Quinns: Full disclosure! Guts of Glory is the work of a couple of friends of mine, and their background isn't in table gaming, but the prestigious New York game design scene. And you can tell.
The manual's hilarious. The box has some kind of space age linen finish, and art that goes all the way around it. Most importantly, it's a game with a theme that isn't contemporary, historical, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, adventure or steampunk, which is something I can say about zero of the eighty games in my living room. Here, finally, is something inventive.
Guts of Glory is a post-apocalyptic, surrealist, competitive eating competition. A game of using motor oil to wash down boxes of spiders, or snatching an extra jaw from another player to help you chew a time machine. If that doesn't intrigue you, my last recourse is the following line from the manual: "Play begins with the hungriest player. If there is a tie, play begins with the angriest player."
Once you've had fun laughing about who's hungriest or angriest, the game works like this.
Everyone gets a mouth with limited space. Each turn, you must feed yourself a card from the central plate. You then get two chew tokens, each of which can be placed on one card in your mouth. Once a card receives a requisite number of chews, it is immediately swallowed, perhaps gaining you 1 of the 7 Glory points required to win the game (the above wedding cake is worth a mouth-watering 3), perhaps triggering a special "Swallow" effect, or both.
A Side Jaw is incredibly useful when it's in your mouth, for example. It's also quite the setback if you end up accidentally swallowing those teeth.
But, and this is where and I can't explain the rules without giggling uncontrollably, if a player must feed and has no room in their mouth, they must "spew" a different card out of their mouth. The spewed card gets an additional glory card attached to it, and is offered to each player in a clockwise motion, potentially setting off a chain of spews in an entirely disgusting fashion. Oh, and if you have room in your mouth for a chewed card, even if it's a fridge covered in tar cards, you have to accept it.
"DO I REALLY HAVE TO FEED A SPEWED CARD IF I HAVE ROOM?" Asks the manual.
"Absolutely," it says. "This is a game of gentlemen."
So obviously that's amazing. As an actual game, though, Guts of Glory was going to have an uphill battle in making me like it. At the risk of upsetting the designers (who at least were my friends before they read this), I'd categorise Guts as a "take that" card game. Munchkin and Fluxx are prominent examples of this, where every card has a new rule or twist printed on it, new cards appear every turn, and the game is in being surprised at powers and new artwork, screwing over your friends, and always adapting in a stormy sea of rules.
A lot of people enjoy this sort of easy-going play, where there's no pressure on players to out-think their friends. Killing time with cards in this style has been popular for millennia, and Guts jostles right to the front of these ranks.
But these games aren't usually for me. I actually can't relax in this sort of environment, because I get frustrated when I can't puzzle over the puzzle in front of me, because the table's in constant flux on my friends keep sticking their greasy fingers into my machinery. If I’m playing a card game, I don't just want it to kill time. I want to invest time into it, and see an emotional return. I want a Coup, or a Condottiere. A Mundus Novus or a Dungeons of Mandom. Something with heft and consequence, where I’m grinning at the intelligence of the designer and the wit of my friends.
SO! Did Guts of Glory turn me around on “take that” card games? No, it didn’t. It still made me feel like I was picking my way through a mundane minefield, occasionally spotting that I could combine this card with that card to score a Glory point one turn earlier, sometimes having my legs taken out from under me by a friend force-feeding me The Moon. But it did make me hate them less than anything else in the genre. In fact, if you watched hidden camera footage of me, you’d probably find I was smiling for most of the time.
It all comes down to that theme. There’s only so bad a time I can have when I’m snatching up the half-chewed tissue that just fell out of my friend’s mouth. When a giant tongue is crawling over the horizon. When my character is falling behind in the eating contest because he can’t stop chewing the mouthwatering memories of foods past. Obviously humour is subjective, but for me? This is the funniest game I've ever played. No question about it.
As to whether I can recommend it, let’s imagine you and I are in a game shop together. Baffled, you pick up the Guts of Glory box, and find yourself laughing at the description on the back:
“I think I have to buy this,” you say. And I look into your eyes. I see the child-like glee of finding something truly special.
I’m not a strong man. I couldn’t tell you any different.
“Yeah,” is all I’d say. “Yeah, you probably do.”