Tabletop games that tie in with other media, like TV shows, movies, and books, have the advantage of already bringing highly meaningful content to the table before the exact theme of the game is ascertained. Unfortunately, their disadvantage often stems from the same source, in that the game developers sometimes bring their B game to a product that they know will be desired by collectors of the tie-in content, regardless of how good the game is. There is no doubt the feeling that many of these X-Files, Star Trek, and Star Wars products may remain in the shrinkwrap anyway, in order to stay cherry mint.
In the case of the Rick and Morty Total Rickall Card Game, if collectors’ fever results in any of the print run going into acid free storage boxes, one hopes that those games will be enjoyed some centuries from now by Vulcan Starfleet cadets that then go on to have their logic corrupted by the humorous TV show on which it was based. Because, while it doesn’t quite measure up to the co-op tabletop masterpieces of Matt Leacock, the Rick and Morty Total Rickall Card Game is a pretty satisfying co-op card game, and, better yet, the adaptation honors its source media by not only capturing the je ne sais quoi of Rick and Morty, but also the soul of a TV episode that is one of the fan favorite episodes of the show.
In “Total Rickall,” Rick locks the Smith family in their house in order to determine who is real, because an alien parasite that inserts fake memories of itself into your head, and then reproduces more parasites through flashbacks, would quickly take over the world if it was released from the premises. By the end of the episode, the Smith family has swelled to include all sorts of crazy parasites, which you can see from the episode screen cap that serves as the box art. This relatively simple science fiction premise is mined for comic moments and absurd revelations that are ultimately topped by a moment of “real” violence that closes the episode with a note of black comedy. I could go on at length about how the episode “Total Rickall” could compare favorably to comedies throughout history, whether Aristophanes, Voltaire’s Candide, or Arrested Development, but as this is a tabletop game review, we’re going to jump from here back to the Rick and Morty Total Rickall Card Game.
First, the contents. There are three decks of cards: the Identity Deck, which contains 22 Parasite cards and 8 Real cards; the Character Deck, which contains 24 different characters from the episode, from Pencilvester to Mr. Poopybutthole to Amish Cyborg; and, the Action Deck, which contains 60 cards that usually tell you to peek at identity cards or shoot characters. There is also a “First Player Marker,” which is passed around the board from round to round, and determines which player goes first in a given round.
The Rick and Morty Total Rickall Card Game has two sets of rules, and they run parallel to each other from the first page on, with the Standard Mode running parallel to the Advanced Mode rules. Advanced Mode is much more satisfying than Standard Mode, which on reflection seems like basically the training wheels for Advanced Mode.
To set up Standard Mode, you remove four Parasites and two “Reals” from the Identity deck, which leaves, at most, 24 different characters to enter the game at a 75% chance of being a Parasite. Then you deal out face down onto the table a number of Identity cards equal to twice the number of players, and top each of them with a face up Character card. In this way, there are from four to ten of the comical characters from “Total Rickall” on the table at the start of the game, and the players do not know which of them is a Parasite, and which of them is a “Real.”
Each player gets three Action cards, and the first player marker goes to the person who last killed a parasite. In our first time playing this game (game night recap coming soon), this went to my wife, who swatted some mosquitoes in a recent outing. All players pick which of their three cards they would like to play, and then place it face down in front of them. Once all players have made their selection, all of the played cards are flipped at once, and then resolved in order, starting with the player that currently has the First Player Token. As players may decide to play similar cards, this can mean that the actions of preceding players can negate yours, so a general rule of thumb is that if you are playing late in the round, pick a Shoot card so that you can hopefully benefit from others’ Peek cards.
If you do shoot, and kill a parasite, it is removed from the board, and you are closer to winning; if you shoot, and kill a “real,” it is also removed from the board, but four dead “reals” mean that the players lose the game. Additionally, if you shoot a “real,” it is immediately replaced on the board by a new character. At the end of the round, regardless of whether you have shot anybody, parasite or real, another character joins the board. This means that if everyone decides to Peek at identity cards, the game just got a little harder to win. While it can be nice to know that your shots are called shots, and not wild shots, players will soon learn that with the known 75% quantity of parasites, it can be a general rule of thumb that someone, every round, has to Shoot. We could call this the “shoot or get off the pot” strategy, or SOGO for short, and no doubt some of you feel that it is applicable in other tabletop games in which indecision reigns as well.
The players can end the Standard Game at any point that 50% or more of the players feel that there are no Parasites left on the table. Any player can call for a vote by stating that all the Parasites are gone, and if he or she gets the majority to agree with him or her, then the cards are revealed. If there are any parasites, the players lose, and if they are all “Reals” the players win. Additionally, if at any time a fourth Real character is killed, the players lose the game. With only one way to win and two ways to lose, you would expect the Standard game to be hard to win, but it is actually fairly easy, which leads me to believe it is intended as training wheels in order for players to grasp the prerequisite game mechanics before attempting the Advanced game.
The Advanced game extends the indeterminacy of whether targets are Real or Parasite from the table’s center to its perimeter, in that the game’s players may now be either Real or Parasite. Remember the six Identity cards that are removed from the game in Standard Mode? The players draw from this small deck, so that with 4 Real and 2 Parasite cards, each player has a 33% chance of being a Parasite. Parasite Players win the game by trying to bring about a losing scenario, whether through ensuring that four Real characters are killed (and the fourth is killed by a Real), or through duping the other players into believing that a table with Parasites on it is free of threat. While the odds are pretty good that only one player is a Parasite, which modifies the game into a co-op game with a single threat like Spyfall or Betrayal at House on the Hill, it is possible that both Parasite cards are drawn, which means there are two different co-op games going on.
The Advanced Game allows occasional peeking at Player identities, and can end with a final Dinner Table round in which the players have the option to shoot each other to reveal the final parasite in their midst. This simulates the Dinner Table scene at the end of “Total Rickall,” in which the viewer expects to see Mr. Poopybutthole revealed as an actual parasite, only to see that the character that shoots him is revealed to be the greatest of the metaphorical parasites in the Smith family instead.
The Rick and Morty Total Rickall Card Game is an enjoyable game, but I do have some recommendations. My first recommendation goes out to all you Parasites in Advanced Mode who are at a loss for how to act: the best way to have fun with this is to avoid your Peek cards, unless they also require you to reshuffle Identity cards. Otherwise, your Real comrades will expect you to have good intelligence on whether those characters are Real or Parasites, and if you answer truthfully, your Parasite friend will be killed and the Real players’ win will get nearer, while if you answer deceitfully, this deception will be quickly uncovered, and your identity as a Parasite will be common knowledge. Play your shoot cards instead, and use other players’ peeks as intel to raise your chance of killing a Real from 25% without disclosing your own identity as a Parasite. For instance, while you don’t want to shoot a Real character if someone else says that they definitely are Real, if another player peeks at two characters and says “one is Real, and the other is Parasite,” the odds just rose to 50% that you have a chance to kill a Real and bring the end of the game a little closer. (Just don’t be the one to shoot the 4th Real character, because that ends the game with a loss for the shooting side.) Also, if you have a chance to shoot Reverse Giraffe, take it, as you will be able to look at another player’s Identity card, and you can mess with the rest of the players from that point on. Moreover, if a Parasite Player does choose to play an occasional Peek card, they should invariably say that the Identity card is a Real. Here’s why. If it is a real, and you have a Parasite ally in the game, you’re revealing it to them so if they are less thoughtful in their machinations than you, they will help your agenda along; if it is a parasite, you are possibly protecting it from destruction, which will make you a winner if the players decide to make game-ending declaration that all the parasites have been destroyed. However, it can lead to another player learning your Parasite identity if they play a peek card after you, which is the reason for my advisement that your Peek cards played should be rare and strategically played. And lastly, why not try to mislead the players with a declaration yourself? Let’s say there are five cards left, and the players know that four of them are Real. If you play a Peek card, and look at the fifth card, instead of saying that the Parasite is Real as well, why not hold a vote by saying that all the Parasites are eliminated? If they agree, this means that Rick raises the blast shielding, and the Parasites take over the world. Yay team!
My other recommendation is that players should follow the suggestion in the rules that the blurbs at the bottom of the character cards should be read aloud, if only for the first few times the game is played. Not only are there important rule modifiers there that can be forgotten, but the dialogue bits help to evoke the episode that this game evinces. It makes the theme of the game a little stronger.
Overall, the Rick and Morty Total Rickall Card Game is a fun quick game that will take your gaming group about fifteen or twenty minutes to play at most, and will be a good one to shoe in between the more epic strategy games that your group plays. It isn’t likely to either have any costly expansions or take over your gaming group, but as this is one of two games from Cryptozoic based on Rick and Morty episodes, we can expect that we’ll see more games join the Rick and Morty themed tabletop game family in the future until the possibility of a Rick and Morty themed game night becomes a real possibility.