Party games are fraught with problems, starting with the fact that they’re, well, supposed to be played at parties. That’s an issue both in ordinary situations and our current time, when social distancing due to COVID-19 is encouraged as a way to flatten the curve and limit exposure of vulnerable populations to the virus.
It’s hard to write about anything without addressing the current realities of a world where we’re asked to stay inside and hope things outside eventually get better, especially when a board game is called We’re Doomed and the concept is centered around the end of the world. But while the Breaking Games title may be a bit too on the nose for our current times, it actually is a party game that scales well from anywhere between four and 10 players, a rare entry into the genre that plays well as a regular game night title and a chaotic party game.
We’re Doomed made its debut at PAX East in 2019 and was back, more prescient than ever, in 2020. The concept of the game is simple: Players are world leaders of various governments and have 15 minutes to produce enough resources to build a rocket to escape earth safely before the world ends. The more resources they contribute to building the rocket, the more leaders can escape safely in an order determined by how much “influence” each player also collects in the game time.
It all goes by very quick and initially sounds simple, but the event cards read after each round quickly change the end game rules and can completely alter how the goals of the game. Much like Fluxx, the win condition can change quickly and make what seems like a simple strategy — work together to gather resources — into an impossible task that takes quick thinking and maybe a bit of luck to survive.
What often is the best part of We’re Doomed is the ticking clock, which not only adds urgency to the game but also an endpoint that means if something suddenly happens — say, a player is nuked out of the game by another government or event card — they only need to sit out a few minutes before they’re back playing. They can also help players parse rules and maybe take resources out of the box if something, say, not ideal were to happen in another event.
The game’s humor saves it from being bleak despite the lore, and the event cards have some truly funny bits of flavor text for political junkies. There’s a gag I won’t spoil at the start of the game that was particularly funny, and soon sets the mood for the absurd tasks to come. One clever mechanic is that each player is given a kind of government that has special abilities. A Democracy, for example, can steal resources from another government without spending an influence token. An Autocracy can use nuclear weapons to eliminate players for fewer resources, making them particularly dangerous, while a Corporatocracy “propagandizes,” or steals influence from other players, for free.
Smartly, as the player pool gets bigger, the balance of government types changes. A five-player game adds a Technocracy, which produces three resources per round instead of two. And each time a player is added from there, a second kind of specific government comes into play, which keeps the game balanced and has some fun impacts on larger events and in some cases actually encourages a bit of teamwork.
Admittedly, getting the pace of play down at first does take some adjustments and it can be tough to bring along new players when you’re in a group that’s mostly seen how hectic things get. It can also be tough to keep track of players who can get nuke-happy, though there are consequences for a quick trigger finger in that regard as well. Overall it’s a game that has tons of replay value just because there’s a lot of variety in how it is played between different people and their instincts. Event cards are chaotic good, mostly, and keep the mood light. A game can quickly go off the rails, but at 15 minutes, it’s hard to quit on it rather than just see how things play out.
Just maybe don’t try out the 10-player version until the rest of the world feels a bit more certain and assembling groups isn’t a thing that can actually accelerate a genuine crisis in real life. It may not feel like it while playing We’re Doomed, but patience is still a virtue. Even in these trying times.