Mutants The Card Game: Survival of the Fightest
Breed and fight your way to victory in Mutants: The Card Game, from Sen-Foong Lim and Jessey Wright, published by Lucky Duck Games.
Play Mutants with two to four players. Distribute to each player a set of same Basic Mutant cards and a set of different Advanced Mutant cards.
Start by distributing twelve basic mutant cards to each player (starting deck and hand contain one of each: robot, warrior, beast, zombie, alien, and demon). Each player also takes two copies of six different Advanced Mutants, constituting their “gene pool”.
The game provides generic “recipe cards” of Advanced Mutant groupings but also gives variants for customizable “gene pools” for experienced players. The main board tracks players score and the Power Track, monitoring your combat/power level in the arena. It takes a while to get the hang of the game’s glossary of terms (freeze, knock down, breed, incubate, etc.) but the symbols are clear and helpful.
Deploy, Leave, and Breed
The crux of the game is mutants going TO (Deploy) and FROM (Leave) the Player Board. Each mutant has an ability timed to these deploy/leave moments.
Mutants always enter at the center Active slot (triggering the mutant’s Deploy ability) and can Leave from either the Left or Right slots (triggering the mutant’s Leave ability). If slots are full, you decide which mutant’s Leave ability is triggered on its way to the discard pile.
Mutants can arrive at the Active slot by two methods – playing them directly from your hand, or breeding. Breed the top card of one of the three “gene pool” piles by discarding two cards with gene symbols matching the Advanced Mutant.
There’s a slower one-card maneuver called “incubate”. This allows you to move an Advanced Mutant to the top of your deck once per round after scoring.
All Deploy and Leave abilities typically end up moving player’s markers up and down on the Power Track.
At the end of each round, whoever is highest on the Power Track scores points. The player in last place always gets zero points (players in the middle get roughly half the leader’s points). The points gradually increase over five rounds.
There is also an end game scoring achieved by ‘freezing’ mutants (moving cards to a ‘freeze’ storage location, most commonly by ‘freezing’ one mutant of your choice every time you reshuffle your discard pile).
The key to winning is most effectively managing your mutants. How often should I use Basic Mutants cards to pay for ‘incubating’ or ‘breeding’ Advanced Mutants? If I ‘breed’ then I burn through my cards faster giving my opponent(s) more turns/actions than me as they only Deploy one card per turn. Or do I just play (deploy & leave) the Basic Mutants efficiently themselves?
A big factor is the batch of Advanced Mutants you start with and which come up. A lot hinges on working mutant ability combinations and capitalizing on the stronger Leave abilities of some mutants (i.e. alien copying the zombie deploy ability when leaving). Freezing the higher valued Advanced Mutants is key too. A perfectly timed ‘knock down’ of an opponents’ mutant, cancelling its dreamy Leave ability just before it leaves, is the highlight of the game for me.
I saw numerous problems with Mutants. One of the things I disliked the most was imbalance in the Advanced Mutant cards (some powerful, some worse than Basic Mutants). This is fine if everyone has the same Advanced Mutants in their “gene pool” but that’s not the game’s design.
I silently bemoaned how my Basic Mutants seemed more useful than several Advanced Mutants available on the top of my three “gene pool” stacks. Another big issue was lack of variety in the mutant abilities. Almost everything reduces to moving markers back and forth on the Power track, feeling trivial and uninteresting. I move mine up. You move it back down.
This lack of variety in powers, actions, and results didn’t fit the theme. Aren’t fantastical mutations meant to be an array of unique cool powers (like the X-men)? The scoring, coming mostly from Power track position, was pretty disturbing as well. In a two player game you could be tied on the Power Track level and, due to a whimsical tie breaker, end up getting zero points and the other player on the same spot gets up to eight points (in Round 5). With final scores in the range of 25-35 points this is too much!
Little mechanisms are bizarrely dissatisfying too. For example, when your own mutants perform a ‘knock down’ action on themselves, thus invalidating their own Leave ability. Strangely, the capability to flip ‘knocked down’ cards face up again is rare or non-existent. The action of ‘freezing’ cards for end game scoring mostly came down to merely picking mutants with the worst abilities to freeze.
Some of the mutant combinations were very hard to utilize because there was no way to coincide the timing and availability of them. A final frustration I’ll mention – the box size was five times what’s needed to fit the cards and tokens…if the boards were designed to unfold it could have been a more efficient package size.
If the goal of all abilities was a little more interesting or had a little more variety, then I think I’d like to keep drafting Advanced Mutants and toying with the breed & incubate vs. straight deploy strategies.
But with the lack of variety in mutant abilities, the imbalance in card powers, and the repetitive up and down of Power track marker movement being such a high portion of the game content (and with such disparate scoring for essentially equal effort), sadly, I don’t see many revisits to the mutant arena in my future.
We had the opportunity to speak with Lucky Duck Games about some of the struggles we had with Mutants. The default game mode using pre-constructed decks that our review is based upon is intended only as an introduction to the Mutants game system. The deep strategy lies in the draft. This enables players to customize their own strategies and build their decks to their liking with the cards in hand. It also substantially adds to the replayability of Mutants. We look forward to our opportunities to play Mutants more, with the full intent of game play at our fingertips!
The Family Gamers received a review copy of Mutants from Lucky Duck Games.
Number of Players: 2-4
Age Range: 10+
Playtime: 45-60 minutes