When a person finally hits the age of 18 or 21 (depending on where you are), the definition of what a game is changes pretty dramatically. Mostly, one realizes that alcohol can be added to just about anything to help improve the party experience that accompanies the games we all hold dear to our hearts.
Sometimes, this just means that alcohol is around when games are being played, but if you’re anything like me, this often means modifying the rules of your game library such that every game is a drinking game. Heck, I started a Drunk Magic the Gathering society back at University, and that’s consistently provided some of my favorite moments amongst my friends there. But what if, instead of having to turn one of your classics into a drinking game, a group of game designers had already done the work for you?
Enter DrunkQuest from Jasn Painter and Athena Cagle: a self-proclaimed fast paced card game centered entirely around the notion of drinking. Meant for 3-6 players, this is one of those games that I consistently break out as an opener whenever I’m holding a party at my flat, and for good reason. The game is filled with liquor puns, a great art style, and mechanics that are simply fun, something many card games seem to forget nowadays in their efforts to be more innovative or emphasize some collectible dynamic to keep that cash flow running in.
Now, it’s impossible to avoid the elephant in the corner much longer, so I’m just going to come out with it: DrunkQuest is in many ways a carbon copy of the incredibly popular Munchkin by Steve Jackson games. Both games begin with players randomly picking a character class and attempting to level that character by defeating monsters to win the game. Players have resources like weapons, spells, character abilities, and other tricks to attempt to defeat the monsters that challenge them while also making it more difficult for other players to level their characters. In fact, the only true difference between the two games is the way in which you slay these monsters.
Usually, that wouldn’t be enough to keep me from declaring a game to be a rip-off, but in this case, the difference is substantial enough to consider the game an entirely unique entity. While Munchkin forces players to use their cards wisely and negotiate with other players to come out ahead, DrunkQuest allows players to slay monsters entirely by, well, drinking. Each monster starts with a drink value printed on the card, but most cards and abilities will affect that total in some way. When everyone has finished playing their cards, the current player must drink an equivalent number of sips of their alcoholic beverage to slay the monster and level up.
As you might be able to guess, this is a decision that ultimately removes the most exciting part of games like Munchkin: strategy. Don’t get me wrong: there are definitely cards that you can use to combo off each other and force your friends to get rather tipsy, but the ultimate decider of victory relies not in ingenious play, but in the strength of one’s liver. Those who can drink a lot of alcohol have a rather large natural advantage, as it becomes nearly impossible to come up with a drink total high enough to scare them off. Even if you could come up with a strategy that would get your friend too drunk to be able to defeat the monster in front of him, it’s hard to feel good about getting your friend to that level of drunk (no one wants to play a game where the best strategy is to make your friends too sick to keep playing).
This essentially means that there are only a handful of cards that actually make a difference in the end results. Certain cards can grant or take away levels, which is the only way to jump ahead of whoever goes first. Others can affect the number of treasure cards a player draws after slaying a monster, which will increase the likelihood of getting one of those cards, but that’s still subject to a lot of luck on the card draw. Certain realm cards (cards that give a backstory as to the homeland of your character, as well as granting a special ability) can also be of service, but they aren’t very balanced; realms that can grant an extra level in certain conditions are far more powerful, for example, than realms that force other players to drink with you. Since there’s only one real dominant strategy, the path to victory looks largely the same each time you play, and that’s really a shame.
And yet, despite everything I just said, I absolutely love this game, and couldn’t recommend it more highly.
Yes, as a traditional game, DrunkQuest falls rather short, but it was never meant to be played as a traditional game. You don’t play to win as much as you play to share the experience with your friends, and the experience provided is just so darn fun. This is a game where you can play as a Werewolf from Realm of Shineshire against a Wizard from the Kingdom of Highbottle, and you slay imaginative and fun creatures like the Brewbear and the Drink Dragons. This is a game in which you can use Moonshine to trade your relatively weak Beerberries for the all powerful Soloe cup. Add a great group of friends to the mix, and you have an awesome opener that will get the night started right.
If nothing else, DrunkQuest proves that tightness of game mechanics, while important, is not the end all, be all that people make it out to be. It’s so easy as a reviewer to look at the individual pieces of a game instead of asking oneself ‘Am I having fun?’ At the end of the day, DrunkQuest is about having fun, and that’s all it needs to be.