Game Overview: In a very unique and somewhat odd setting, as a shepherd you control three mutated monster goats called Gruffs, who battle it out in a tactical combat card game by getting through your opponents line of Gruffs to take out their shepherd before they do the same to you.

Box Contents: Gruff uses a slim box that is just wide enough to hold the contents of the game.  This box is identical to the one that was used by Paperback (insert link) and Burgle Brothers (inset link) and has the same issues that I saw with those.  While there is enough space to easily hold the 85 cards, the ability sliders, and a nicely detailed GapTooth Gruff Trophy—the issue is that the rules book has to slide into the side of the box and easily gets bent with the top of the box pressing against it.

There are 15 Gruffs included with this release of the game.  Each Gruff comes with an oversized character card that allows you track their stats using the ability sliders.  A deck of 15 cards is also provided for each Gruff.  The art for each Gruff is repeated across all of its cards.  While the art is decent and gets the point across, there are some characters it is hard to make out how it is even a goat you are looking at despite its mutation.  Along with the oversized Gruff cards, there are seven oversized shepherd character cards that you can choose from as well.

All cards are well made and thicker than what you normally would see so they should easily hold up to repeated plays.

Clarity of Rules:  Because of the box size, the rules are found in a pamphlet style book and consists of 20 pages.  Of this, only 7 pages actually pertain to the game rules as the rest explain the lore of the game and turn by turn examples.

The rules book itself has a lot to be desired and because of this it was a challenge to really understand the game.  Some details just don’t exist within the rulebook where you have to decide on your own what to do or go searching the Internet to try to find the answer.  In addition, the flow of the rule book could have been improved as well.  An example is that during setup, it tells you what your hand limit is.  But if you look at the instructions for the draw step, there is nothing mentioned about the hand limit.  Setup is just that and the hand limit should have been noted during the draw step.

Game Play:  During game setup, you will choose a single shepherd and three Gruffs that you will control.  Each character card will have an ability that you can trigger at certain points during the game and each will be unique.  Along with this, each Gruff has a deck of 15 cards and you must go through that deck and choose 8 cards to use during the game.  Once finished, you will have a deck of 24 cards that will be shuffled together which you will be drawing from during the game.

Each Gruff will have three stats-mean, fat, and weird.  Mean is their attack value, fat is the defense value, and weird adds crazy to your shepherd.  Each Gruff will have a starting value that you will put the ability slider onto.  During the game, you will be trying to add to each of these values to make both your Gruff and your shepherd stronger.

To start the game you place your three Gruffs into a single line across the battlefield, while protecting the shepherd that resides behind them.  On your turn you will first draw a card and then you activate a single Gruff that is not currently exhausted.  If all three are exhausted at the start of your turn, then you refresh all of them.

When activated, some Gruffs may give you an ability to increase their stats.  In addition, the amount of the Gruffs weird is added to the sheperd’s crazy stat on their card.  Increasing crazy is important because this is how you will play cards from your hand.

Each card has a crazy value that depending on the Gruff you selected and the cards you added to your deck can range anywhere from a cost of zero crazy all the way up to thirty crazy.  It is important to note that your crazy is not exhausted to zero each turn.  This is to signify how your shepherd keeps getting stronger and stronger as the game progresses.

The cards you can play do one of three things.

·         Action Cards:  These are used once and then immediately discarded.

·         Condition Cards:  This has a temporary effect on the game or the Gruff that lasts until the start of your next turn.

·         Mutation Cards:  These are permanent affects that may affect both players and change the rules of the game.

Finally, on your turn you choose to either attack the Gruff that is immediately across from your activated Gruff, grow a single stat (mean, weird, or fat) on your Gruff character card, move by exchanging places with a Gruff on your team that is adjacent to the activated Gruff, or resurrect a dead Gruff.

When attacking, you push your Gruff forward and it stays there until the start of your next turn.  At the start of your turn you will compare your Gruff’s mean value to your opponent’s Gruff’s fat value.  If it is equal then you kill their Gruff and it is flipped upside down and will provide no protection to their shepherd for attacks until they have been resurrected.  If the mean value exceeds the fat value, the opponents shepherd will take the extra damage.

Players continue to take turns until one of the shepherds life value is dropped to zero or all three Gruffs have been defeated at the same time.

Replay Ability: As long as you are willing to not follow the same path each time, you will find a lot of replay value here.  Being able to mix and match different Gruffs along with a different shepherd opens this up.  Add in the fact that you are only using 8 of the 15 cards in each Gruffs deck, you can start picking different cards to find abilities or combinations that work best or differently for your game style and selected Gruffs.

Appropriate Audience: The game suggests 11+, which I think someone this age could definitely understand the game.  I am not so sure they will totally grasp the strategies that may be necessary to be competitive.

What We Liked/Didn't Like: The thing I liked the most about the game is how unique the attack process is by declaring your actions on one turn and then resolving the attack at the start of the next turn.  This gives the opponent a chance to adjust stats on their Gruff to defend the attack or perhaps take a move action and move a different Gruff into the position to take the attack.

The game is always slow moving at first as each player is trying to build up their stats on their Gruffs and the shepherd and this seems to draw out the game longer than perhaps it should.

Tracking of the card stats is used by a clip that slides along the cards.  Each Gruff will have three (mean, weird, and fat) and the shepherds will have two (crazy and life).  Normally I am not a fan of these as they can screw up the edges of the cards.  However, the cards are so much thicker than normal cards; we haven’t seen any issues yet.

While I understand the use of the unique stats to sell the world the game exists in (mean, weird, fat, and crazy), I do think this makes learning the game more of a challenge.  If the game simply used common terms (attack and defense), there would be less confusion until people become familiar with the game.   

Building of the decks is an extremely important part of the game and ultimately dictates what happens in the game.  There are no pre-constructed decks nor does the game provide a recommended set of cards as you learn the game.  Instead, it is by trial and error on if they are beneficial to your play style and the other Gruffs that you have selected.  Even for a seasoned player, building the decks takes time before you can actually start the game.  For someone that is new or if you have never played that particular Gruff, it takes even longer as you need to read through each card for each Gruff to understand what they do.

Because of this, players who have experience with the game have a major advantage over someone that is just getting into or learning the game.

Add-ons/Other Releases: 

There are four additional releases which can either be played as a stand alone game or you can combine the Gruffs and shepherds together.    

Gruff:  Clash of the Battle Goats

Gruff:  Rage of the Trolls

Gruff:  Stuff of Nightmares

Gruff:  Whispers of Madness (Coming Soon)