While at WhosyerCon this past weekend, I got a chance to play a new game I’d never heard of before. Since I first heard about it and played it, I’m going to combine my usual Game Buzz and Buzzworthiness topics this time to give you an overview AND a review.
Oh Gnome You Don’t! is a game designed by Lisa Steenson, whose previous credits are Redneck Life and Trailer Park Wars. I’ve never played either of those, but it looks like Steenson is expanding her thematic repertoire here. The game is published by Gut Bustin’ Games and features cute storybook art by Jud Lively and Lindsey Woodward. The game is for 2-5 players, takes around 90 minutes to play, and is for players aged 13 and up. This age limit baffles me, but I’ll talk about that later. The main concept of the game is that you’ll be a gnome, cavorting down a picturesque path and collecting gems. Along the way, you’ll be collecting various items that you can sell for profit.
The game comes with a board that shows a stone path, four businesses, a troll bridge, a slime path, a gem mine, a start and finish line, and various mossy/mushroomy thing you would expect to find along a stone path in a game about gnomes. You also get two decks of cards – one deck of 104 draw cards and another deck of 50 brawl cards. There are 5 stand up cardboard gnome pieces and plastic stands, a single six-sided die, and a bunch of plastic gems in four colors (black, blue, red, and gold).
The game is very simple to understand. On your turn, roll the die. Move that many spaces. Play a card if you can/want to. Draw a new card. That’s it. I’ll get into a brief breakdown of how everything works, then I’ll get into the actual review.
First, you roll and move. If you get to a business, you can duck in, and it doesn’t have to be by exact count (but your move does end). If you land on a space containing another gnome, the two of you can decide whether or not you want to fight. To fight, the gnomes choose one of their 10 brawl cards (numbered 1-10) and reveal them simultaneously. The winner takes the difference in gems. Both brawl cards are discarded from the game, and if you run out, you will enter all brawls with a strength of 0.
Once you’ve moved, you can play a card. There are three types of cards you’ll collect as you play – green, purple, and red. Green cards are items that can be sold in the businesses for gems. You’ll start the game with two of these. Each card has a general market price, plus an inflated price you can get from a specific business. To play them, place them face up in front of you. You can only sell green cards. Purple cards are action cards that you can play to give yourself a benefit or mess with your opponent(s) or both. Red cards are different because they are played out of sequence. They are cards you can play on an opponent during their turn to attack them. There are also a few that will help you defend yourself.
If you are in a business, you don’t play a card. You just sell all green cards that you want to. In the final business (the Tinker’s Cart), you don’t follow the price on the card. Instead, you roll the die to determine how much you get. So you could get 1, or you could get 6.
You always end your turn by drawing a card. That’s it, really. You go until everyone has gotten to the finish line. The first few players get a gem bonus, while last place players will have to pay a penalty. Whoever has the most gems wins.
COMPONENTS: The components are fine. There’s some nice, storybook flavored art on the board and the cards. I particularly like the image on the “Oh Gnome You Don’t” card. It’s a sassy looking gnome holding up one finger, hip popped to the side and neck at full extension to the other side. It made me laugh. The gems are simple plastic beads. The cards are fine…I wasn’t paying much attention to quality of the cards. The text on the cards is easy to read, and the actions are fairly easy to understand. The cardboard gnomes work…I guess it’s better than just using non-descript plastic pawns. Not everyone can use minis in their games. If you want something else, you could probably just pull the gnomes out of a copy of Red November.
THEME: The theme is really why we tried out the game. My wife has been obsessed with gnomes for a while, and it’s not just because of Gnomeo and Juliet. She has been trying to convince me that we need a garden gnome for a while. She wanted to play, so we played. The theme could have been a number of different things, but it really works well thanks to the great art. I really don’t have a whole lot to say about the theme. It will draw you in, and that’s the point, I guess.
MECHANICS: This is a roll-and-move game. By saying that, you probably know whether you’ll like it or not. I do think it’s clever how they deal with the mechanic by making it not really about the race. If the first person to the finish line won, this game wouldn’t be worth the time I’m spending to write this review. I think most games will actually be pretty close. I mean, it’s possible someone will be racing way ahead of the pack thanks to some great dice rolling, but the cards will help slow people down/move them backwards. The longer you’re on the board, the more cards you can collect, meaning you can sell more. You get half price for the items you still have on the table when you reach the finish line.
Brawling is another mechanic that keeps things interesting. I don’t know if it would be different with more players, but we really didn’t land on the same space very much in our game. When we did, we were mostly playing 10s. There’s a couple of action cards that allow you to take one of your played brawl cards out of the discard pile, so they’re not necessarily gone forever.
The card play is really the thing that keeps the game going. A well-times action can really hurt your opponents. The game is actually very confrontational, and you have to be mean. If you try to be nice, I guarantee you’re going to be miserable throughout the game.
STRATEGY vs. LUCK: There’s not really that much strategy in this game. It’s luck how you roll, it’s luck what you draw, it’s luck what your opponents draw. Strategy comes in deciding what to sell and what to play (and on whom).
THE WIFE FACTOR: Since my wife was the main reason we played, here’s what she thought. She liked the gnome theme and the art. She was not really a fan of the conflict, which makes sense. She was also frustrated with how slow the game seems to move, especially with the rolling. You roll a die and move, but it’s possible you could only move one space. If you wanted to stop in a business, you did not have to land there by exact count, but it is possible that you would have to stop right in front of the door. That’s annoying. She suggested that maybe there could be two dice to roll, and you could decide which number to use. This could help you slow down and collect more cards, or speed up to try and catch up or finish quicker.
IS THIS GAME BUZZWORTHY? This is not a game that gamers will enjoy very much. It’s low on strategy and high on luck. However, the chaos and pain you can inflict may attract some people looking for that type of thing. However, the game is kind of long. With three, it seemed like it took a while, and I think it would get even longer with five. I also think they missed their target audience when they made the age limit 13 and up. I think kids as young as 8 would get a kick out of this game, maybe even younger. I don’t know why they set the age limit so high. It will probably hurt the game’s marketability if parents think their kids are too young, and I doubt there are too many teenagers that would be excited by the theme.
I won’t say this is a bad game. I actually kind of liked it in spite of myself. But you can not treat it like a serious gaming experience. You have to be silly, be ready to dish out some meanness, and be ready to take some in return. At the very least, it’s an infinitely better experience than Candy Land. I would even say that the card play elevates it above a bunch of games out in the mass market. It’s not one I’m eager to add to my shelf, but I bet it would be a really good game for libraries with gaming programs, or for families with elementary aged kids. I’d play again, but I wouldn’t want to play often.
Thanks for reading!