I’ll cover the board game known as Infernal Contraption by Privateer Press in this post. I use the definition “card-game” even though it’s a non-collectible card-game, ala Munchkin, which I think is really a “board-game”; I hope you can bear with that. Furthermore, I’ll tell you the general gist of this post: We did not enjoy this game much.
This is a “Things I Like” post, so the review is more me covering opinions than describing the thing blow by blow, and all the rules.
In this game each player receives a deck of card, and must create a machine: Connecting “contraptions” that do things to power-sources, connecting “enhancements” to contraptions, and connecting one-time “consumables” to something. You get to place things only if they have matching “sockets”, and you need to “pay” for each card you play after the first free card each turn.
Your goal in this game is to be the last man standing. I was actually a bit worried about this from a design stand-point before: This is not a game like Munchkin where we all play and have the ability to affect the game till it ends. Instead, players are removed from the game and may end up becoming bored. From my experience though, when someone gets removed, the game is usually close to completion, and the players are going to grow bored way before that as well ;)
There are a lot of cards, and while many of them are quite similar to one another, and only have slight differences in the rules, or their connectors are different and they are otherwise identical, this translates to every turn, where a player might have a completely new hand (other players’ actions can grant and take cards away), they will sit huddled, and spend 3-5 minutes reading their cards and planning what to play, where. During this time, the other players can stop paying attention. There’s only one card type (so 3-4 copies) that truly require you to pay attention to another player’s machine.
The cards are certainly quite beautiful, and have a distinct art-style. I think their design though, is prohibitive for play. It is true, that since you can connect your card via one of the four connectors on the four cardinal directions, you might place it “upside down”, but still. As it stands, when the cards are in your hand you need to tilt them to read them, and due to the text being small and the picture being so big, your attention is divided: There are too many things to look at, and either the picture draws too much attention, or you don’t really look at it at all.
And then, once you have your machine, once per turn you activate it. In the beginning, my mother (I played with my mother and one of my friends), would read us what the card said, word-for-word. I told her, “No need to read the card, just tell us what to do,” as I desired to speed the game up a bit. And that’s the other shoe; while a player builds their machine, the other players sit there twiddling their thumbs, or begin reading on their new cards early hoping it’d still be relevant by next round. And when another player runs his machine, they just tell you for the next 1-2 minutes what cards to draw, which cards to discard, etc.
This is basically a giant “mutual” solitaire game: You sit around and play with some other people, but the interaction between players is quite minimal. The only really social aspect of the game is choosing who to attack on each of your turns. Perhaps trying to cajole players to attack other players.
I think the only thing worse than playing it with 3 players is playing it with 4, as the time you sit there doing nothing adds up. Sure, if we’d have kept playing we’d probably have become more adept, and played faster, slightly faster. But for what purpose? It’s not like what makes a game fun, which is actual real strategy beyond the basic (make it so you don’t play too many cards a turn, as you’ll draw your own deck out), and social relations, are there.
Update: I forgot to say these two things before: First, my mother enjoyed the game, but she took way longer than the rest of us to play her turn. Same as her turn took double the time in Settlers or so. She was engrossed in her cards all the time, during our turns too, so she probably didn’t notice their length. Second, the game has an add-on that adds “Interrupts”, so to speak, that add to your options to act during the other players’ turns. But since the main game is so sub-par, even if the add-on brings it up to par, it’s too late.