Full disclosure: Lucky Duck Games provided me with a review copy of Mutants.
What is this game about?
Mutants is a tactical card-battling game in which each player has a team of mutants ready to fight it out in the arena. The main point of the game is to score the most victory points before the end of five rounds. This feat is primarily achieved by performing well on the dominance track. In Mutants, there is a constant battle for "king of the hill," as players gain power and try to force their enemies to lose it. If one player can get into the "fury" space on the dominance track, while forcing opponents into the "dread" space, then they have a chance at more victory points every single turn. As players cycle through their decks, they also thin those decks by "freezing" mutants. Frozen mutants are removed from play, but they are also worth victory points at the end of the game.
All players start with the same set of basic mutants, but can access more powerful mutants based on either a draft or on deck construction that takes place before the actual battle. On each turn, players have a choice between three actions. They can deploy a mutant, which means putting it into their active mutant space and using its activation power. They can breed a mutant, which means discarding two cards with genes that match an advanced mutant, and then bringing that more powerful card immediately into play. Or they can discard only one card to "incubate" an advanced mutant, which allows them to put it on top of their deck next round (but they have a no-action turn during the current one).
There are also some fun spatial elements to gameplay that take place on the player board. Mutants start out in the "active mutant" slot, but players must slide the previous active mutant to the left or to the right each turn. Mutants are eventually slid off of the player board altogether, which can activate further special powers. Most mutants have a power that is triggered when they become active mutant, and if they can leave the board without being knocked down, they have a second power that is triggered when they leave the board.
How does it play solo?
Mutants comes with several solo bosses who have their own decks and special powers. The base game includes two solo bosses, with three more available across the expansions. While in the multiplayer game everyone is vying for victory points, in solo, you use the same mechanisms to reduce the boss's life total instead. When the boss is kicking your butt on the dominance track, you aren't punished, but they can gain life back and undo all of your hard work. If you can get the boss down to zero life in five rounds, you win!
Mutants was a very pleasant surprise for me. I hadn't even heard of the game until Razoupaf told me about it, and wasn't sure what to expect. What I got was a quick, snappy card battle with some very light deck construction. I particularly like the way the dominance track creates a constant struggle, with both you and the solo boss scrambling to get to the top and push each other down. Depending on what cards come out, you can go from top of the world to rock bottom, then have to find a way to scramble back up again.
I also like that Mutants is fast but still full of decisions. What advanced mutants should be the core of the deck I construct? Can I afford to incubate, which will give me a better card later, but do nothing to hurt the boss this turn? What tactical plays can I make with my cards to keep the boss from slipping ahead of me on the dominance track? Which card should I freeze—a weaker one that is worth fewer points, or a more powerful one that will knock a few extra points off of the boss's life total? Even deciding whether to slide a card to the left or to the right can be an important choice, based on what cards are in play and which areas on your player board might be attacked.
For all of these choices, Mutants is still a light card game. The cards you have access to during any given game are limited, and the powers are fun but not overwhelming. In some ways this is a little disappointing, because you aren't going to manage deep deck construction or deck building the way you might with a chunkier game. But if you want a fun skirmish that doesn't take all night, then Mutants may be a good choice.
I will say that I'm not convinced that Mutants is a great pick for solo-only play. The two bosses in the base box are not enough, and one of them, Jack Ice, is so difficult to beat with cards from the base box that I haven't figured out how to do it yet. (If you have, let me know in the comments what advanced mutants you were using!) To get the fullest possible solo experience, you'll need to purchase both of the expansions in addition to the base game, for a total of five bosses. At list price, that will come out to about $90 total—a steep price for a solo game that is very fun, but not one for the ages. If you are planning to play Mutants both alone and with friends, though, I think you'll get your money's worth.
Do I recommend it?
Yes, if you plan to play both alone and with others. Mutants is mechanically excellent, but I'm not convinced it's a great value for solo.
Overall Rating: 3.5 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.