(2015 – IDW Games)
I have to admit, I’ve only heard of the Orphan Black television series from a co-worker, and faintly recognized the comic book adaptation by IDW on the shelves of my local shop (Memory Lane Comics, check them out). So I won’t pretend that I could tell you much about either. But apparently its got quite the following. Being both a fan favorite and a hit with the critics, it’s been nominated for various Emmys, Golden Globes, and Critic Choice awards. I preface this instructional review with this information simply because I don’t know enough about this series to tell you if it recreates the feel of the show itself. However, I would imagine that fans of the series will no doubt find the game more thematic with their knowledge of its given context and storyline. While I won’t be able to tell you how well it translates to the show and/or comic book, what I can do is try to teach you how it plays and give you some insight as to what I think of it, as someone taking a look at it outside of the Orphan Black bubble.
In Orphan Black: the Card Game (co-designed by Jay Corimer & Sen-Foong Lim of Belfort and Akrotori fame), each player secretly represents one of three factions (the Neolutionists, the Proleatheans, and the Black), all vying to guide a set of clones to join their faction. Players will use characters and influence to manipulate these clones to leave one faction to join another, or possibly even keep them loyal to their current faction. Each player is given a goal card at the beginning of the game which references the current faction they belong to, and a set of three specific clones that they are attempting to influence to join them. Players motives will need to be somewhat reticent however, since their opponents will have the opportunity to score victory points if they’re successfully able to accuse them of belonging to a particular faction. At the end of the game, players will tally victory points from these accusations, along with victory points earned by the faction they belonged to and points earned from completed goal cards. The player with the most victory points at the end of the game is the winner.
– Player mats
– Scoring track
– Goal cards
– Clone cards
– Influence cards
– Accusation cards (a set for each player)
– Faction cards & Faction score markers
– Player score markers
As mentioned above, throughout the game, players will attempt to influence particular clones to join their hidden faction. There are three factions in the game; the Neolutionists, the Proletheans, and the Black. At the beginning of the game each of these faction cards are placed in a triangular shape seen above, representing that faction’s area.
The Influence cards are shuffled together and placed dace-down in a draw deck. A majority of these cards contain numbers on them that will help when determining a faction’s influence on a clone. Some however are character cards the when played, contain immediate special abilities. At the beginning of the game, each player receives three of these Influence cards to start their hand.
Players also receive a player mat. Each mat contains a player icon that will match the set of Accusation cards that he also receives. These Accusation cards can be used if a player feels that he’s figured out if another player belongs to a particular faction. Next, players also receive a secret Goal card. To deal these out correctly, the Goal cards are first separated into decks of their matching factions, placed face-down. A card is discarded from each deck and removed from the game. All remaining cards are then shuffled together into one singular deck, then each player is dealt a card. This card not only tells the player which faction they belong to, but also shows 3 specific clones that the player is trying to get to join their faction. Although shown face-up in the photo above, this Goal card is only secretly known to the player himself and kept facedown during the game.
Next, the Start player is determined and a number of Clone cards equal to the number of players in the game are placed out to begin the game. After all Clone cards have been shuffled together, the Start player will draw a Clone card and place it directly below the Faction card that it matches. Then the player will draw two Influence cards (these are kept separate from the three Influence in his hand). After looking at both of these cards, he’ll place one face up next to one side of the Clone card, and the other face-down next to the opposite side. This continues clockwise until all players have taken this setup action. When a player draws a Clone card that belongs to a faction that already contain another Clone card, it is simply set below that previously placed Clone card, beginning its own row of Influence cards on either side.
Finally, the Scoring track is placed to the side of the play area, along with the three Faction score markers, and the Player score markers. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:
A game of Orphan Black last until all Clone cards have chosen a faction. In order to influence these Clones to choose one faction or another, numbered Influence cards are placed to either side. Once a row includes six Influence cards, the Clone may shift to the faction on either side, or stay in its current faction based on the Influence cards played (which I’ll discuss more on in a bit).
Players will take turns comprised of four possible phases; the Character Phase, the Influence Phase, the Accusation Phase, and the Draw Phase. Let’s take a look at each one and how they work:
I. The Character Phase (optional)
As mentioned before, Influence cards contain numbered cards as well as Character cards. The Characters have various abilities that players can play face-up and resolve during the 1st phase of their turn, though performing this step is optional. After resolved, the card is immediately discarded from play. Let’s take a look at a couple of these Characters:
Delphine has the “spy” ability. When her card is played face-up, the player will be allowed to look at another opponent’s hand of Influence cards a take a card from them.
Dr. Leekie has the “copy” ability. As we’ll see in a bit, normally when an Influence card is placed in a Clone’s row, it will trigger the corresponding Clone’s special ability. However, when Dr. Leekie is played face-up, the Influence card the player places face-down during the next phase of his turn will trigger an ability on any of the current active Clones. That player’s choice.
II. The Influence Phase
Whether or not the player chose to play a Character card, he must (mandatory) play an Influence card face-down in a row either to the left or right of a Clone card. Since the Influence deck is comprised of numbered cards and Character cards, players can choose to play either type face-down when doing so. However, all Character card abilities are non-existent when playing them face-down during this step of the turn, and they are also considered 0-point numbered cards. You will essentially use them in this way as a bluffing tool.
I’ll discuss the importance of these numbered cards shortly, but for now it’s important to note that once an Influence card is placed face down in a Clone’s row, it triggers the Clone’s ability. There are 9 clones in the game, each with a special triggering effect. Most of these will help to manipulate the influence found in the Clone’s row.
For instance, Player A has chosen to play an Influence card face down to the left side of Cosima. Although we can’t see what it is, Player A has played an # 3 Influence card Cosima’s row now contains two Influence cards on the left and two on the right. Since the card has been placed in Cosima’s row, it triggers her ability, which allows the player to secretly look at two face-down Influence cards.
She obviously knows the number of the card he just played face-down, as well as the face-up card placed when Cosima‘s clone card fist appeared. Therefore, she chooses to look at the other two. This now gives her full knowledge of all four Influence cards in this row. Other Clone abilities include swapping cards between Clones, forcing the next player to play their Influence card face-up, flipping cards face-up or face-down, and even locking an Influence card in place so that it can not be moved or flipped.
Once Clone triggering abilities have been resolved, if there are at least 6 Influence cards in a Clone’s row (left side and right side combined), players will check to see which faction the Clone has joined. To do this, the current player will turn all Influence cards on one side of the row face-down, shuffle them, then place them all face-up on that side of the row. Then he’ll repeat this step with any cards on the right side.
Each Clone card has a “threshold” number listed on their card. For instance, taking a look again at Cosima, we see that her threshold number is 1. If the difference between the Influence cards of the left side compared to the right side is larger than this number, the Clone joins the faction adjacent to the side with the higher Influence total, placing the Clone card underneath that Faction card. If the difference is equal to or less than the threshold number, the Clone simply stays with its current faction by placing it underneath the current Faction card.
After shuffling and revealing all 6 Influence cards, we can see that the total on the left side is 6, while the total on the right side is 3 (remember Character cards count as 0). Cosima is currently in the Neolutionist faction.
However, since the difference in Influence between the cards on the left versus the cards on the right is 3, and Cosima’s threshold number is only 1, Cosima will join the faction directly adjacent to the left side (since the left contained more Influence). This means that she will join the Black faction by placing her Clone card underneath the Black faction card. All Influence cards that were revealed are discarded.
Each Clone card also contains a number of icons at the bottom of the card belonging to each of the three factions. Taking a look at the bottom of Cosima’s card, now factioned with the Black, we can see that the bottom of her card contains one Prolethean icon, one Neolutionist icon, and one Black icons. These directly correspond to the number of Victory Points the faction itself will score when a Clone joins it.
In this case, since Cosima has joined the Black, and her card contains one Black faction icon, the Black faction will score a Victory Point by increasing the Black faction score marker one space on the Scoring track. Once players have revealed which factions they belong to at the end of the game, they will automatically inherit the Victory Points their faction has scored during the game, before adding in any end-game Victory Points.
III. The Accusation Phase (optional)
Other than completing their Goal cards, players can also score Victory Points if they are able to figure out the factions their opponents belong to, and successfully accuse them by game’s end. At the beginning of the game, each player was given a set of Accusation cards, which includes two cards for each faction. After a player has played an Influence card, and before his turn ends, he can choose to accuse another player.
To do so he will simply choose an opponent, choose an Accusation card that matches the faction he believes the player to be apart of, and place this card face down on the leftmost numbered space of the opponent’s player mat. If correct, this represents how many Victory Points he’ll be awarded for successfully accusing his opponent at the end of the game. As you can see, accusing earlier than anyone else can earn you more Victory Points (3 if you are the first). If however he was wrong, his opponent would score a Victory Point.
Being able to bluff your faction and hide you motivation for doing particular things in the game is quite important. Not only can you earn Victory Points by making someone think you are part of another faction, but you want to keep your opponents from netting a good amount of Victory Points themselves if they’ve figured out who you belong to.
IV. The Draw Phase
At the end of their turn, players will draw a number of Influence cards from the draw deck to bring their hand size back up to three cards. Unlike the Clone deck, if the Influence deck runs out, the discarded cards are reshuffled and will create a new Draw deck. It then become the next player’s turn, moving clockwise.
As Clones join factions and score, new Clone cards are revealed along with two Influence cards, in the same way as during initial setup. Once the last Clone card has joined a faction, the game immediately ends and players will score Victory Points based on inherited Faction points, completing their Goal cards, and from accusations.
Players will first reveal their Goal cards and inherit the Faction points according to the faction they belonged to, by replacing the faction score marker with their own personal score marker. It is possible that some players may have belonged the same faction. If this was the case, then the Faction’s points on the score track are divided in half (rounded up). Being that they were both working towards getting Clones to join their faction, it is only fair that their initial score be split.
For instance, Player A and C were revealed as the Black faction (currently at 11 points), whereas Player B was the Proleatheans (7 points). After splitting the Black faction’s points in half, since there were two players representing it, Player A and C would have 6 Victory Points each and Player B would have 7.
Next player’s will resolve the accusations. Beginning with the #3 space, the player will turn over the card to see if the accusation was correct. If it was, the accusing player immediately receives 3 Victory Points. However, if it was not the card is temporarily set the side, and all other accusation cards will shift down.
In this way, the 1st player to successfully accuse another player will always score 3 Victory Points (even if they weren’t the first to play one), the second 2 Victory Points, and all remaining successful accusations, 1 Victory Point. After successful accusations are awarded, each player receives 1 Victory Point for each incorrect accusation against them.
Finally, beginning with one of the Faction cards and moving clockwise, all Clone cards underneath that card is flipped face-up. The players who are a part of this faction will receive 2 Victory Points for every Clone card that joined here that was also part of their Goal card. Therefore, each Gold card can earn a player a maximum of 6 Victory Points if they’ve been able to sway all three Clones to their faction.
After these end-game Victory Points have been tallied, the player with the highest amount of Victory Points has won the game.
Orphan Black is a surprisingly unique little card game that can be played in under 30 minutes. Combining elements of card manipulation, special abilities (from both the clone and character cards), hidden agendas, and deduction, there’s a lot going on within the game. The mechanics within the game seem more geared to players within the gaming community than simply fans of the show who haven’t been introduced to many hobby games. This comes with its advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, it would be easy for someone to introduce this on game night to those that aren’t fans of the series. It plays fairly quickly and doesn’t require a weekend of backlogged binge-watching to enjoy the theme. At the same time, fans of the series that purchase this off the shelf, but aren’t necessarily used to some of the more advanced mechanics of card manipulation and special powers, may find the game a bit hard to grasp at first. Though it is by no means a difficult game.
The game presents a layering effect, which I use to describe its use of card manipulation. The goal is simple. Try to pull as many clones as you can to your faction (especially those on your goal card). However, you can lose a good amount of victory points by being too obvious about which faction you are tied to. Sometimes you may want to place an influence card in a clone’s row to simply use its listed ability. Sometimes you’ll place it there to help influence the clone toward your faction. Since the influence cards are placed face down, players really don’t know what others motivations are. At least not unless they use a character card or clone card’s ability allowing them to look at what influence card was placed. The game is full of back and forth actions and reactions between what players are trying to accomplish and what they think their opponents are trying to do.
I was also pleased with the design decision in allowing two players to be part of the same faction, even in a three-player game. Since the faction points for these players are halved at the end of the game, it gives no true advantage to the players that are both part of the same faction, but it does add even more elements of deception amongst the group. While you have knowledge of your own faction, you really have no idea at the beginning of the game if another player is also part of your faction or if you are on your own.
I was also taken with the illustrated artwork on the box cover from the IDW comic book. I found it a bit strange then why the character and clone cards in the game were all still-shots from the television show. While I’m not one that necessarily dislikes still-shots in games, it seemed a bit of a missed opportunity to not have included artwork from the wonderfully drawn comic, since they own the source material. Even if it was artwork pulled directly from the comic’s pages, as opposed to original art, the beautifully illustrated box cover made me wish the same was done for the cards.
I appreciate IDW’s recent trend of making hobby games out of their owned IP’s rather than a trivia or roll-and-move game we’ve been so accustomed to see from other companies, instead turning to well-established game designers within our hobby. Overall, Jay Corimer and Sen-Foong Lim have done a good job of designing a game based off of an established IP that doesn’t require players to be fans of the series in order to grasp the goals and theme of the game. It’s quick, fairly simple to teach, and provides a fair amount of decision-making and gameplay elements that work in unison with one another.