When I heard Tiefe Taschen was getting a North American release, I literally fist pumped. It was a Tyson-esque thrust into the air that would have knocked a sucker clean out. This is a big deal. Fabian Zimmermann created a spectacular design that deserves wider recognition. It was finally coming.
Then I heard it would be called Goodcritters.
What? Oh, like Goodfellas but with animals. Huh.
There’s no lack of clarity here – that setting twists the nostrils like week-old road kill. Anthropomorphic animals are my version of the zombie, well, unless you’re Cole Wehrle or Brian Jacques in which case keep doing what you’re doing.
The only redeeming quality is that the Boss – Goodcritters‘ version of the President – can attempt a vocal impression of Marlon Brando by way of a weasel. Unfortunately, most people can’t pull that off.
One of the most fantastic aspects of Tiefe Taschen is in how it embraces theme. It goes beyond merely its subject matter and touches on a deeper satirical subtext concerning greed and white collar villainy. The mechanics slowly corrupt the participants and force you down a well of moral bankruptcy that is goddamn poetic.
A cat with a Tommy Gun is the same brand of poetry Vin Diesel crafts on the big screen.
But who cares. It’s just a splatter of ink across cardboard – tell yourself this to reduce the pain. The real swagger is in how it forces above table play swelling with conflict and betrayal. That’s still here, regardless of the appeal to the lowest rungs of the food chain.
That’s not to say there haven’t been changes nor does it mean I don’t have an opinion on said changes. Boy do I have opinions. Buckle up rough riders.
Let’s tackle the worst news first. The largest shift from Tiefe Taschen OG to Tiefe Taschen Furr-y is the softening of repercussions for Presidential failure. When the Boss now cuts the money up and finds their split rejected, they no longer sit out and have to watch everyone else living la vida loca.
That’s great, right? In Tiefe you basically had moments of player elimination mid-game, although that participant would eventually re-enter play 5-10 minutes later. That downtime would be brutal if not for the hilarity of broken promises and unrepetent swindling occuring round to round. If you’re going to be sitting on the sidelines watching TV, you’d hope the show would have some fireworks and drama. Fabian knows how to write and your attention likely isn’t wandering far from the screen.
Still, playing is better than watching. This is a more friendly, widely appealing change that jives with “modern design”. That’s fine, it sounds good and it will likely leave less complainers.
But man, I don’t like it.
As the President is ousted the group shrinks. The collective splitting the cash dwindles – possibly multiple times – and the game presents a shifting dynamic that is wild. That strategic part of your brain wrestles with the emotional corners as the magnitude of betrayal opportunities rise.
Take for instance a common enough game situation: three players remain to split the pot. The President here has a couple of options. They can try to carve up the money evenly, but this is a fool’s errand. Enterprising thugs on the receiving end will realize they can just agree to both vote “no” and then split the take themselves.
The challenge here is that the first player clockwise to vote no would become President. In a two player dynamic the President can give the entirety of the take to themselves. All they have to do is vote “yes” and there’s nothing that other catdog can do about it.
But here your friend convinces you they won’t do that. They’ll split it evenly and you’ll both be happy. Screw President Jen who’s just the third wheel.
Jen sees this coming. Instead of dividing the cash evenly between the trio, she chooses George to receive the largest chunk of skrilla and gives herself just a tad bit less. You see, George is the last in rotation and is the one who could possibly be screwed by Luke in a two player deal.
This depth and balls to the wall confrontation doesn’t occur in Goodcritters. We trade out fascinating political gladiatorial combat for less downtime. These are some of the most wonderful moments and I don’t care about your frowned upon downtime. Suck it up and watch the slaughter unfold ya coward.
That notion of mass appeal keeps rearing its head. It functions as the common theme when running through the changelog and it brings us to our next bullet point. Goodcritters has a lot of cards.
The loot deck is much bigger now. This is because two additional cards are dealt out each round into the haul, as well as more flipping off the deck when a leader’s deal is rejected. There’s loot everywhere. They’re falling out of sleeves, sitting in your lap, they’re jammed into your sneakers.
This flood of cards can feel good. By making it rain, Goodcritters spreads more wealth and more players get a piece of the take. The problem is that it manufactures a state of illusion.
The goal is to end with the most money. If you receive nothing and the leader pulls in $3,000 it’s fundamentally identical to you grabbing $4k and that bozo squirrelling $7k. Either way you’re down by three and needing to crawl your way back in.
Beyond emotional stimulus, the additional mounds of cash obfuscate the math. They make everything a little harder to track and a little more cloudy. This is actually a significant boon and one of the smartest alterations.
The cost here (there’s always a cost) is the general softening of conflict. Tiefe had players splitting less dollars between participants. This means some people naturally get excluded. That’s just mean.
The game rides on those emotional waves. It wants you to feel the pain and stab a rabbit over spilt milk. I’m over here sighing just a tad.
There are other changes. The Boss now rotates on a tied vote of confidence but the money is still split. This is fine and keeps that coveted role moving about.
Bribing has also shifted and become more open ended to some degree, although only strictly enforceable in a more narrow band. Again, this is acceptable and not something I’m overly concerned with. Perhaps in my 20th or 30th play of the new version I’ll suss out some of those implications, but as of now they feel lateral as an end user.
Overall, I’m sure you have the picture that I’m a bit of a curmudgeon. I’m still clinging to my cool as hell rare import version with a name people can’t pronounce.
Yet I’m not angry or upset.
All of these changes in direction and shifts in tone result in a game that is more friendly. Even if I want to kick friendly in the teeth, the core is pretty much the same. We’re still bickering and tossing insults while burying knives in each other’s backs.
As a critic, I have to form a wider view than that of simply my own. In this regard, it would be remiss to come down harshly on Goodcritters as it’s serving a greater goal. This deserves a larger audience and the folks at Arcane Wonders are working to make that happen.
But what if you picked up this release and simply want to use those antiquated rules? Yes, it can be done Padawan. The biggest hurdle concerns the loot deck. Trimming it down to a smaller size is easily accomplished. More difficult is in properly placing the end game trigger card.
Tiefe uses a special ruler that you hold up next to the deck and determine the rough position to slide the card into its proper place. Goodcritters went to a new format of dealing out piles of cards and then shuffling it into one of the latter groupings.
One of the blissful elements of this design is that you can absolutely eyeball this. You can place “The Fuzz” wherever you’d like, although this of course requires acumen and experience. For newcomers, you’ll have to just rough it and place it higher in the mix with some guesswork. Failing to do so will result in a much longer experience than you’re prepared for and could possibly lead to an awful first impression.
Regardless of that journey and the obstacles encountered, we should all be overjoyed that this game will finally be back in print. If you’ve never experienced it before, do not let my criticisms deter you. Goodcritters may not have the bite of its predecessor, but it’s still an absolutely wonderful design that yearns for the tabletop.
A review copy of Goodcritters was provided by the publisher.
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