Monday, March 28, 2005

Review - James Ernest's Give Me the Brain!

Have you even wondered what it’s like to be the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz? It would be hard to get anything done without a brain. No wonder that the Scarecrow went through so much just to try to get a brain from the Wizard. Your traditional zombies usually get along fine without a brain, though they do go around looking for some. They’d much rather eat the brains of course, since they have no use for them since they’re dead.

James Ernest has other ideas for his zombies. He uses them for manual labor. They’re not very smart, but at least they’re really cheap. So, James has this fast food place called Friedey’s, and it’s staffed with zombies. They’re able to do most of the work with just a few mishaps, but sometimes there are jobs so complex that they need a brain. So, James provided them with one to share.

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Give Me the Brain puts the players in the shoes of the Friedey’s zombies, who need to get all their work done while time-sharing a single slippery brain.

Such a silly theme can only come from the mind of James Ernest and be published by his Cheapass games. This game’s original incarnation was a black-and-white light cardstock version packaged in an envelope. After winning the Origins award, it was given the “pro treatment”. Give Me the Brain is now available in full, glorious color. The brain-pink package with the zombie on the front contains 112 smooth plastic-coated cards and a rules sheet. Most of the cards have humorous text; some of them have funny zombie illustrations by Brian Snoddy. You need a six-sided die to play Give Me the Brain, but in true Cheapass fashion, the rules say to crib one from a game you never play. I’m sure your Risk set won’t miss the die.

The Game

The zombie-players begin the game with a hand of seven cards. The objective of the zombie-player is to get rid of all his cards so he can go home. There are three kinds of cards, bid cards (30 of these), objects (8 of these) and jobs (the rest of the cards).

Each zombie-player has two hands; so on his turn a zombie-player can perform two hands’ worth of jobs. A job is rated for either one or two hands. Some jobs, colored brain-pink, are beyond the non-intellect of a zombie and thus require the brain to execute. Therefore, the player must procure the brain.

The brain, represented by the aforementioned six-sided die, begins the game on the floor. Players bid using the bid cards for possession of the brain. High bid wins the use of the brain… for the moment. Each job that requires the brain has a skill rating. Once the zombie-player performs the job, he needs to match or beat the skill rating on a roll of the die to retain possession of the brain. If he fails, the brain slips from his noggin and falls back on the floor, allowing everyone to bid for it again.

The objects tend to help the possessors. There are a couple of animal brains, which a player can use once then must pass to an adjacent player. There are also extra hands that can be used to perform more jobs in a turn.

The jobs are a huge mixed bag of chaos and silliness. As the rules say, some are good all the time, some are good in certain situations, some are good in combination with other cards but are otherwise bad, and some are bad all the time. Good thing that a player can loaf instead of working.

When a player loafs, he does nothing. While loafing, he either draws a card (usually bad) or discards his entire hand and draws the same number of cards plus one. This can be good if all you have is bad cards.

The first zombie-player to empty his hand gets to go home first and wins the game!

Strategy

This is a hugely chaotic game with a lot of “take that”, especially with a lot of players, so strategy is very limited. You don’t really need the brain to perform a lot of jobs. If you have a bad set of jobs, loaf a turn and draw a new hand. High bid cards are important.

It’s happened to us that a player wins on the first turn by playing a card that drops hand size down to four, and he draws a couple of high bid cards and a couple of high skill brain jobs. Bid, win the brain, play job, drop the brain (ending that turn). Then bid again, win the brain, play job, game over.

Otherwise, there’s not much there.

Reviewer’s Tilt

My impression of Give Me the Brain is that it’s not “tight”. The game is rated for three to eight players, fifteen minutes. With the exception of the above-stated first-turn win aberration, games tend to last ten minutes per player, which is too long for a game of this weight. The huge amount of chaos and “take that” card play inherent in the system can make the game unenjoyable for some players in a large group. The turn-skipping mechanism of the brain (after the brain is dropped, play continues with the player who picked up the brain) is also a big turn-off when playing with more than four players.

Fillers, especially those relying on humor for a large part of their appeal, are expected to be fast and engaging. Give Me the Brain fails to deliver both of those elements consistently. Given that, I can’t recommend it unless you plan to play it with just three or four players. Even then, its appeal is limited, and you might be better served looking elsewhere.

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