(Voluntary Disclaimer: We usually don’t do Kickstarter previews. We’ve made an exception to signal-boost for a game by a Canadian designer, because we’re Canadian, eh? and want to highlight contributions from female designers–especially gingers.)
If you haven’t watched Steven Universe, you really should. I group it with Adventure Time in that kids can watch and enjoy it on its own merits, but it’s also really rich and funky enough for grownups to appreciate it.
You can enjoy it without even knowing that it was Cartoon Network’s first-ever cartoon created by a woman–Rebecca Sugar–who unsurprisingly (given what I said above) had worked on Adventure Time and who based the character of Steven on her own younger brother. Or that it was the first animated series to win a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Kids/Family Program.
The game’s designer, Erica Bouyouris, is an acquaintance and colleague. That being said, it was me who originally reached out to her back in February when I heard she was working on this project for Cryptozoic Games, who have become very adept (nay, aggressive) about adapting popular IP to the Tabletop world. So we made arrangements to do an interview and demo at Breakout here in Toronto in March. Which didn’t happen because Corona.
So then it was June and Erica messaged me asking if I’d like to watch the game being played over Tabletop Simulator for a livestream on a Steven Universe fansite in advance of the planned Kickstarter launch next month. I said, “Sure, if I can write about it for the DWP.” And here we are.
While we waited for everyone to show up in TTS I got some background from Erica on how she got involved. She’s a longtime fan of the show, and got involved in discussions with Cryptozoic at GenCon in 2018. Andrew Wolf, lead designer of the excellent Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (among other designs) also came on-board, and by the Gathering of Friends in 2019 they had a prototype ready to be subjected to the constructive scrutiny of the cream of the Tabletop Community.
The aim from the beginning was to create a “mass-friendly” game that would appeal to fans of the Steven Universe…er, universe. Erica started with the idea of a pass-drafting game along the lines of Sushi Go!, which was a great place to start because of that game’s track-record as a gateway. The next step was actually to work on the card layout designs, by which I assume the idea was to make sure there was plenty of room for fan-service on the cards. Which there definitely is.
As its name implies, the game is set at one of the series’ beloved annual beach parties. Each player takes the role of a Steven from a different timeline/universe, each with unique end-game scoring. Over three Acts each composed of three Rounds, players will pass-draft and play Characters to join their band and Audience members to watch their show. Any unwanted cards are kidnapped by the Party Crashers go into a Common Area, where they can be rescued later. At the end of every Round each player gets a chance to attack Party Crashers–Corrupted and Homeworld Gems–who have come to mess things up. At the end of nine Rounds, whoever has the most points is the most awesome Steven there is.
That’s the game in a nutshell, but don’t assume the game is just a reskinned version of something else because it’s definitely not. There is a lot going on under the hood.
The Character Cards are the core of the game. Without them, you can’t attack–but you also need the Energy to play them and activate them to power their attacks. Many Characters have multiple attack options, giving you a choice of how much Energy to spend in return for Attack power. Some give you bonuses for using their most expensive Attack. Specific pairs of Characters can also temporarily Fuse (just like in the show!) to launch even more powerful attacks.
As in Marvel Legendary, much thought has gone into each character’s special abilities. For example, normally each Character can only Attack one Party Crasher at a time, but Opal can hit multiple ones because of her multiple arms and bow. The Fusion pairings are all also based on show canon.
Many Audience Cards don’t cost Energy to play and bring a one-time bonus, but their main value is end-game points as each belongs to one or more sets (cookies; sunglasses; etc.) that you’re trying to collect. Having 5 matching Audience members gets you a whopping 12 points, for instance. Plus as mentioned above, each Steven also rewards you for collecting a certain type. Some Audience members (ie., Sour Cream) belong to two sets, making them super-valuable.
Attacking also presents players with many interesting choices. Each Party Crasher can take a certain number of hits, each requiring some amount of attack. Since you can split your total attack, that means you can land multiple hits, each with its own possible bonus: VP, Energy, cards from the Common Area. If you deal the final blow, the Gems bubble the trouble-maker up, giving you an extra bonus. Also, some PC’s reward or penalize attacks from particular Gems–again, all thematic based on canon.
Each Act comes with its own set of Character and Audience cards, so the action ratchets up as the game proceeds. You can level-up Characters into their next-Act versions much more cheaply than playing them from your hand, so the Characters you play in Act One do to some extent determine help you figure out your strategic path.
In short, the SUBCBG is more than just a re-skinned Sushi Go! In fact, I came away feeling that Erica may have come up with something much meatier than the mass-friendly game she was aiming for. The printed rules aren’t long by regular standards, only 7 half-pages, and they are clear and well-written, but in my experience that’s more than most n00bs are willing to read. I assume Cryptozoic will make a tutorial video for the Kickstarter release–and if not I highly recommend it.
In the game I got to play on Tabletop Simulator, two of the players were Steven Universe megafans who didn’t have much of any boardgame experience. They had read the rules, and despite all the moving parts in the game, they were able to keep up with the play pretty well–admittedly with help from the designers, who were also playing. One of them was enjoying it, the other said she would probably buy it because it’s a SU game, but she wasn’t sure she would play it.
My takeaway here is that ironically, Erica may have designed a game more for gamers to play with their SU-fan friends than SU fans themselves–but if that introduces more people to Steven Universe, that’s great too!
The STEVEN UNIVERSE BEACH-A-PALOOZA CARD BATTLING GAME Kickstarter is planning to launch July 14. The Kickstarter link is here. Thanks to Cryptozoic for allowing access to a digital copy of the game on Tabletop Simulator.