The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Gibbering Goblins (Gosu)

Today was classic game day. Acquire, Cosmic, Titan, Dominion (ok, Prosperity). Other tables had Glory to Rome, Small World, Euphrat und Tigris. And then there was Gosu. I’d read (and forgotten) the review, but this was on my watchlist, so we tried a two player game.

Apparently Gosu has been compared to the Race/San Juan/Glory to Rome family. You have a handful of cards and you play them into a tableau (I don’t think they call it that) and pay by discarding other cards. All cards are goblins from a clan (think Magic: the Gathering color). Goblins come in three powers (1, 2 and 3, although they have names vaguely reminiscent of Sumo). You have to start off playing a Level 1 Goblin. You can keep extending Level I goblins to the right, up to 5. To play a level 2 Goblin, you have to play it over a Level 1, and you have to have a Level 1 of the same color (but not necessarily the one underneath). So you can never have more Level 2s than Level 1s. To play a Level 3 you just have to play it over a Level 2 and have a goblin of the same clan in both Levels 1 & 2.

The first reason people compare this to Race (etc) is that a Level 1 Goblin requires you to discard two cards to play it IF it’s a new clan (unless it’s your first Goblin). Also, most Goblins have a mutation cost. Discard that number of cards, and you can discard the Goblin and replace it (same spot) with any goblin of the appropriate level from your hand, even if you don’t have the clan pre-requisites.

The other reason the comparison is apt is that the deck (of 100 cards) has roughly 70 different goblins. (Each Level 1 Goblin has 2 copies). So there’s lots going on. Some cards “Trap” other cards (flip them face down). Others destroy a “free” goblin (a goblin with no goblins to it’s right or above it). Some draw cards, or force your opponents to discard cards. Some of the Level 3 Goblins grant “Auto-victory” conditions. I saw at least three of those.

But mostly you play for VPs. Each player (in addition to cards) has two activation tokens. Some goblins have powers that can be invoked for one token, or you can spend one to draw a card (or both to draw three cards). But eventually people will run out of stuff to do and pass. When you pass, you are done for the round. When everyone passes, it’s Goblin Clobbering time. Each (untrapped) Goblin is worth 2,3 or 5 points (depending on level). Most points gets a VP. Reset your activations (and untrap) and start again.

There’s also an “Advantage” marker. It breaks ties in battle, but also many goblin powers give you a bonus if you have it (or steal it outright). Some of the goblin powers also give you a bonus if you have less VP (For example, “Draw 2(+1) cards” means draw 2 cards, three if you aren’t winning).

Anyway, after my first game, I felt some race-like stirrings. The rules aren’t difficult. The powers are mainly spelled out on the cards, no reference sheet really necessary. You take an action or pass, then your opponent goes. Igo Hugo. Because battle strength is uniform (based on level) you can tell whose winning the next battle at a glance. But I definitely had that “I’m paying attention to my tableau and only looking at yours rarely” vibe.

I’m not sure how this would work with 3 players. Unlike Race there’s a lot of direct confrontation, so I suspect this is more a 2 player game (or team 2v2). The cards didn’t feel unbalanced, but I only started with a single Level 1 goblin. If he’d gotten killed, ugh. (Fortunately, he let me draw a few cards, which let me cycle to some useful goblins). Another odd rule, you don’t automatically get new cards after a battle, (and you keep your tableau), so there’s a definite chance for a player to get a few cards killed, start losing, and then fall behind. Still, in a fast game no big deal.

Another odd rule is that the advantage token card starts with the first player. (I would have imagined it started with no player until claimed). However, in thinking about it, the first player is slightly more likely to have to pass first, which lets the other player know the # of battle points they have to exceed, so it’s probably reasonable. (Or, at least, a defensible rule in theory).

Is Gosu really in the Race Family? Well, you don’t often have to buy cards, but you do mutate fairly often. There’s not nearly as much deck churning as in the rest of the family. If you start with 7 cards in a battle, you’ll probably draw 3-5, play some of your cards, pay with some, and keep some for next battle. But there are a fair number of effects to draw cards (or draw and discard), so you do get to see some. We reshuffled and went through about 1/3rd of the deck again (although we each got 2VP for the first battle we won, due to a card effect, so our game was significantly shorter than normal).

The clans seem diverse. One draws lots of cards. Another kills/traps frequently. One has lots of zombie mutations (which let you mutate to any goblin in the discard pile). One has lots of weird ways to score VP/Win. You can go for mainly 1-2 clans, which gives you redundancy if you are trapped but means other cards in your hand are useless (unless you mutate into them) or try for a 5 clan setup.

Overall, I like it. We’ll see after a few more plays if it has staying power.


Written by taogaming

October 9, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Posted in Reviews

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3 Responses

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  1. The decision space is gigantic once you get cards that can dredge the entire discard pile. This leads to AP problems (for me at least).

    You can also introduce a new instant win condition after everyone else has passed, which is… Fluxx-like, not really what I’m looking for in a serious game.

    Fred Bush

    October 12, 2010 at 2:55 pm

  2. Here, this might help the two of you. I’m still trying to get to the bottom of how much strategy there really is in this game, so to get to know the cards better, I sat down and compiled a complete cardlist:


    October 12, 2010 at 3:20 pm

  3. […] having passed, one player said “Card, Card, Card, I win.” And so he had. Apparently it happened in the next game, too. I don’t mind auto-wins, but (for the second game out of … two), I got one […]

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