We spend a lot of time in the dealer hall at Gen Con – like almost all of the time we are there. It’s the epicenter of new game presentations, demos, and interviews with publishers. The reason we’re there to be honest.
So, we run across a lot of games that we’ve neither heard of or seen before. These are games that flew under (our) radar on Kickstarter, haven’t released yet, or wouldn’t normally fit the types of games we cover. That’s the beauty of a convention – you can see everything. Such was the case with Gruff, and its expansion, Clash of the Battle Goats, a two player card game about, and this is true, mutated and cyborg goats facing off in a post-apocalyptic showdown.
Theme is everything in a game, and Gruff comes with a whole lot of it. The real question then becomes – how much do we like this theme, and does the gameplay support a strong expandable card game to match.
How Gruff Plays
Gruff is a two player non-collectible card game. Think Ashes or Netrunner – everything comes in the box and you can build your decks based on what’s available.
Players each choose a Shepherd, and three battle goats. Each battle goat has several available cards to choose from, of which you’ll choose eight. You then build a deck of 24 cards, each with a different cost to play.
This process takes minimal time – a lot faster than deck building in most games that require it – and you can dive in almost right away.
As for gameplay, the game is fairly straightforward. Players have three stats on each goat – Mean (attack), Fat (defense), and Weird. This last stat is what determines how much Crazy (action points), your Shepherd will gain each round. So like Magic or Hearthstone, or any other game with growing mana pools, you will have more points to play with each round, but unlike those games, the number jumps up in big bumps. Some cards cost 20+ to play – you’ll get there fast.
Rather than write a long description of how this game plays, I’ve recorded a short video – here’s a brief summary of what you’re in for with Gruff:
As you can see, this game is easy to pick up and play, and for the most part fairly self-explanatory, with minimal look up needed in the rulebook. Keyword use is managed, and the game’s limited card pool makes it easy to teach.
What We Like About Gruff: Clash of the Battle Goats
Gruff currently has two card sets out – the full four player set for Gruff and the recently released expansion, Clash of the Battle Goats (which can be bought as a standalone starter). The game is technically just two players, but the base game supports a four player “mini-tournament”, meaning you have enough for four full decks.
That’s all important as the card pool grows – including the upcoming release of Rage of the Trolls, which funded on Kickstarter this summer. It’s the kind of game that really benefits from a growing pool of options and new mechanics, much like the LCGs in Fantasy Flight’s lineup of licensed properties.
There’s good reason for that. It’s a smooth experience from start to finish. Unlike those LCGs, building a deck has very straightforward rules that reduce the time to just a few minutes. Because it is tiered, you’ll get to the heart of your deck very fast, and the core mechanisms don’t really change depending on what you choose. Do you want more Crazy early? Pick goats with high starting weird. Do you want access to more ultimates? Pick a Shepherd that can support it.
There are still a lot of choices, but they are streamlined in such a way that you can start playing quickly.
The gameplay itself is fairly intuitive as well. With the exception of the attack orders, which is different enough to cause some confusion early on, the game flows quickly from turn to turn, while giving you plenty of things to do every time out. With multiple options for how to use your Gruffs, a hand full of cards to manipulate, and a growing pool of Crazy to work with, there are always lots of interesting decisions to make.
The big thing I like here, though, is the speed of the game. It ramps up so quickly that you realistically will play a game in 15-30 minutes. Unlike many of the aforementioned LCGs, which tend to run between 1-2 hours, this is on par with a CCG like Magic or Destiny, where matches are fast and furious – perfect for tournament style play.
What We Don’t Like About Gruff: Clash of the Battle Goats
I’ll be honest; I wasn’t 100% sure how to rate this game. Mechanically, it flows smoothly, is easy to teach, and fixes a lot of the common deck building and gameplay immersion issues I have with LCGs. The rulebook is fairly extensive, but nowhere near as convoluted as something like L5R or AGoT LCGs, and there are far fewer keywords to memorize. In short, it’s easy to start playing and intuitive to teach and improve at. The perfect combination of simplicity with potential for complexity.
But I really don’t like the theme. It’s not on par with The Others or Kingdom Death – games that look great (and in the case of the former, play great in my experience) – but it’s at times a bit gross. The illustrations are professionally done, showcasing goats with bits of flesh and bile dripping, deformed limbs, and cybernetics jammed into body parts. Juxtaposed with the colorful, almost cartoony art style, it’s a jarring visual experience.
I’ve decided to rate the game ignoring the artwork. You can see what this game looks like and make a decision for yourself if it’s a good fit for your collection. It’s the mechanics that really matter, and everything is done to a professional level of quality. The one actual mechanical issue I’ll note with components are the clips on the cards. Mean, Fat, Crazy, Weird, and Heath are all measured with black plastic clips, meaning you’ll be setting up 11 of these at the start of each round. It’s a small complaint, but it’s decently frustrating.
The Bottom Line
Despite my old man squeamishness with the artwork, Gruff: Clash of the Battle Goats is a mechanically engaging, smoothly implemented take on the expandable card game system. Even with the thematic fever dream playing out in the card art, I was impressed with the level of depth and detail in the game systems, and will be keeping the game for play with other ex-CCG fans who are jonesing for something quick with some decent depth to it. If you are a former CCG player, a lover of LCGs that loathes the time it takes to play them, or just really like the idea of the three billy goats gruff being roided up in a near future apocalypse theme, check out Gruff – this is a great experience, the kind you won’t find in any other medium.
Verdict – Play
Gruff is a great light-mid weight card game for former Magic/Yu-Gi-Oh players and LCG fans in need of a filler. If you’re unsure, you can check out the Clash of the Battle Goats expansion (which plays as a standalone), before diving in on the full set of content.
SUMMARY & RESULTS
Gruff is a great light-mid weight card game for former Magic/Yu-Gi-Oh players and LCG fans in need of something a bit shorter. If you’re unsure, you can check out the Clash of the Battle Goats expansion (which plays as a standalone), before diving in on the full set of content.