When I was a teenager, I loved any movie that somewhat acknowledged nerd culture. I perceived myself as a bullied outcast because of my hobbies and interests – completely ignoring that I was an arrogant prick to all the people who “bullied” me – and so seeing anything in pop culture that seemed to celebrate my subculture felt like a big deal. Ironically (or perhaps not), it took well into my adult life to recognize that Scott Pilgrim levels some well-placed criticism towards the very nerds it celebrates. But whether I enjoyed it as a celebration of video games and dorky jokes or as thoughtful criticism of the way nerdy guys think about and interact with women, Scott Pilgrim is a film I’ve enjoyed throughout my life. In college a lot of my friends enjoyed it too, so every now and again we’d all get together for a viewing, and naturally our conversations and discourse were full of references to the movie…along with pretty much everything else we’ve ever watched together.
I still hang out with quite a few of my friends from college and this past weekend we had one of our monthly get-togethers. Ordinarily we play tabletop games, but one of our friends is still in college currently and with all of her major projects coming up due for the end of the year, she couldn’t make the trip and so we held off on tabletop shenanigans this time around. Instead, we broke out some video games and board games to try out together, and one of the games we tried was Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Card Game. Based on the art and story of the graphic novels, this game is a deckbuilder where the players either work cooperatively or competitively to take out one of the infamous Evil Exes.
I had the opportunity to play one full game in which four players worked cooperatively to defeat Matthew Patel, the first Evil Ex. In that time I was able to experience most of the game’s rules and get a feel for how the characters in play were meant to operate. In this article I’ll share my impressions of the game, discussing the rules and how they felt in play before finally issuing a verdict on whether or not I think this game may be worth your time.
Let’s dig into the basics first. Scott Pilgrim is a deckbuilder, a genre of card game where each individual player has their own deck and the goal is to add to that deck as the game goes on. In this case, you want to gain control of cards which give Victory Points (VP). The VP value that allows you to win the game varies by Evil Ex as well as by the type of game that you are playing. In a competitive game, the base value listed on the Evil Ex card defines how many VP you need to win. In a cooperative game that valued is double, and a turn limit imposes the stakes that are missing since your other players are allies instead of threats. As an example, in our game we fought Matthew Patel and we played cooperatively. In a competitive game, the first to 10 VP wins the game. In our cooperative match, the group had to get 20 VP in only three rounds of play.
The cards themselves are a core piece of any deckbuilder, so let’s take a moment to discuss them. Every card in Scott Pilgrim is double-sided – there’s not a face and a back. This means that whenever you have cards in a draw pile, you can see the next card coming up, and the game uses this in its mechanisms. Flipping a card to the other side is also limited by the rules for certain cards, so the facing of the card is pretty significant. Luckily, each card contains a hint on the bottom left of what lies in wait on the other side. The cards feature art from the graphic novels and are pleasant to look at – they have a distinct style and many of them are funny. When it isn’t your turn, taking a few moments to admire the cards in your hand is certainly a viable means of passing the time.
Now the most logical way to discuss Scott Pilgrim is to simply walk through a game from start to finish. The first step is to choose the Evil Ex you plan to battle. All of the familiar ones like Matthew Patel, Lucas Lee, and Roxanne are present, of course, but there are some unique options present too. For example, Scott’s ex Envy is actually an option for your opposition, and you can play against her individually or pair her with Todd the vegan for a different play experience. You can also battle Stacey Pilgrim’s friend Julie if you want something a little different. In our game we stuck with Matthew Patel, who is the recommended opponent for first time players.
Each player at the table chooses one of six playable characters to play as. The options are Scott Pilgrim, Ramona Flowers, Knives Chau, Wallace Wells, Kim Pine, and Stephen Stills. Choice of character has an impact on the game in a few different ways. Each character comes with 10 cards which make up their starting deck, and their cards have different abilities as well as providing different resources. There are two phases to the game – Story and Combat – and each phase uses different types of resources. During the story phase, characters will use Music, Work, or Romance to obtain cards or resolve effects. Most characters work well with two of the three resources: Scott for example uses music and romance while Ramona uses romance and work.
In combat, your resources are buttons a la an NES controller; you have various cards for the four directional buttons as well as the A and B buttons. It’s important to pay attention to the types of buttons you have available because that comes into play for the next feature of each character: combos. On the flip side of the character card you can find all of the different combos that a character can use during combat. Like a fighting game, these combos are made up of different strings of button presses and each character has their own. More complex combos with weirder button combinations or longer strings of buttons deal more damage to opponents, so you want a variety of button cards at your disposal.
The final unique feature of each character is how they interact with a mechanism called Drama. Each character starts with three drama in their deck, and you can gain or lose drama during play. Drama cards don’t inherently have any effects, so they take up space in your hand and your deck without being immediately useful. However, different characters interact with drama in different ways. Scott, for example, benefits from having some drama on hand because he can use it to power up other cards. Characters like Kim and Wallace don’t have much use for their own drama, but they get significant bonuses from interacting with the drama of other characters. I played as Kim during our game, so one of my goals was to eliminate my own drama while making sure that my designated partner had plenty in their hand so that I could power my abilities. These differences between characters make playing each one unique, adding replay value to the game (something that’s also boosted by the two modes of play and the variety of Evil Exes to fight).
Once you’ve chosen an Evil Ex to fight and the characters for each of the players, you form what’s called the plotline. This is the central pool of cards that you’ll interact with during the course of the game. The plotline starts with two cards and then each player takes turns selecting two more; this is done by looking at the top card of the one of the two collective draw piles and deciding whether it should be added to the plotline or tossed out. In our case, since we had four players, we had a ten card plotline to work with during the game. Your goal when selecting these cards is to try to have lots of cards that use resources your character can work with, as well as setting up some early game combat challenges that you can easily overcome for victory points or additional cards.
Once the plotline is ready, play starts. Each player gets a turn and once every player has had their turn, that resolves a round. In our game, we had only three rounds to earn 20 VP and win the game. Note that our victory condition is based on VP and not on defeating the Evil Ex – there are ways to earn enough victory points without taking down the boss, so defeating your opponent is actually optional. It can still be worthwhile to pursue, though, as the Evil Ex will give you a hefty sum of VP that’s bigger than most of the other cards that will be available to you. This is especially true in a cooperative game where the value of the Evil Ex is doubled.
On your turn you have a required Story phase and an optional Combat phase. During the story phase you play the cards in your hand to earn resources and then use those resources to purchase cards in the plotline. Power-ups become active immediately while other resource cards get added to your personal discard pile in order to be shuffled back into your deck later. That’s where the deckbuilder part of the game comes in – by supplementing your deck with cards from the plotline, on future turns you’ll have more resources at your disposal to buy even more cards or pull off more powerful combos. Of course, you’re going to want to spend resources on cards that give VP as well, so there’s a balance to be struck.
Once you’ve resolved the story phase you can choose whether or not to enter combat. During combat you choose to battle either the Evil Ex or any of the active challenge cards in the plotline. Each challenge has a designated amount of damage you must deal in order to defeat it, but challenges often get a little harder than they appear at first glance. When you start a challenge an effect resolves; sometimes you have to draw cards from your own deck, or an ally/opponent may have to draw cards from their deck. When this happens, any drama cards that come up add to the difficulty of the challenge. We learned pretty quickly that you want to be confident in your ability to do more damage than is actually displayed on the challenge in case the opponent gets tougher, as challenges have punishments for failure.
Once you’ve declared a challenge and combat begins, you play your combat resources with the goal of using button combinations which grant you combos. Each button on its own represents one damage done during combat, so if you don’t have a combo you can perform you still have the option of “button mashing” to do damage equal to the number of buttons you pressed. Certain attack cards have bonuses associated with them – this can vary from a simple damage increase or drawing an additional card to play during your combo to special bonuses that unlock when you achieve victory. These victory bonuses stack with the rewards already listed on the challenge card, so a good combo will give you lots of rewards to work with.
That’s the structure of the game in a nutshell. Choose a villain and game type, choose your heroes, form the plotline, and then take turns earning and spending resources to acquire victory points. The game seems rather complicated at first glance and when my friend tried to explain the rules to us, everyone at the table found themselves scratching their heads and feeling overwhelmed. However, after just one round of play everything made sense and the game is actually quite simple. The story and combat structure makes sense and flows well, and since each card has specific instructions written out on it everything becomes quite straightforward once you’ve jumped in and actually started playing.
If you’re an enthusiast when it comes to game rules and mechanisms (like me), Scott Pilgrim offers some interesting elements to dig in to. Each character’s unique playstyle makes it so that you’ll need to change your strategy a bit each time you play. As Kim, for example, I worked quickly to cut every bit of drama from my deck because I never once had need for it. However, I wanted my partner to have drama, but I had chosen a partner who also wanted zero drama in their deck. This means that certain characters pair better than others – instead of choosing Ramona as my partner, I should have focused on Scott, who gains bonuses from using his drama in conjunction with his other cards. Order of cards, particularly during combat, has some significance too, as you’ll want to quickly play cards that have effects such as drawing more cards in order to increase your options as quickly as possible.
I think this game also appeals to those who are fans of Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World. At our table, no one had read the graphics novels but we had all seen the movie. Even that context was enough to have some fun with the text and images on the cards. I imagine if you’ve read and enjoyed the graphic novels that there’s another layer of appreciation here for you. Now I think this game stands fine on its own without the Scott Pilgrim branding, so if you’ve not seen it before or don’t care much about it there’s still something worthwhile here. But what’s important to keep in mind in that situation is that your fun will need to come exclusively from mechanisms without being supplemented by the references made by the game. If you’re not a fan of deckbuilders and you don’t care about Scott Pilgrim, then this may not be the title for you.
I’m not sure how every player at my game table felt about the game, but I personally had a good time with it and would recommend it to folks who enjoy these types of card games. I found that while the “sales pitch” seemed complicated, once I had the cards in front of me and actually started to play the game the rules were quite simple to understand and it was easy for me to dig in and enjoy the game’s mechanisms. I had fun learning the ins and outs of my character and I think there’s replayability in learning all of the game’s characters as well as trying out the different Evil Ex battles and the cooperative vs competitive playstyles. If you enjoy card games with goofy art and simple but engaging rules, I fully recommend Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Card Game!