We were given the chance to review Pac-Man the Card Game by Steamforged Games. In this simple push your luck game, you will try to collect as many fruits and dots as possible. The game is complete with retro artwork that is colorful and vibrant and makes you feel as though you are sitting in front of the arcade. It is a small compact game that is family friendly and plays very quickly. It has 3 levels of play and can be setup for 2-8 players. You will find yourself playing the game a few times whenever it hits the table.
Setup is extremely easy. You must first decide if you are playing level 1 or level 2. Both levels follow the same rule but level 2 has upped the difficulty in terms of gameplay. Level 1 and level 2 are designed for 2-4 players. Level one is intended to be an easier experience and introduce you to the game. Once you become comfortable with the rules, or once you want to increase difficulty, you may play with level 2. The bonus level is for 4-8 players and will have you combine both levels for an increased player count. Now that we’ve discussed all the levels, let’s examine the difficulty levels by learning how to play.
After deciding which level you want to play, you shuffle the appropriate deck/s. The decks are easy to separate as they have an icon on the top right corner that symbolizes which deck they belong to. There is a pixelated dark 1 and a pixelated blue 2 that makes them easy to separate before play. The first player is the person who can make the best PAC-MAN impression (we weren’t sure if it was the classic “waca-waca” or the death “byooo-eh-eh”). Once that’s been decided the first player will take their turn by drawing up to 3 cards. There are three types of cards you can draw: dots/fruits which earn you points, ghosts which are strikes, and power up cards which have varying results. You draw your cards one by one and may stop after any amount up to 3. So you may draw 1, 2 or 3 cards. Your goal is to draw as many fruits/dots as you want as they earn your points. After drawing a card you may continue to draw cards up to the maximum of 3 per turn, end your turn or shut down. If you decide you end your turn, you will continue next turn but if you decide to shut down you will no longer draw cards until the game is over. The artwork is the simple pixelated fruits and labyrinthine walls of the classic arcade game. There are no drawbacks to obtaining dots/fruits cards. Dots are the most abundant cards and are low scoring. There are less fruits than dots but they are higher scoring.
The next type of card are the ghost cards. Ghost cards are worth no points but will knock you out after 3 cards. In this way the game become a push your luck game. The risk of losing becomes higher as you play. Blinky (the red ghost) is worth 2 ghosts and is not a card you want in your hand. If you draw a ghost card in your turn, you simply keep it a secret and continue drawing if you choose. As soon as you draw your 3rd ghost you bust and no longer play. Should all players except one bust, the last player standing wins the game! Level 1 and 2 have varying levels of ghosts, dots and fruits. With level 2 having more ghosts and less dots in play. The bonus level simply combines both level 1 and level 2.
Our last type of card are power ups. Power ups can turn the game quickly. There are 6 power up types and each has a unique symbol. These cards change the rules slightly and may or may not benefit you when drawn. You may end up having to: give another player a ghost from your hand, choose two players (including yourself if you want) to swap cards, choose a player and deciding how many cards they will draw (1, 2, or 3) on their next turn, choose a player to skip their next turn, pass a card of your choice to the player on your left and finally increase the amount of cards players must draw by 1. The power up cards can very quickly become chaotic and change your play style. You may have a lot of points but suddenly find yourself trading hands with someone who has 2 ghosts and almost no points. The cards are both frustrating and exciting to get.
Play continues in this manner until all players except one have been knocked out or all players have decided to shut down. The last player standing wins or if all players decided to shut down, the highest score wins with players sharing the victory in case of a tie. The you shuffle the cards again and start another round. The game is very easy to play and easy to setup but never feels truly challenging. There is very little reason to not simply draw all three cards. We found ourselves grabbing 3 cards almost the entire time with very little reason not to get more. The chances of busting are fairly low, especially in a two player game. As the game continues it feels unfair when you lose your cards to another player. However, the game’s artwork is top notch and immerses you in the retro style of PAC-MAN. If you want a family friendly game, this would be best maybe for young kids.
Language Barrier Playability: The game can easily be played with a language barrier. The game has easily recognizable symbols and art that makes it easy to identify cards and what they do. Most of the time you will find yourself referencing the bonus cards anyway so you can easily translate if the need arises. The rulebook also comes in 7 languages!
Replayability: High replayability. This is both a pro and a con for this game. You will find yourself wanting to play again but mostly due to the fact that it feels as though you did something wrong. It can be a fun game but it can feel as though your simply going through the motions without any real consequences of pushing your luck.
Artwork: Excellent. The bright and vibrant artwork is in line with the bright arcades in which PAC-MAN was born. It sucks you right into the square screen.
Strategy: Very light. This is a game where strategy can help you win but that strategy depends on luck. That luck element feels off for power ups and makes strategizing rather difficult. Short term strategy is all you can really do.
Quality: Excellent. It is a very small card game but the cards are lightly textures, eggshell shine and easy to grip. Steamforged never fails in quality.
Instruction Manual: Excellent. Very short, concise and comes in 7 languages without taking up a lot of space!
Organization: Great. It is a small and compact game. The only draw back is that the decks must be split in half in order to fit into the box. Usually this is not a big deal but as you have to fit the cards through a slot it can be a bit difficult to gauge how many will fit as there is very little wiggle room. If the box came with a lid and a separation insert that would be ideal. But it still serves its function well.