The ‘play a punchline’ party game is now pretty much a genre of its own. If not originated by Cards against Humanity, that divisive box certainly popularised it. Thinly veiled takes on the same idea abound everywhere, some with the addition of nominal themes (‘Tired of London’), some with illustrations and cartoons (‘Joking Hazard’ spinning off of the comic strip ‘Cyanide and Happiness’). But the format is basically the same. One person picks a card with a set-up, everyone else selects a punchline card from their hand, and then the funniest one wins that hand.
But as with all trailblazers, from Citizen Kane to Waiting for Godot, the first iteration of an idea breaks the ground, but then has to watch others come along to improve on and perfect its ideas. This might seem a pretentious thing to say in relation to tabletop gaming, but think about it. Whose favourite deck-builder is Dominion?
As it is with this type of party game. Cards against Humanity can be a lot of fun with the right group of people... but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t tire of it pretty quickly. That’s the trouble with basing your game around shock. Once shock becomes the norm, it isn’t shocking any more.
And then you’re left with the problem that the game itself is pretty thin. The players don’t really get involved. Someone else wrote the set-up. Someone else wrote the punchline. The player is almost irrelevant to the conversation. Surely it’s more fun to see your friends being witty rather than a pack of cards?
Which leads us on to Bucket of Doom...
Bucket of Doom - The Game
Arriving in an actual (slightly small) bucket, resplendent in a noxious pink, the cards you get in this game are initially very familiar in appearance. A set of questions and a set of answers. But the questions are a little more involved than most.
In fact, it’s probably incorrect to label them ‘questions’. A better word would be ‘scenarios’. These yellow cards outline a hazardous or, in some cases, downright deadly situation that you’ve literally been dealt. Falling out of a plane with no parachute, say. Getting trapped beneath the icy surface of a frozen lake. Having your mother access you internet search history.
Not to fear. Because you have in your hand a number of object cards to help in your escape. But the items on these cards aren’t always obviously useful. Maybe even never useful. How are a Gideon’s Bible or a cloud or a lucky golden waving cat a means of avoiding trouble?
Well, that is, of course, the game. You need to use the random selection of cards you have in your hand to devise a way out of your awful situation. The rules helpfully include three variants - you can use one card and redraw in the standard game, but more advanced players can use as many as they like in combination, whilst ‘pros’ can do the same but can only redraw when they’re entirely out of cards.
And you find that your mind starts making connections, as some of the cards in your hand are easier to employ than the rest. An electrical motor scooter might enable you to escape a tiger, but it’s not much use when you’re swimming with sharks. That might be a better place to deploy your Fray Bentos chicken pie. Suddenly a concept begins to emerge. You outline your outrageous and hardly foolproof plan to the other players, then everyone takes a vote to decide upon their favourite method of escape - the winner takes the yellow scenario card for that round and the first to have three of those wins the game.
Gameplay Pros and Cons
Immediately, Bucket of Doom stands head over heels above Cards Against Humanity. Whereas that doesn’t keep you involved creatively, Bucket of Doom very much does. The chief joy of this game is in watching the imaginative invention of your friends. None of the object cards are especially useful, but that’s the point. You have to deploy them in strange and unusual ways and often the unexpected leads to comedy.
It’s not perfect in that respect though. Unlike the game of this genre it most closely resembles - Funemployed - the set-up is a little too specific to get away with a vague response. And that can be a little bit like hard work. Whereas Funemployed can feel like alchemy in the way that even just reeling off the traits you are using to apply for an imaginary job can be amusing, and can make anybody funny, Bucket of Doom requires imagination from every player to work. And a certain degree of luck.
This means that it isn’t a game for everyone. The responses require lateral thinking making this veer towards being an actual game and whilst the answers are usually amusing, they’re rarely laugh out loud funny.
There are other caveats. The game slightly shows its inspiration in the way some of the scenario cards lean into shock value a little lazily. This is a game asking the player to be witty and clever, so it’s a shame that it sometimes doesn’t put in quite as much effort to do the same itself. Some scenarios are smart and satirical - I loved the subtlety of the one where all it says is that you’re a lion in the Savannah, sunning yourself when a dentist appears - and this just makes the juvenilia of ones where you’ve done a troublesome poo or have your girlfriend’s dad touching your knee rather disappointing. It’s a cheap laugh and the game could do with aiming a little higher.
But by and large those are the only major criticisms. It’s worth mentioning that whilst the game initially appears a little light on cards, this is because it’s made in rather an efficient way. Each answer card has two sides - one black, one white - and you pick which colour you wish to play with (there are a few rules variations involving flipping cards if your mind goes blank, but they’re unnecessary). This, in effect, doubles the amount of cards in the deck, as each side’s items are completely different - well, almost. I noticed ‘Kim Kardashian’s booty’ turning up twice, but I suppose that is at least apt for something that is so arguably exposed.
The scenarios and solutions presented on the cards are usually entertaining, and a lot of fun particularly for pop culture nerds - there are set ups based on Star Wars, Nightmare on Elm Street, Alien, the Martian... and I even noticed some of the cards referencing more obscure works like The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and, possibly, Black Dynamite.
It also manages to solve an issue that often turns up in these games - making it the right length. I’ve never had a game of Funemployed that’s run full length, and Cards against Humanity makes you play until everyone is bored, which is hardly ideal. Bucket of Doom plays until one person has won three times, which was probably too short with a minimum player count of three, but feels just right at higher numbers.
The judging is also altered from the usual process in these games in quite a smart way, where instead of the traditional ‘person who reads the card picks their favourite’ rule, the winner of each round is decided by a group vote. It’s much more involving and fair, and I’m rather tempted to house rule it into the others when I play them.
Closing Thoughts on Bucket of Doom
Bucket of Doom is never going to be my favourite example of this genre - it’s a little too demanding for that, never quite as easily amusing as the party games I really love. But it’s a solid entry that’s definitely worth adding to your collection to add variety, particularly if you like this style of game. I’ll certainly be playing it again.