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Gremlins, Inc. is a 2016 digital board game (not to be confused with the meatspace card game of the same name but different mechanics). It's described as an 'intense strategy board game in a steampunk world of corrupt capitalist gremlins', but that doesn't tell you much about how it actually plays. The gameplay is quite complex which makes it difficult to explain succinctly, but I'll give it a shot.

The board is a map of the Clockwork Town with a central loop, smaller loops branching off to Locations, and shortcuts through the middle. Most travel is one way, forcing players to complete the loop or take a dangerous shortcut to backtrack. Each location has a special ability which you can use when you land on it, and each character has its own special abilities. In your hand are six cards which can discarded to move or used for their abilities. Cards can always be used to move but can only be played on specific spots on the board. When one is played, you immediately draw a new one. Cards that give you more move points when discarded also give you more victory points when played, so there's always a tension between short term gain and long-term strategy.

The game ends after a predetermined number of rounds have passed, a certain score is reached, or at the end of a time limit. Games tend to last 45 minutes to an hour depending on the speed of play. It's all a lot more complex than this in the specifics and I even skipped over a few mechanics but you get the idea.

Sid Meier has described games as a series of interesting choices and Gremlins, Inc. is one of the purest examples of that definition. The game is all about risk and how to manage it--literally everything comes with a tradeoff. Do you use a card to move or try to use it to score? Do you bribe the police or risk going to jail? Spend money to raise your income, sell victory points for cash, skip a turn to search the deck for a card you need? etc.

'Churn' is the word that comes to mind when I try to think of how to describe this game. The vortex of probability, player interaction, and rapid pace make this quintessential ameritrash. That's not to say that there isn't strategy involved, one just needs to accept that no plan survives contact with the enemy. Counter-intuitively, there's so much randomness that the law of large numbers tends to even things out between players, so player skill remains important. Adaptability is key and it's necessary to work towards multiple goals at once because of the near certainty that at least one of them will be screwed by the other players or RNGesus.

Aside from the gameplay, the production values are quite high. The music--all three tracks of it--is very catchy and electroswing fits perfectly with the steampunk theme. The sound cues are distinctive without being annoying and it's fairly easy to follow the game through sound alone which is perfect for people like me who switch windows during other player's turns. The art is attractive and unique and reminds me of British animation from the 70s (or maybe that's just all the pictures with bobby helmets and judicial wigs). Unlike a lot of digital board games, the the AI can be quite challenging and holds its own against human players. There are also four cosmetic DLCs which each add an additional music track and a new set of character portraits along with miscellaneous emotes and other sundries.

Do I recommend it? Well, it depends on what kind of gamer you are. I doubt most players would draw the same distinction I do between luck and randomness and for people susceptible to analysis paralysis this game would be incredibly infuriating. Those who enjoy making long-term plans and developing their board will probably hate it too. But if you're like me and enjoy the challenge of making something from nothing and thinking on your feet, Gremlins, Inc. scratches every itch.

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