Gussy Gorillas [Preview]

Base price: $19.
3 – 10 players.
Play time: ~20 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter!

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Gussy Gorillas was provided by Bitewing Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. 

I managed to have a game day with my friend Angela, which was delightful! It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to just sit around and play board games all day. Tried a ton of new things, many of which are going to be shared with y’all over the coming weeks and months. My queue is getting a bit messy, which is honestly pretty exciting. Just lots to write about and a lot to share! Kind of reminds me why I love games so much in the first place. So much to experience. That said, a lot of what’s coming down the pipeline in the near future are crowdfunding previews, so let’s try another game from Bitewing: Gussy Gorillas!

In Gussy Gorillas, players take on the role of various primates helping each other fancy up. As anyone who’s tried to fix their own hair knows, however, it’s always much easier to have someone else help you fix yourself up. Unfortunately, whether or not they’re good at that kind of hair care remains to be seen. Sometimes it’s a mixed bag, but you might be able to split some, flip something around, or just do what you can to make it work. Will you end up doing a good job, or will you experience some hair-able results?

Contents

Setup

Not a ton! Shuffle all the cards:

Deal each player eleven as a face-down deck. Set the banana tokens aside:

You should be ready to start!

Gameplay

Gussy Gorillas is a real-time game of bargaining, negotiation, and shenanigans! As players engage with each other, they’ll start a round by drawing one card from their deck, face-out so that they cannot see the card they’re holding. Other players can offer to trade their entire hand (usually one card; sometimes two) with their opponents. If nobody’s biting, you can draw another card to sweeten the deal.

Should anyone trade with you, swap hands with them and play all cards you receive into a face-up stack in front of you. Draw a new card, and keep going! If there’s no interest, you can keep your card and play it face-up to your collection. If you ever accidentally see your card or cards, immediately add them to your collection.

After all cards have been played, score your collection! There are a few special cards and special rules:

  • Pairs: Some cards, when paired, have special effects. Most numbers, when paired, cancel each other out. When two 1s are paired, they become an 11!
  • Flip: Some cards can be flipped upside-down to become other numbers. 2 / 7 and 9 / 6 both can be. Note that a flipped 2 (now 7) does not pair with a 7, because they are different cards.
  • Split: A Split allows you to separate two cards in a pair so that they don’t cancel out. The separated cards cannot be paired with other cards of the same number, either.
  • Reverse: Reverse flips the sign on a card, turning positive numbers negative and negative numbers positive.

Unfortunately, you must play all Special Cards that you’ve taken, even if that means Splitting one of your 11s or turning a positive number negative. Any number can only be affected by a type of Special Card once.

Total your score, and the player with the most points gains a Banana Token! At five or more players, the player with the second-most points also gains a Banana Token. Once any player earns their second Banana Token, that player wins!

Player Count Differences

Again, when we talk about player count differences for certain games, there’s sort of a microeffect and a macroeffect on the game. For Gussy Gorillas in particular, the microeffect is pretty minimal. At some level, you can only make one-to-one trades, so having more players around doesn’t really affect the trading itself. If anything, having more trading partners means you might be able to make slightly better deals, which would be pretty good. However, more players has a strange macroeffect on gameplay; it adds a lot of noise. More players means more active negotiations, which means your “good deals” have even odds of getting swooped by other players with better cards as well. As player counts push higher, you have other issues, like, how big is your table? There’s an interesting tableless version you can play, if you want, where everyone holds their deck in one hand and their collection / offer in the other. Personally, the idea of a ten-player game vexes me, so I’d recommend against that, but I don’t really have a problem with the player count as it scales upwards of any sort. I think you can have a great time with the right group.

Strategy

  • Try to keep track of what cards you’ve taken. I think that’s just a generally good idea. If you want, you can play the variant where everyone plays with all of their cards face-up at all times, once they’re added to their collection. I kind of like that sort of thing since it makes things easier to track. At the very least, it’s a great way to learn the game (and get a sense of what your opponents have). If you’re not using the variant, keeping track of the cards you’ve played can help you remember combos and avoid failing pairs.
  • Not all Special Cards are worth trading for. You, for instance, don’t want to be taking a bunch of Reverse Cards unless you have a few negative numbers already in your collection. Otherwise, you’re going to be turning your positive numbers negative, which absolutely sucks. You also don’t want to flip a 10 to a 01; that’s just hideously wasteful.
  • Sometimes, a good offer if nobody wants your card is to ask another player to both draw a card and then trade without evaluating the second card. I like this a lot! It’s a bit of random chance on all players’ sides, but it makes the round move more quickly and it’s a bit of fun. It’s a great way to get rid of cards that otherwise nobody will trade you for. Plus, it helps solve the problem if you’re worried about taking the card yourself.
  • You’re allowed to imply things about other players’ cards, even if they’re not necessarily true. You can undoubtedly tell another player that, for instance, their cards are not great in the hopes that you can talk them into trading with you. That said, other players might challenge that statement and leave you looking a bit less trustworthy. It might be worth implying other things. You can occasionally trick a player into taking a card that isn’t particularly good for them. That’s not as useful as it is funny.
  • If nobody wants your card, period, you either need to draw another card or take it yourself. Sometimes you can’t get rid of a card, to paraphrase Adam West. If that happens, just call it a day and ditch it, or try and get another card in your hand so that you can improve the deal. You can’t always make things work.
  • Having Special Cards can change the calculus of some of your trade decisions. If you have an unused Reverse in your collection, suddenly, trading for a -12 isn’t too bad, you know? Similarly, having an extra Flip means you’re suddenly significantly less interested in 7s and 10s. You can use the Special Cards you have to motivate your trades (or demotivate them), but you have an advantage over your opponents in that you know what your cards are.
  • A pair of ones is pretty good! Other pairs, not so much. Try to avoid that. Pairs cancel each other out! Except for 1s, which become an 11 when paired. It’s worth keeping track of the pairs you have, and using a Split to cancel out the pairs that you’ve accidentally taken is a pretty good idea.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • The banana tokens are fun! They’re a bit larger than I expected, which is pleasant. Gives players a real sense of victory when they get to take a banana token. I’m not totally sure what I expected when I opened the box, but that wasn’t it, so, props.
  • I actually didn’t think I would enjoy this as much as I did. I was a bit skeptical on a blind trading game, but it’s actually pretty fun. There’s not much thinking that you need to do on your turn, but you’re still able to keep a lot of things happening, even if you have fairly “bad” cards. You just need to make sure you don’t specifically try and get any obviously problematic cards.
  • A quick play! Each round is pretty short (only about 11 cards in each players’ pile), and there aren’t actual turns, so you’re just trading as quick as you’d like. It might take longer with more players when there are more options to consider, but it’s not going to meaningfully increase what you personally can do with your card, which is either take it or trade it.
  • The various card interactions are pretty interesting. I like how a card can be flipped and reversed, for instance, or you can let a pair of 1s stick around to become an 11 or flip a 6 to become a 9; all sorts of things. I think it makes things a lot more interesting when you can have Special Cards in your collection and now you’re just trying to trade for the right card to make them even more valuable.
  • I particularly like how the Special Cards are required, even if they just cost you points. This is particularly nice, because it makes taking Special Cards a bit riskier. Big fan of adding more player risk into a game. I’ve been in situations where my extra Special Cards have cost me points or cost me the round, and even then, I’m still a fan. I think it forces players to remember what they’ve taken and be thoughtful about what they’re trading for, rather than just accepting any trade immediately.
  • I’ve really liked the consistent box size and magnetic closure. This is the same size as a handful of other Bitewing titles, and they all have a magnetic closure, which I love. It’s a classy way to close a board game box (though with some of the other ones, it doesn’t always stay clasped, which isn’t ideal). Just try not to jostle the game around too much.
  • The table chatter is pretty fun; we had a few rounds where players agreed that another player’s card was terrible and mutually bullied them into drawing another. I think you can do a lot if everyone agrees they’re going to gaslight another player, but then you immediately run into the fun problem of who will benefit from that gaslight. You might be able to convince a player to keep a card that absolutely sucks for them, for instance, but if you’re trying to convince someone that their card sucks and trading with you is going to be to their benefit, you’re going to struggle to get that by other players. It’s still fun to attempt, though!
  • Oh, the graphic design is particularly useful. I really appreciate, as a player, that each card tells you how special cards do (or don’t) change the card’s value; it can be a lot to try and remember all the card interactions offhand, but you don’t have to! The cards literally tell you on the card all possible outcomes. That’s a nice touch, and an even nicer touch because it doesn’t take away from the card writ large. Some very good graphic design work, here.

Mehs

  • There’s definitely going to be a few cases of players accidentally looking at their cards. It happened maybe twice in the last game I played? It’s the same problem with Hanabi and Pikoko and all of these “don’t look at your hand” games; a lot of players just have trouble turning off the intuitive switch that tells them to immediately look at the cards that they drew. I get it.
  • I can see someone enjoying the “talk like a monkey” variant, but that seems not ideal to me. That’s just not really my kind of gameplay.

Cons

  • The theme / art aren’t really to my taste, unfortunately. It happens sometimes; not everything is for everyone. I’m not even really sure why this is; I think I just find the gorillas a bit disconcerting or something.
  • This is going to be an increasingly loud and boisterous game with more players, which isn’t really my scene either. I think there’s going to be a maximum player count for folks, and higher than that the game runs the risk of getting out of hand or being too loud to be appealing to most. For me, that tends to be on the low- to mid-range. I can imagine it being higher for other folks. I just find ten players to be an extremely ambitious player count for just about any game.

Overall: 7.25 / 10

Overall, I enjoyed my plays of Gussy Gorillas! I was pleasantly surprised, especially since the art / theme didn’t immediately grab me. That generally is what draws me into the game and, well, they can’t all be 100% my speed, I suppose. That plus the idea of trading and negotiation based on not knowing your card had me suspicious, but experiencing the game I got to play something that was quick, plucky, and clever in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Gussy Gorillas doesn’t really have “good” or “bad” cards; it just has a ton of cards that are dependent on context and players understanding both their context and their opponents’ context. A card you drew might be technically garbage (a -12), but if one of your opponents has a spare Reverse in their collection (which can turn negative numbers positive), then suddenly they’re tripping over themselves to trade you. Naturally, this means that you as the player need to be a bit suspicious of folks who are excited to take your card. Not too excited, though! If you decide to take that -12 yourself, then both you and your opponent just got clowned for no particularly good reason. I think that’s the good idea at the core of Gussy Gorillas: make players figure out their cards, contextually, based on how their opponents react to them. It’s a bit similar to how Décorum, a game I quite enjoyed, forces players to figure out how to place tiles contextually; you learn how other folks play and how they engage with the game. I probably won’t be playing Gussy Gorilla’s “talk like an ape” mode, but that’s just … not really the type of game I enjoy. Bitewing kind of burst onto the scene with some clever games that boasted bright and engaging art and nice component quality, and Gussy Gorillas (mostly) fits well into the line of games they’re making. I’ll be interested to try it again, especially with a larger group. If you’re down to negotiate, you enjoy some trading, or you want to try and solve the mystery of a single card in your hand (sometimes a pair), then you might enjoy Gussy Gorillas! I had fun.


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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