Full disclosure: A review copy of Crows Overkill was provided by Big Cat Games.
I mean, it had to happen eventually. Actually, this isn’t the first time I’ve ended up with two copies of the same game, either due to mishaps around review copies or honestly, I own three copies of ICECOOL. For reasons. Don’t worry about it. Anyways, I was surprised when the Big Cat Games set of games I was reviewing came with Crows Overkill, as I had already picked that one up as part of Deep Water Games’s Kickstarter for … Herbalism, maybe? Who knows. Anyways, it has different art (and a different name — “Sanzen Sekai: I’d kill all the crows in the world to be with you a little longer”, which I suppose is harder to print), so, I did both for the Featured Photo. Not really sure how it turned out, but we’ll see. I’m kind of excited to see if the plan I have in mind works, but I haven’t shot it yet.
Anyways, thematically, uh, Crows Overkill, uh, takes place at a red-light district as you’re spending the night in one of their hotels. We’re not gonna read a ton into that, here. When you hear the sound of a crow, you know it’s morning, and you’ll have to leave. Naturally, you decide to whack every crow you see with a stick, blowgun, or otherwise so that they won’t be crowing when the sun rises. Aggressive as hell, but hey, I’m not here to tell you how to live your best life. Will you be able to stay the longest? Or will you have to check out earlier than anticipated?
Alright, stack the time cards so that the earliest one is on top:
Next, shuffle the Shamisen Cards and deal each player 2:
Make a pile of the rest. Set aside the Gong Cards, for now:
Shuffle the Bird Cards and deal each player 3, face-up, into a space in front of them:
Once you’ve done that, split them into two equalish piles, shuffle a Bell into each, and then stack the piles. You’re ready to start!
A game of Crows Overkill is played over a series of rounds. On each turn, you perform the following actions in order:
To start a turn, draw two Shamisen Cards and add them to your hand. There’s no hand limit, so go hog wild with these.
Then, reveal another three Bird Cards from the top of the deck and add them to your play area. If you reveal a Bell, take the top Time Card and remove it from the game (unless there’s only one Time Card). Do not draw an additional bird to replace the Bell, though. Then, discard the Bell to the Discard Pile. Naturally, if you run out of Bird Cards, shuffle the Discard Pile to form a new deck.
Now, play Shamisen Cards to remove birds from your play area. Some cards have multiple birds on them, so make sure you clear them out if you can. If you don’t want to perform the action on the Shamisen Card, you may discard it to instead remove 1 bird. When you’re done playing cards, your turn ends.
End of Turn
At the end of the turn, check to see if you’re eliminated. You’re out of the game if you have more birds than the limit specified on the time card for this round:
- 2AM: 8 Crows
- 4AM: 5 Crows
- 6AM: 3 Crows / 2 Cocks
- 8AM: 3 Crows / 1 Cock / 1 Warbler
If the bird isn’t listed, don’t worry (for all you fans of Bats), but do remember an Owl will always force you to lose the game if it’s still around when your turn ends. Just worth noting.
End of Game
The game ends when all players but one are eliminated. Since elimination happens at the end of a player’s turn, there won’t be any ties. That player wins!
Player Count Differences
Honestly, not many, given that you go through essentially a 4-player game -> 3-player game -> 2-player game throughout. I prefer it at lower player counts to start off since there’s less dogpiling, naturally, and it’s a lot easier to decide who you’re going after without making someone irritated. To be fair, though, for take-that-heavy games, my pick is always two players. If you want something a bit more chaotic with even more birds to thrash, you should try it at a higher player count. Just be prepared for the first player out to be you.
- Don’t clear all your birds at once. It’s better to keep cards in your hand, in my opinion, especially if one other player is trying to decide who to swap rooms with. If you have an empty play area, people are going to dump all of their birds on you, if they can.
- Pretty much always play Singing as soon as you get it. There’s no reason not to. It can’t be blocked and you get bonus cards, which means that if someone were to try and take one next turn, they’d only get 1 / 2 (instead of potentially getting Singing, which gives them both).
- Get rid of Bats quickly. They have to be killed first, and they really mess up your long-term potential with Cast Net. You don’t want them to linger around, especially as you start running out of cards.
- Definitely get rid of Owls. They’re the worst! Big hooty jerks. If you have one in front of you when your turn ends, you lose! That’s, as you might guess, not great. Even better if you can pass them off to someone else; then it’s someone else’s pr-owl-blem. Yeah, that works.
- Be careful with Trap Net. It’s usually best used if you want to get rid of a bunch of Crows, and best used after you’ve already seen the first Bell. Otherwise, you hit the Bell with it and then nothing happens, which is terrible. If you use it right after seeing the first Bell, the odds of hitting the second are pretty low, so you should be relatively safe. Either way, if you’re hoping to get rid of Cocks / Warblers with the Trap Net, you may be better off discarding the card to kill just one of those, yourself. There are so many more Crows in the deck (hence why the game is called Crows Overkill).
- Always keep a Mirror or Fusuma Door. You should keep it until someone’s really going to mess you up with a card play (usually Room Change). If you don’t have any, you’re in a pretty vulnerable (read: bad) position. Naturally, you also can’t influence if you draw one, so this advice is more, don’t waste it on a frivolous play.
- I usually try to use Room Change to win the game. If you use it earlier in the game, it ends up in the discard and can be used against you later. That said, watch out for players potentially stealing it (or a situation in which you’ll lose if you don’t play it).
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Very nice art. It’s a very pretty game.
- Easy to set up. Just shuffle a few decks of cards and you’re on your way.
- I really like these standard box sizes. I have a whole stack of them on the shelf. Unfortunately, I have a whole stack of them, so the extras I have (this and Hyakke-Yagyo) don’t currently fit. I’ll figure that one out later; I have to move a bunch of games into storage anyways.
- It is a bit of strange concept for a game. You’re like, doing these birds up a disservice just for being birds so you can stay in your red-light district hotel room a bit longer. Offbeat themes are good! Still beats Renaissance-era trading in the Mediterranean.
- Are bats birds? I thought they were bugs.
- Some of the rules were a bit unclear. We struggled with whether or not you lost if you had, say, 1 Warbler in the first round (since there were 0 Warblers on the Time Card), but we realized that would make the game incredibly difficult, so, there you go. It would be nice if they had an example round or something in the rulebook so you knew, though.
- Room Change is pretty frustrating. All you do is keep it until someone uses all of their cards to get rid of their birds, and then you swap rooms with them, so they have very few cards and almost no birds. There’s no counter beyond happening to have the Mirror or the Fusama Door, so if you never draw either one of those, you’re basically out of luck should you get down to no birds later in the game. It also incentivizes sitting on those cards for that exact reason. Most games I’ve played have been won by a Room Change, or they’ve at least wrecked one player with it, which isn’t super fun.
- The whole game is take-that. If you’re not into that, this will 100% not be the game for you.
- Since it’s all take-that, dogpiling can be a real problem. If everyone decides you’re getting out this round, you’re basically out unless you have all the defensive cards. If you’ve read a lot of my reviews, you know that I kind of hate this in games, so it gets called out every time.
- If you’re eliminated, you can be out for a while. Similar to Here Comes the Dog, if you take the L in the first round, you’re just done. I get that that’s how player elimination works, but the game takes, I think, just long enough for that to be annoying.
- It’s probably hard to explain the theme to kids maybe? It could just be you explaining that you’re trying to sleep in and these birds keep waking you up, so you decide to /checks notes/ kill all of them. Doesn’t say a lot for your character, unfortunately.
Overall: 6 / 10
Overall, Crows Overkill is fine. I’d say, relative to a lot of the take-that-heavy, 2- to 4-player games out there, I might like it slightly better than the large population of them, but there are still a few things that frustrate me about it. Like I’ve said elsewhere in the review, Room Change is an extremely powerful card to be able to drop on a player, especially if you’ve done the work to make sure that they don’t have any cards that can stop it. It’s basically a “Eliminate 1 Player” card, in those situations (which, given that people are often working quickly to get rid of birds, happens pretty frequently). Beyond that, though, the art is pleasant and very nice, the game’s box is also nice, and that’s generally a good thing if you’re trying to get me interested in a game. It’s just that this particular game likely appeals to a demographic that I’m just … not really in, since I don’t really enjoy take-that in games all that much. If you do, though, Crows Overkill might be up your alley, especially if you like, viscerally hate birds? It’s really hard to say with regard to that last point.