Critical Review - Genegrafter

The Albino Dragon is an up and coming game publisher who is small but passionate about games!  Erik Dahlman, who is the CEO and owner and Shane Tyree, the artist, have combined to start tackling projects on Kickstarter to bring fun, exciting, and different games to the lovers of all things cardboard and plastic!


Last year, they has some bumps, as small companies tend to have, while producing Dragon's Bard, soon to be known as the Dragon Whisperer.  They had a successful Kickstarter campaign and then had to postpone it for several reasons.  The good news for fans of that game is that it will be resurfacing soon, with a new name, new artwork, but still the same cool trick taking combos you saw in some of our footage last year.


Prior to Dragon's Bard, was Genegrafter.  This game started it all for Albino Dragon and led them down the road to Ace of Spies, the Call of Cthulhu Bicycle playing cards, and their current project, the White Rabbit Bicycle playing cards.  Coincidentally, if you didn't back Genegrafter, you can grab it as part of their reward tiers in the White Rabbit project so if this interests you, there's a chance to still jump in!


Genegrafter is a filler game all the way, it's fast, it's furious, it's got unique and differentiated artwork, and it's one that does what it does, and does it well.  It is by no means groundbreaking, but it offers fast and fun enough gameplay, that had I backed it, I'd be happy to have it show up at my door and be able to crack into it!

Genegrafter is a 2-4 player game that is for 13 and up that plays in about 10 to 20 minutes.  That's right, it's fast!  Even our 4 player games were completed in 15 to 20 minutes to advertised timing is right on.  It is set in a cyber-punk dystopian universe, which Android fans will find quite familiar.  It's unique, but the "feel" will seem familiar.


The game itself sees you controlling genetically altered characters with super powers that battle it out to control "genes".  The player with the most gene points in their gene pool at the end of the game is the winner.  Gene points are a combination of genes acquired from defeated characters and additional "icons" you'll start the game with that have gone unspent.  The end of the game is simple, when all three of the DNA strand cards are revealed from the main deck, game over, and the highest point total wins.


This makes Genegrafter fast and furious as there's not much time to sit and wait.  Unfortunately, there are times when you will, well, sit and wait.  The one major downfall is that the attack/point system is based around defeating characters that opposing players control.  If you control 3 characters and your opponent(s) control none, you really can't do anything.


This leads to some major ebb and flow, at times, which can detract from the game.  Overall, it rears its head more so in 2 player games than multiplayer games, but it's present and can be a bit of downtime.  That said, this is a 10-20 minute game so we're talking maybe 3 or 4 turns, but still, the perception is a "slow" point in the game.  I think this could have been managed better with more Events or Abilities that let you gain characters if you are losing, but there is always the issue of balance with inserting game mechanics like that.

The game will start with each player receiving 5 cards.  Each turn, a player must draw a card from the center deck.  If it is an Event, it's ability is triggered and resolved immediately, will usually impact the game pretty heavily, and then is discarded.  The player who drew the Event draws a new card, and then moves on.  If the card is another Event, it too is played and discarded.  Drawing continues like this, until a player draws an ability, equipment (Kickstarter bonus cards not in the base game) or a character.  Drawing one of the DNA cards will also let the player draw another card, but brings the game one step closer to it's close.  (Yes, that part felt like Gubs, but that's about it in comparison.)


After drawing, players can play up to 3 characters from their hand.  Each character can attack the turn it comes into play, has an attack (red die), defense (blue die) and super power (icon on the upper left).  Super Powers align to abilities, more on that in a second.


After characters are out, the player can choose to attack, and can attack each player if they like, splitting attacks among players, but they can not attack a character more than once.  So I can make 3 attacks with my one character I have against all my opponent's in one turn, presuming he survives, but I can't use another character I own to attack a character my first character attacked.  Sounds confusing, but you get it pretty easy after a few rounds.


Once attackers and defenders are declared, the fun begins!  Starting with the defending player, each player chooses to play one card face down, forming an attack chain.  These are abilities or equipment, and will normally add dice to the player's attack or defense.  However, there is an element of bluffing here which is subtle and fun!  Did my opponent just play a card to boost his character's attack and I need to boost defense, or is he bluffing and I can hold my cards for a later, more important battle?

In addition, if you are out of cards or just want to pump it up, you have 3 attack and 3 defense tokens you start the game with that can be used to add a die to your attack and defense rolls as well.  Be careful though as at the end of the game you'll get important points (1 per 2 tokens left) that could win you the game!  1 point doesn't sound like much, but in our games, they've been 12 and under point totals so it can make a big impact knowing when to hold and when to spend those tokens!


All the abilities will have two lines on them.  A top line that any character can gain from and a bottom line that will supersede that if the super power icon to the left matches the character's super power(s) they have on their card.  This is unfortunately rare to match, as there are so many super powers in the game (18 to be exact and only 54 base cards in the starting game) but when you match up, it's both powerful, attack/defense changing, and super fun to combo out on.


After each player has passed the chains are revealed and bonuses applied.  Players take all the dice they have after bonuses are added up and attackers roll red and defenders roll blue.  Highest number, after additional roll changing abilities are applied, wins the fight!  The winner takes the losing character's card and puts it in their gene pool, gaining a point for each DNA strand on the lower left of the character's card.


Don't get too attached to those defeated souls though!  There's a lot things in the game that can quickly force you to discard genes from your gene pool, as well as two cards that will flat out shift your gene pool to another player altogether!  This makes Genegrafter fast, furious, ever changing, and fun!


For what it is, Genegrafter does what it does very well.  The gameplay is engaging with all players interested in each other player's turn, given they may be attacked at any time and have to defend, but also have to plan their next attacks as well.  Managing your abilities and equipment (if you kicked at that level) is an important part of the game.  While that is a great strategy to employ, it's also a light enough game that you don't have to strategize much to enjoy it and you can roll for high numbers and have a blast in a short amount of time frame.


Overall, as a filler game, Genegrafter is a Hit of a game.  Shane Tyree's style of artwork is unique and captures the genetically altered characters very well.  They are colorful and exciting and, well, just fun to look at!  There does, at times, tend to be so many icons to remember, that since there's no rules for them (save for two special powers) and you are just matching icon to icon from ability to characters that you tend to lose a bit of the flair in gameplay.  The universe is exciting and enticing, but at times, you are left wanting a bit more depth and connection.  At the end of the day though, the quick attacks, fun bluffing, and unique artwork will make most gamers very happy they backed this and see it crossing the tables either as an all-night fight affair or a quick fix between larger battles!


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Comments: 5
  • #1

    Kalidor (Tuesday, 22 January 2013 09:44)

    As always, awesome video! You do a great job as showcasing the components while explaining the game extremely well!
    One of the things I was thinking of trying out, to possibly make-up for the lack of character draws you mentioned, was, if the player has no characters in hand (he must reveal hand to opponents, but not exactly what each card is. He can slide the cards so only the border color is revealed. An opponent seeing no blue will know that that player indeed has no characters) when he draws his new card for the turn, he can draw UNTIL he finds a character. Every other card drawn is immediately discarded, without effect or chance at keeping.
    I realize that seems wordy, but hopefully, you get the idea. And maybe that will help? And without breaking the game?

  • #2

    critshappen (Tuesday, 22 January 2013 22:41)

    Thanks, I'm glad you liked the review! On the topic of the "house rule" you mentioned, it makes sense on the surface, although with the small amount of "effect" cards, you may burn through some important ones. How about this idea? If you have no characters, you can choose to discard your whole hand to draw the same amount of cards, or, you can draw until you get a character and all drawn cards, effects, equipment, abilities, or DNA strands that were drawn are shuffled back into the main deck? Either may work and still satisfy where I think you may be headed with the idea. I wish I still had my copy of the game to try that out, but alas, this one was on loan from Albino Dragon and has gone back to them. I'll see what I can do though :) Thanks for watching and commenting!

  • #3

    Kalidor (Wednesday, 23 January 2013 07:48)

    Right on! I think either of your adjustments (especially the 2nd one) might work for me if I notice this happening often enough to bother players.
    Great stuff, keep the awesome reviews coming!

  • #4

    Jesta (Thursday, 04 April 2013 04:28)


    Good review as always. I paid extra while backing Ace of Spies on Kickstarter to get this and we played it a couple of times over the weekend.

    We didn't really have an issue of no one having characters, we did have an issue of no one having any cards. Even if you only play tactically we still seemed to run out pretty easily. Only drawing one per turn seems a little odd, what do you think?

  • #5

    critshappen (Thursday, 04 April 2013 07:30)

    Hi Jesta. Yes, drawing once is interesting. We've tried drawing twice, but it is a bit of a hit and miss result. Glad you are enjoying it though!

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