Lucky Number 7

Oftentimes when a game is overlooked or underrated people are quick to label it a “hidden gem”. I don’t care for this term for a few reasons, the first of which is that they don’t really exist. There’s only two ways to handle discussion of said games – to reveal them, thereby making them not hidden, or to keep them hidden after you discover them in an act of selfish hipsterism, leaving their gem status unknown by the masses so that you can pretend to have superior taste when you whip it out.

Look, I spend a lot of time writing about games because I want people to play good things. It’s that simple. We actively refuse financial compensation here at Pixel Die because money taints opinion on contact. If I help you find something that brightens your day, well by golly I’ve done my job. And that’s what I’m going to do by telling you about The Deadlies. If you take your cards & numbers with a healthy splash of conflict, welcome home.

On its surface The Deadlies is a card shedding game. There are seven suits representing the seven deadly sins numbered 1-7, plus a single wild card (Corruption) at 8. Very cute theming. Make a combination of cards (a straight, a matching set, etc.) and toss it from your hand, the more the better. If you manage to empty your hand it’s refilled again, but with fewer cards. Do that three times and you win! It’s simple, or it would be if every card didn’t also have text on it. Or more accurately, each of the sins has its own minigame with varying stakes that you’ll have to play if you want to get those cards gone.

It’s in the minigames that most of the game lies. The highest card in your combo triggers some kind of event that can often yield a benefit but just as easily hamstring you, and managing them is vital to actually getting anywhere. Greed offers a push your luck game that hurts your neighbors and possibly even lets you toss your whole hand if your luck holds out, but sticks you with more cards than you probably played if you bust. Gluttony has you taking cards into your hand but chases this with an extra turn, allowing you to construct better combos for big plays. Lust has you partnering up with a consenting opponent for a mutually beneficial discard, but also allows for you to fuck them over if you’re feeling frisky. It’s screwage all the way down and there isn’t a single one that I dislike. Sure they aren’t all equally exciting, but did you expect Sloth to be riveting? What matters is that they’re all thematically grounded, uniquely effective, and a golf bag’s worth of double edged swords.

So you’re playing your cards, cobbling together pairs or better, hitting each other over the head and occasionally hoisting yourself by your own petard. All of this is fine and good, then Purity shows its face. Yes, Purity, a thing that isn’t a sin and is only a 1-of in the deck that I intentionally didn’t mention in my earlier summary. Surprise! It’s also a 0, meaning you’ll be forced to play it alone if you actually want to play its minigame. What minigame would belong to a singleton that’s so otherwise awful? The best one. The most dangerous one. The one that uses the OTHER card I didn’t tell you about that lives face-up on the table: the Halo.

Read that card. Do you see? Do you see what this does? It paints a target on you, but it’s a target no one else can see. Suddenly Gluttony picking cards from other people’s hands gets way better, Envy’s hand swap is more than a nice-to-have, and every effect that simply adds cards is no longer scary. The game fundamentally changes when the halo is in play as everyone scrambles to at the very least stop the holder from using it and ideally take it for themselves. Its minigame becomes The Game, at least for a while, until eventually someone finally fires it off and then you’re all back to tossing cards and bonking each other on the head. When I tell people that cards and numbers games rule this is exactly the kind of thing I point to and say “see? SEE?” about. It’s creative, it’s memorable, and it’s fiendishly clever in every single play.

The other reason The Deadlies succeeds where other “cards and numbers and text” games fail is because your victory condition is always clear and in sight. It’s essentially a race, with each player’s tracker token visibly spinning to show how close they are to the finish line. When your turn comes around you can always sculpt your hand to be a bit better, shedding a specific card for its benefit to set up a combo, and make tangible progress. Granted other players can and will mess your plans up, but not every time. You never get sent back to square one, never get your progress completely undone unless it’s by your own mistake. Luck plays a role, certainly, but luck has a way of collecting its dues from everyone eventually.

This is a rare case where I like a game so much that I feel compelled to preemptively head negativity off at the pass. Yes it’s a “take-that-game” – Smirk and Dagger isn’t known for pulling their punches when it comes to conflict – but it’s more than just that. The Deadlies deserves better than to be relegated to hidden gem status. It’s as smart as it is mean, and its tongue is planted firmly in its dimpled cheek. 

A copy of this game was independently purchased for review.