Gremlins,Inc. It's a title that tells you a lot and very little. Gremlins are mischievous, backstabbing, cowardly little assholes. Incorporated, they'd be a Gremlin company whose day to day runnings would be like the end of Gremlins 2. Gremlins, Inc. is kind of like that. The game itself is a board game with cards and dice where you attempt to complete one of several victory conditions while tripping up your opponents and avoiding misfortune yourself.
In Gremlins, Inc. you grasp on victory is often tenuous, one bad dice roll, betrayal or misfortune away from being dethroned and jailed. Even achieving the victory condition doesn't make you immune, every other player gets one more turn to try and sabotage you and drag you kicking and screaming away from success.
Despite being kicked to the curb repeatedly in each match, the game is surprisingly not frustrating. You're never far away from recovering and your hand of cards changes up often enough that new strategies open and close to you every turn so you're constantly doing mental gymnastics to track your opponents and what their probably tactics are whilst trying not to make your own plans too obvious and considering all your options.
Cards act as your way to move and act in the game – each card has a movement value and an action associated with it. Using a card to move is usually as simple as choosing it and moving the specified amount but some have special features; for example you can steal an opponent's card and move with that or move against the direction indicated on the board.
Actions are more complex, requiring you to first be on the right space on the board – as simple as matching the icon on the card with the space icon – you can then choose to activate a card's action. It's at this point that you'll either pay resources or receive resources. These can be money, good-will, evil points or victory points. Some cards don't influence resources however, allowing you to sabotage your opponents via several methods. These often end with your opponent in jail and missing some very useful cards from their hand.
A very useful card if you're playing with a gambler.
The final group of cards are the chaos cards, an optional set of six cards that require a large outlay of resources to activate but reward you with more victory points than other cards. Having a large amount of money and making a bee-line for the Inferno will telegraph your intent, opening a race to ruin your dastardly plot.
A board game wouldn't be successful without a good board to play it on. Gremlins, Inc. has one of the most tightly designed boards I've ever had the pleasure of playing on. Not only is the art, subtly animated, spectacularly grimy and whimsical but the space placement is extremely well balanced. The Inferno highlights this perfectly – the space itself forces you to abandon all six of your cards, but also allows the playing of the powerful chaos cards or other powerful Inferno cards. To get to it you'll have to pass a space that gives you your income, then a misfortune space which may ruin your plans all on its own. The danger isn't past just because you've made it to the Inferno – to get out you'll have to pass another misfortune and a gambling space.
Other spaces that don't have as high a potential to alter the game flow aren't as well guarded, usually allowing you to gain at least a little bit of benefit from moving around the board. Movement is restricted via arrows on the board, forcing you to follow the outer ring of the board in a counter-clockwise direction. The inside of this ring allows you to move in any direction but is full of bribe and misfortune spaces, meaning that a time saving shortcut might turn into a disaster.
Goodbye permanent card, hello victory music!
Even other legendary board games like Talisman don't have such tight balance. You'll feel betrayed and defeated one minute then elated and victorious the next. It's not as friendship destroying as Monopoly and not as casual as a round of Ticket to Ride but thanks to the moderate play time and easy to learn mechanics it's an easy game to get involved in and suitable for anyone old enough to plot the downfall of their friends, so it's ideal for children.
There's enough depth that chance only plays a part in victory or defeat, tactics can be as shallow as a starter playing random things to see what happens or as complex as multi-card, multi-move schemes. Both those play styles, and everything inbetween, will have equal amounts of fun with Gremlins, Inc.