Raise your hand if you pumped quarters in to a side-scrolling arcade game back in the day. Raise your hand if you button mashed with Mario and Luigi. Raise your hand if you love taking historical figures and ripping them out of context just so they can beat up bad guys. You look ridiculous with your hands up… this is not elementary school. Put your hands down and let’s look at Pixel Lincoln.
Pixel Lincoln is a deck building game that plays homage to the great side scrolling genre that we all know and love from arcades and consoles of old. Game Salute teamed up with Island Studios to put together this quirky pixelated adventure where each player takes on the role of honest Abe as he fights his way to glory.
The ultimate goal of Pixel Lincoln is to gain the most victory points by either collecting powerful items or by beating up on the bad guys. Just about every card in the game has a victory point value associated with it. As the game progresses, more and more cards are added to players decks or score piles. When the two bosses are defeated, the player with the most points wins.
The game is played out on a main board that houses two different levels. Each level is made up of a bunch of cards: some items, some monsters, some cool characters that will help you along the way and of course mini-Bosses and the big bad Boss. During set up players construct each level from a big selection of cards. So one game might have a level that is full of Luchadores or Exploding Bunnies or my personal favorite: Flying Puking Turtles. The items range from Beserker Bergers to Fire Breath to Sausage Link Whips and many more. The difficulty of each level can be tailored by using different card combinations
Once the decks are constructed, the starting section of the level is revealed. 5 cards are drawn from the top of the deck to make up the first part of the level. As the players move through the level, from left to right, the level ‘scrolls.’ This rather inventive mechanic involves shifting all of the players to the left, and revealing more cards from the level deck to keep the adventure going.
Players start with a deck of cards made up of jumps and beardarangs. That is right, your Lincoln will kick butt with his very own beard. Every item card has an associated power (used to fight baddies) and value (used to buy more items). Fighting is simply playing enough cards with power to equal or exceed the power of the enemy. When an enemy is defeated, the card is added to the players score pile. When a player approaches an item they may use any number of cards with a value amount to buy the item and put it in their discard pile. Once a player has fought as many monsters and/or bought as many items as they can, their turn is over, and they draw up to 5 cards.
Most cards also have an associated suit. This suit helps players score points through characters, who are looking for sets of suits, or by playing the card for the suit ability, not the normal one. These suits allow for changing of levels, cancelling other card abilities among other things.
In standard deck building fashion, the player will be constantly altering their deck of cards. Players will add more valuable cards and try to remove the basic, low value cards. When a players deck is depleted, they shuffle their discard pile (containing all of their new items acquired) and form a new draw pile.
Evenly dispersed in the level deck are 3 checkpoints. The check points act as a way to control the length of the level. When the second checkpoint comes up a mini boss appears, and when the final check point appears the final boss shows up. The bosses are just powerful versions of all of the other monsters, but they are worth a lot more as well. When both of the bosses are defeated, the game is over, and victory points are counted.
Things and Bits:
The production value of Pixel Lincoln is wonderful. Game Salute did a superb job with the quality of the game. The custom Lincoln meeples are great, all of the boards are double sided, everything is bright and vibrant. The insert does its job very well. Every card type comes with a divider for storage. There is plenty of room for more cards (i.e. expansions), but everything in the box fits perfectly.
The artwork is well done. If you like pixel art, you are going to love it, as there are pixels everywhere in this game. The iconography is fine. Each card has an icon that corresponds to what it can do, but generally these are not paid attention to as every card does a different thing… so keeping track of every unique icon is more troublesome that just reading the card.
The rule book is lacking. After our first play we had to go online to look up some clarification on a few things. Teaching the game is relatively easy, and the game is fairly light. Setting up takes a while as you have to build each of the level decks. Playing the game is quick, with most games taking about 40 minutes. Due to the limited player interaction, more players just means that each player will have less turns over all, but other that that nothing really changes with more or less players.
One of Pixel Lincoln’s strengths comes from the variability of cards used in the game. Every time you set up a game, you get to chose both the difficulty of the enemies and the value of the treasure. This means that you could play 3 games in a row and be up against 6 (two levels per game) very different levels. The problem is the levels all feel the same, even with different cards. This is one of the biggest downfalls of the game. Most items are either 0,1, or 2 power and 0,1, or 2 value. Add to that most monsters are 1 to 4 power. The effects and abilities beyond this are trivial. Some monsters and items do different things, but for the most part you are going to use the base power or value anyway.
If, in general, you only use the base power or value, the choices you make during your turn are diluted. This is exasperated by the fact that you only have one thing in front of you at any given time. You can jump over it, but then you still only have one option, and now you have one less card to spend value with. Over all your turn tends to play itself with you just watching. You deal with the enemy in front of you, you buy or defeat as many thing as you have cards to do, and then you are done. You keep doing this every turn until a boss shows up. There is no real strategy in the game, you cannot really try to manage your deck at all, and you will generally defeat every monster you come across, or you defeat none of them and everyone dies.
The scrolling mechanism is an interesting one that is very thematic. It does give the feeling of playing an old arcade side-scroller, the style that the game is paying homage to. But mechanically it does not do much. It does give some uncertainty when you are approaching the right hand side of a level, but at the end of the day the uncertainty does not really mean anything to game play (see above about choices).
Along with a lot of other deck builder games, there is almost no player interaction in the game. Player interaction is carried out through slime enemies (negative victory points) and defeating, collecting, or leaving things for opponents to deal with. This means that if someone has all of the good items (by luck) they are going to be able to kill more monsters, and get more points and there is not really anything other players can do to slow them down, or to catch up.
One great thing, that I cannot say enough good things about: card management and insert. Every game that contains cards should have some way of storing said cards. If a game has multiple decks, then they should be stored separately. If a game has many different cards, they should be stored in a logical and useful manner. Pixel Lincoln nailed this. The card divider system is perfect and works wonderfully. There is plenty of space for expansions. You can store the cards the exact way you want to. More games should pay attention to this.
Pixel Lincoln is a game that is trying really hard to be a deck builder, but forces a theme over it that just makes the deck building aspect of the game evaporate. I am sure that some people are going to love the style, and the theme: more power to them. But for those of you who are looking for an interesting new deck builder, jump on over to the next game, Pixel Lincoln is not for you.