long-term plans and just as you think you’re close to achieving a victory, someone else will swoop in and scupper your chances by stealing one of your Keepers or changing the goal or rules. But once you’re familiar with the game, you’ll realise that it’s precisely this unpredictability that allows you to block your opponents from winning. If you think another player is getting close to victory, change the goal. Do they have a Keeper in play that you want? Steal it. You can go from feeling like there is no hope of winning to triumphantly playing a card and taking victory in the space of a single turn and with the maximum of four players, games are brief enough that they don’t overstay their welcome and become stale.

The digital translation is very well produced. It’s incredibly faithful to the physical game. The artstyle is largely identical and while some small adjustments have been made, the deck contents are also consistent. Whichever form you learn to play in, you can carry over that experience and knowledge to the other. Graphics are fairly simple, as is to be expected from a game where the action largely consists of drawing and playing cards, but attention has been given to some subtle areas such as animation, ensuring that everything remains clear and easy to follow (essential in a game where things can escalate in complexity at the click of the fingers) and it’s all bright, colourful and well laid-out. New players are brought up to speed with the game via an excellent and simple tutorial which will ensure that you are fluent with the rules in five minutes flat.

Sound is a slightly mixed bag – individual cards have their own sound effects reflecting their contents – so a stereo will play a short blast of music, a love heart will come with a refrain from a harp – but the music, as pleasant as it is, gets repetitive incredibly fast. You’ll find yourself quickly switching off the music and then the sound effects as it all becomes over-familiar a little too quickly. A little more variety in terms of the music and effects would have been welcome.

In addition, you’ll become very familiar with the cards rather quickly. There isn’t a huge selection in the deck and within a handful of games you’ll have seen every card on offer. While this keeps the game simple and easy to learn as well as assisting in your limited tactical options, it’s disappointing that many of the additional supplemental decks available for the physical game (there are variants based on Zombies, Pirates, Sci-Fi and even Cthulhu which are all compatible with each other and can be swapped in or out as wanted) aren’t available as in-app purchases. This may change in future, but at this point the game has been available for quite a while with no additions or expansions released. It’s a little disappointing, but the basic game is fun enough that you won’t tire of it as soon as you might think.

The AI can also be a bit flaky and prone to strange moves that can seem counter-productive. Luckily, the game is blessed with both local and online play, and the ability to have multiple games in progress at the same time with definable time limits means that you shouldn’t find yourself waiting endlessly with nothing to do because another player is taking their time. Also in a nice touch, if a player drops out of the game they are instantly replaced by an AI player that picks up exactly where they left off, meaning that you shouldn’t see a game cut short simply because one player has left after throwing a tantrum at having a win stolen from them at the last moment.

At a very reasonable £1.99 on the App Store, there’s a lot of enjoyment here to be had for the price. While the presentation is simple and there are concerns with the AI, for a fun five-minute burst there is plenty to recommend – particularly if you like card and board games but don’t have the luxury of having some friends on hand to satisfy those times when you just want to indulge in the simple joys of playing something that doesn’t involve blowing things up.

[This article was originally published on All About The Games, and is reproduced here with permission]

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7/10

Version Tested: iPad

Also available on: Other iThings

Price: £1.99

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