Saturday, September 26, 2009

Card Game Review - Bartender

I have had a hell of a time recently getting a good night's sleep. It seems every time I stay up late to finish work on a Friday, something stupid gets me out of bed early on Saturday. At this point, if I had to get on a plane, I would have to check my overnight bag, because the airline people would call the bags under my eyes carry-on luggage. I hate that, because I'm never as funny when I'm tired. And let's face it, if you just wanted a review, you could go anywhere. You come to Drake's Flames to see me crack wise (or if you're that one asshole who keeps posting his garbage about the child molesters, you come here because you think making me spend five seconds to delete your asinine comments is somehow payback for some imagined slight you thought I committed in high school. Look, jackass, that wasn't me. For the last time, the guys who hung you by your underwear and put Icy-Hot on your ballsack were jocks. I was out that day).

When I'm tired and I need to be funny, I have to fall back on my easiest material - making fun of very bad games. To that end, I've chosen to review Bartender, which is so bad, we couldn't finish it. We understood it very well, and played by all the rules, and absolutely, thoroughly despised it. A game this bad means I have lots of amusing material.

Let's start with the art. The short version is, if you can't afford the budget to get a real artist, you can't afford to make a game. And if, by some chance, you can afford to make a game despite not paying an artist, you should still spring for a two-week account at a decent stock art site. You should not, under any circumstances, use a clipart collection that came with Windows '95. Sadly, the guys who made Bartender did not get that memo, because this is the worst art I have seen in any game since my brother and I were in elementary school and tried to make our own version of Rockem Sockem Robots using cardboard and chopsticks.

But art doesn't make a game, unless the game is about making art, in which case some quality control might be in order. You can have an ugly game that's still fun. You just won't be able to sell it to anyone.

Unfortunately, Bartender is not only as hideous as your grandmother's burst gout, it's also not fun. It's simple, so that's nice, but it's not fun. Every player is trying to mix drinks with the umpty-freaking-zillion different ingredients in the game, from rum and vodka to mint leaves and grapefruit. These ingredients are on cards that also have recipes for various adult beverages. You play cards onto the table that everyone can use, then you use them up to make your drinks and earn some money. The ingredients run out after they get used three times, which is still plenty of time for you to guess what that art was supposed to be.

Our game went fine at first, aside from the outraged cries of 'what the hell is that? Why does that bottle look like a butt plug? Who hired Stevie Wonder to do art for a card game?' The rules were very straightforward and easy to teach, and we were ready to whip up some fuzzy navels in no time.

Then things went bad. After five minutes, the middle of the table was so cluttered with ugly cards describing mixed drinks that we were taking two minutes to play every card. The game ground to a halt as we said, 'hey, is there any Triple Sec on the table? Do I need that? Wait, is that a grapefruit or a severed head? Where's the cranberry juice? No, I'm pretty sure that's peach schnappes.' We sounded like a group of irritable senior citizens fighting over prune juice recipes.

Now, I confess that we might have been in a hurry to stop playing because the art is so bad that my eyes were bleeding. Our enjoyment of the game might have been reduced by having to look at graphics that looked like they had been made by a fourth-grader who just learned how to use the line-drawing software on his new LeapFrog kiddy laptop. But I'm pretty sure that the main reason we hated the game was because it sucked.

The game came to an early end when I double-checked the endgame conditions and confirmed that we were supposed to play until we ran out of cards. When I said this aloud, the other players all looked at the rather large stack of cards that were left and groaned loudly. One of us - a hero to us all - suggested that we could simply put it away and pretend it never happened. This proposal was uniformly appreciated by everyone, and then we had to decide if we should actually put it back in the box, or just sweep the whole thing into the trash. We decided to box it up again, to spare the poor cleaning lady who might see this travesty in the garbage can and be struck blind.

I can only guess that the game was created at four in the morning after closing time in a Chicago dive bar, as a way for a couple bouncers to memorize drinks and move up to tending bar. As a memory device for budding barkeeps, it's probably handy (even if it is butt-ugly). As a marketable contender for an enjoyable game, it's a complete flop. I've played games I hated more than Bartender, but I can't think of one off the top of my head. And I haven't played an uglier game in more than thirty years.


Can help you learn drink recipes
Easy to learn

Art so bad, it makes grown men weep, but just as an attempt to clean their retinas
Cluttered and confusing once you get going
No fun whatsoever

It took me a while to find something uglier than Bartender. But this is still more fun:

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