What’s there to be said about Virtue Signal that we haven’t already?
Well, basically anything and everything relating to the way it plays, looks, and feels, now that I’m actually holding it in my hand, so let’s get to it.
For those of you that don’t know, the Kickstarter campaign for the game was a resounding success, but it’s been faced with rather gratuitous and frustrated review-bombs over on the boardgaming website that shall not be named because it’s an ugly ass forum and this is 2020 AD, let forums just die already, please.
There was a point when the game only had ratings of 10 or 1, which is hilarious and pretty much equally as bad on both ends since nobody had played it at that point in time and people were just trading meaningless blows with one another. And not the fun, sexual kind, either.
In a nutshell, people started to rate the game without playing it in hopes of nuking its credibility and damaging sales. What’s happened instead is they’ve given the crowd around the game more ammo for the “told you so” guns, which is pretty ironic, considering the game’s perpetually offended, cancel-culture theme.
On that note, let me have a short take on said cancel culture: can we all agree it’s currently going the way of the dodo?
Take this game, for instance: no previous designer experience, no actual industry links, literally no audience in the hobby to begin with, basically an overnight success, partly thanks to the incessant screeching that accompanied it (and still does) every step of the way. It not only managed to hit its goal but keeps getting traffic thanks to the people trying to warn others against it.
If anything, cancel-culture has become its own worst enemy. And you know what they say, the enemy of my enemy is… Still my enemy in this case, but they’re doing a shit job of it, so I’m low-key rooting for them to keep going.
If you haven’t seen the quick unboxing video for the game I did a few days ago I suggest you give it a one-minute watch. It’s thoroughly worth it, timely, and incredibly entertaining, if I do say so myself. Be sure to wear the recommended amount of protection, though!
Now, going into the first thing that pops up when opening the box - production values.
At first glance, the game is gorgeous. The artwork is great and is probably the game’s top positive aspect, the colouring is vivid and “happy” and everything is crisp, clear, and enticing. The cards are easy to read, if a bit flimsy, but for its price you couldn’t really hope for linen finish. The jokes depicted on many of (I hesitate to say ‘most’) are also on point and we’ve had several lol-worthy moments when we paused to just share a quote or a NPC name or what have you, which is basically one of the things I was looking for with the game.
Top job there!
The issues start showing up when you take a closer look at the colour tones across the board, with the cards appearing to have been printed in two very separate batches, at least in my copy and another couple ones I’ve since learned about. There are various hues to the same types of cards, which is a little annoying when you start laying stuff on the table and trying to connect the network dots, to the point where we were wondering if there were more colours to the card types than the rulebook mentioned.
Imagine being colourblind and trying to play this one… Or coloristically challenged, or whatever it’s called these days.
To be fair, this sort of issue has popped up in other, more big-name games before (one of my all-time favourites, Warhammer: Invasion, comes to mind with its various colour batch iterations and wildly varying card sizes), but it’s especially visible with VS and its mainly white background cards.
The second issue in this vein is the character cards themselves.
They have the portraits and network half-dots on one side, but their abilities are printed on the other. Now, while the abilities aren’t that big a deal to remember, I’ve found that you tend to completely forget about them once you’ve started getting into the game proper, and this is especially problematic (heh) with new players.
Why these couldn’t have been added to another set of player aid cards, I’ll never know.
The rulebook itself is a fast read and covers pretty much everything you need to know to get a game going and carry it through to its fairly rapid end (our games took less than 20-25 minutes, overall, with a low 8-12 on the 2-3 player counts). There’s not a lot of leafing through and when you need to do it to double check something, you can sort of pinpoint where everything is even without an index thanks to the rules being so light.
And herein lies my main rub with the game. The weight.
If you know me, you know my favourite board game is Ares’ War of the Ring. I also dabble in a lot of RPGs and miniature games, so I’m a big fan of the heavy stuff. I do, however, enjoy the lighter side of things and will just as well play Jamaica or Fluxx with my noobier friends and still find the fun in them.
Initially, I likened VS with Chez Geek, and I still stand by that now that I have a few games of it under my belt, with the caveat that VS is CG Lite.
And Chez Geek is, in my view, light enough as it is so that you can still enjoy the gaming part of it. It’s also as light as it gets for what I’d call a game worth playing more than once at a time because it holds enough strategic choice and weight to merit that.
The main Free Time/Income mechanism of CG, simplistic as it is, is miles above VS’ “do one thing each turn” shtick which, thankfully, makes the game go fast enough that you’re not really going to figure out how trite it all feels until you’ve actually played it a few times.
VS’ main charm comes from its humorous depictions of (mostly online) issues many of us have faced over the past few years. And while these will keep being relevant, I don’t think there’s enough actual game here to qualify this as anything more than a one-and-done, warm-up endeavour while you’re waiting for everyone to make it to game night.
Bears mention that the experience does get better as the player count goes up with a sweet spot at four or five, as far as I can tell.
The overall gameplay, while interesting in concept, fell a bit flat for me.
The game revolves around building a network of feckless sheep around you whilst trying to limit your opponents’ similar flock. While the take-that element is there, it doesn’t have you give or take that much. There aren’t any turning-point, all out plays where you can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat or pound your opponent into a pulp, there just doesn’t seem to be enough bite there to really feel like you’re knocking your opponents down a peg or twelve which I thought was going to happen.
Many of the specials only seem to act like powerful artificial catch-up mechanisms and other cards like the skip-a-turn ones (that should’ve died around the same time as Monopoly, in my view) theoretically allow even the dog-shittiest player a shot at redemption by the end. That said, it seems to me that there’s more of a “help yourself” element to the game than there is a “smash the other people” one, blow by blow.
All the specials, plots, and Triggered cards in the deck can’t get me to shake the feeling that I’m just racing towards that 15-point victory condition with little to no thought spared to actually getting the best play done every round, too. Even with the opponents dropping microagressions (oh, thank fuck the dictionary doesn’t even recognise that as a word, there’s still hope!) your way, you’re still going to end up with a fairly decent score and network by the end, unless people just gang up on you or you just zone out.
It’s weird trying to suss out just what VS’ main strong points are, and I think it’s more on the societal/achievement side of things than anything else. William Dalebout is a first time game designer who cashed in good on a niche that was aching for something of the sort to come along for ages, which is great, but I think the gaming aspect kind of fell by the wayside in the process. Then again, I’m not the biggest fan of party games alive today, which this most definitely fits the category of, I think.
It’s a competent, fast, light, beer & pretzels & more beer game that you can pull out once in a while to dab on them libs, but I think the satire and art outweigh any gameplay-related merits it might have.
As some of you may know, Incel Riot Studios are currently working on the anti-trigglypuff slant to this game, called Virtue Signal: Incel Riot, which will parody the other side of the political divide in the same tone and style, something that I find welcome in this day and age. If you like the look and feel of this one, you might want to check it out since it will play pretty much identically. Personally, I think I’m gonna pass as I’m looking to get more actual game value out of my Kickstarter pledges.
Thanks for reading, and have as nice a day as you deserve!
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