Grifters: Nexus is a new small-ish box card game from Indie Boards and Cards. The goal of the game is to get rich by doing crimes. You assemble a crew from three types of specialists: brains (blue), brawn (red), and speed (green). You’ll play them for their abilities, and eventually play teams of them to complete jobs that award money based on set collection. Money is functionally VPs and serves no other purpose. So far I’ve made this sound pretty dull, I know. Where the game gets interesting is in its central mechanism – cooldowns.
Said cooldowns are facilitated via the game’s playerboards. Every turn starts with pushing your previous plays down a line, which eventually drops them off the board to be picked up at the end of the turn. This means you always know where all your cards are and how long it will be before you can use them again, as opposed to the uncertainty of a typical deck/handbuilder. It’s not a wholly new mechanism – it existed in BattleCon first, and possibly other games before that I don’t recall – but it’s a well executed twist on hand-building. The potential of a game centered on timing your plays with perfect knowledge of your cards is truly great. It’s simple but unlike much else out there. In some regards it reminded me of playing Dominion for the first time. Unfortunately, the difference between Grifters and Dominion is that Grifters is no Dominion.
Grifters: Nexus is the second bite at the Grifters apple. The original, simply titled Grifters, was a game that my group very much enjoyed until 3 major problems emerged:
– There were not enough card effects. Many of the cards performed the same task (acquiring a small amount of money) in insignificantly different ways.
– The jobs were unbalanced. The blue jobs were particularly weak compared to the green and red as the latter two simply produced more money, and money wins the game in Grifters.
– The Femme Fatale was absurdly powerful. For reference, this card allowed you to essentially take another turn and push your characters down the cooldown track for no cost. We tracked our many games of the original set and found that whoever pulled a FF the earliest was disproportionately likely to run away with the game. Pulling multiples was a lock.
So I was very happy when IB&C offered a review copy of Nexus because I was hoping that it would improve on these areas. And in some regards they did, but in most they just replaced them with new, more boring problems.
Credit where credit is due, the card effect variety is somewhat improved. This positive is hampered by the fact that several of the new cards are just simply not very good. The Fink and the Priest in particular stand out as highly situational. You can mix and match cards from the previous game into the deck for this one, but as I no longer own Grifters on account of my group being done with it I have not done so.
The jobs no longer yield any sort of reward upon completion. Instead they just trigger the top card of the set you play to complete it. This means that difficult jobs are no more rewarding than easy ones. This is the most painful change from the original set. It makes absolutely no sense and makes doing all these crimes feel like actual work. They’re also stacked in a pyramid now, which does very little besides make setup take longer. Wild color jobs are a new addition and they’re just objectively better than any job with a solid color. Absolutely none of the job changes are good. Immensely disappointing.
There’s no Femme-tier card in this set, which is good. Instead the entirety of the green cards are just better than most of the others. Red is moderately powerful but has some very awkward pieces. Blue on the whole feels like they’re only there to facilitate getting cards that aren’t blue. The wild suit specialists have also been removed. I’m sure this was done for a reason but I don’t claim to understand it.
There are more changes. Most notably the launder effect, which places money on your cooling-down characters and is largely irrelevant to anyone else around the table as you do not get to keep laundered money when the character returns to your hand. Instead it goes back in the box.The only launder-capable card of note is the Broker, who allows you to take a free job if she returns to you with money on her. She also wins the prize for best blue card. The competition is not fierce.
I feel like I made my wish for a new, different Grifters on a monkey’s paw. I wanted a less broken version with a wider variety of card effects. I got all of those at the cost of all of the things that made the original game entertaining in the first place. It’s like they replaced my Juicy Fruit with wallpaper paste. At least the former is enjoyable for a short while before it runs out. Nexus is just a slog from beginning to end that wastes its potential. This may be fixable by combining the boxes and assembling the perfect custom deck but I’m not willing to throw good money after bad just to see if things improve. I still believe that there’s a great game to be made with the cooldown mechanism, but this isn’t it.
Disclosure: this game was provided for review by the publisher.