Publisher: Gate Keeper Games
Game Designer: John Wrot
Artwork: Adelson Tavares
Players: 2-3 (up to 6 with two sets)
Ages: 12 and up
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $29
One Guppy to Rule Them All
A.D.A.P.T. is a new card game from Gate Keeper Games that re-launches on Kickstarter tomorrow. In the game players exercise their own measure of evolution, growing and adapting a guppy into one of a myriad of quirky, fun and downright scary combinations of fish while battling and defeating all comers to swim alone as the Masterfish of the sea!
The Primordial Goo
The review copy I received came with 72 cards and a good deal of the beautiful art was already done, showing me that the finished product should look very good. I supplied my own polyhedral’s for the prototype but received a sample of the dice that will come with the Kickstarter. They are a GKG custom line called ‘halfsies’ and each player will have their own custom set of these high quality dice to match their guppy color.
The six-page rule book was easy enough to follow and get me right to playing. Half of the six pages are dedicated to definitions of the different special abilities in the game along with variants for 3-6 player’s and playing with younger children, making it family friendly.
A Darwinian Playground
A.D.A.P.T. is a card drafting game with a lite deck building element for 2-3 players that turns evolution on its ear, allowing players to laugh in the face of science and grow cute little guppies into fierce frankenfish capable of amphibious destruction that would leave Darwin excited and Mary Shelley proud.
Ever wonder what a Blue Marlin would look like if it had a Sailfish dorsal, a Sawtooth shark horn (or even a laser!), a Thresher shark’s tail and a Great White’s mouth? What if it could jump and glide like a flying fish and have poison sacs and echolocation for hunting? Not only what would it look like but how deadly would it be? With A.D.A.P.T. you can now find out for yourself!
Each fish is represented by a 9-slot player mat for each of the different locations on the fish’s body and a lone guppy card sits in the center spot to start. You begin with just one XP but earn 3 more with every round you survive in this scary new world and can collect even more through different actions taken. You’ll need all of that XP because it is the currency used to purchase bodies and parts to adapt and defeat the other fish and emerge victorious.
After setup you roll dice and either adapt by random selection, gaining either a card from the gene stream or additional XP. Players then take one action each turn; adapt (a body or part), buy a part, attack, special action (from an adapted card), wipe the gene stream or adapt by random selection (the same as at the start) if you are unable to do anything else.
Adaptation is done by purchasing parts from the gene stream, a common row of three cards between the players that replenishes with every draw. If the part is within two levels of your current body level, you can purchase and immediately place it on your mat. If you can’t adapt it immediately, it goes into your ‘hand’ called the personal gene pool. Bodies can only be adapted up one level at a time, except for the guppy who can adapt up two levels for their first body.
Wiping the gene stream is something you’ll see a lot of, especially early in the game as many of the cards that come out will be above the players’ current levels. This lets you cycle through cards quickly to find adaptable parts and bodies while continuing to build experience. It can also be used to block opponent’s from getting a body part that you know they may want, but if there is an adaptable body part in the stream wiping is not allowed. That would be too powerful as you could possibly keep opponents from getting higher bodies indefinitely.
One neat option is how you auto-adapt the first time that you reach max XP (20) in the game, gaining the first available body of the next higher level. This can come in quite handy if you grab a good body or part early on and put it in your PGP or find yourself lagging a little behind.
There are more than twenty special abilities for you to use in A.D.A.P.T. both offensively and defensively such as counter-attack which deals equal damage to your attacker, jump lets you to sail through the air avoiding attacks and regeneration heals one damage point per turn.
Of course, what is evolution without conflict right? Fights in A.D.A.P.T. are resolved by rolling your fish’s specified die and adding it to its total ferocity score pitted against your targets total survival score. If you are successful, damage is dealt by the difference of your attack and their survival totals, also adding any lethality bonus you may have (up to 4). If you can tack on something like a poison bonus in your attack, you deal one extra point of damage every turn, slowly chipping away at your target fish’s health.
As with almost every other action in the game, fighting is no exception to earning you XP. Whether you win or lose in a fight you gain experience, so it pays to be aggressive even if you are defeated. The last fish still swimming wins!
Sink or Swim?
While I found A.D.A.P.T. a pretty fun little game, it still has a couple of adaptation issues of its own to overcome. The first is a simple one. The dice symbol on the fish body cards is not easy to make out, the green die gets lost in the green background but designer John Wrot is already aware of this and has assured me that this will be corrected for the final product which is great to hear!
The second and potentially bigger issue are the imbalances caused by luck of the draw. While the bodies, parts and powers are all fairly well balanced, it can become problematic if you are unable to adapt anything from the gene stream turn after turn due to bad card draws. While you will gain XP from the wipe, you may end up benefitting your opponent with a body or part upgrade they can use to pull away from you. If this happens a couple of times, it can be by a large margin.
That is part of the risk vs reward you need to weigh before wiping the stream but if luck is not on your side when it’s your turn, you can find yourself facing a much superior fish in no time. It reminded me at times of Star Realms and how I often found that game too heavily influenced by a lucky tableau. This does get mitigated somewhat by the auto-adapt mechanic but it’s not always enough.
In an effort to alleviate this, I’ve house ruled that the player who is behind can wipe the gene stream but surrender the 3 XP bonus in order to draw from the new gene pool as a free action, if they can. It’s not always perfect but does help somewhat in limiting one player from bounding up the food chain too quickly due to luck.
After writing this review, the designer contacted me to tell me of a new optional 3-player rule that allows upgrading the body by two levels always, not just at the guppy level. This is an effort to limit a potential runaway winner and I think this is a rule worth trying in the 2-player version to inhibit luck skewing things but it will likely speed the game up as players can adapt to higher level bodies much faster this way.
Catch and Keep or Release?
Bad or good luck aside, A.D.A.P.T. is a rather fun and clever card game that has some interesting aspects to explore. You’ll enjoy building some of the freakiest creations this side of Pripyat while strategizing how best to use the many special abilities available for your guppy’s grand evolution.
If lady luck doesn’t become too big of a factor, A.D.A.P.T. is a tense back and forth tug of war battle with some surprising depth. However, you may well find yourself outgunned and at times frustrated in short order if luck skews the draws against you consistently. With some rule tweaks and maybe even some house rules, the game has the potential to improve even more and be quite fun on a consistent basis, making it a good catch worth backing.
If you like card drafting games where you put a personal spin on creating something very unique to do battle with, give A.D.A.P.T. a look when it launches on Kickstarter tomorrow. The base game pledge level is $29 which provides you with everything needed for 2-3 players including three sets of polyhedral dice. Other add-ons bring further options to the gene pool that will expand your gaming experience along with a free companion app for backers as well.
Company Website: http://www.gatekeepergaming.com/
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/GateKeeperGamin
Note: A preview copy of this game was provided to me.