Overseers is the English reprint of the Japanese game Chenghuang: Guardian of the City first published in 2015 by Big Fun Games. This game marks the first game from ThunderGryph Games and was successfully funded on Kickstarter in July 2016 raising €62,710, 712% of its €8,800 target. The copy seen in the photos below is the Kickstarter edition so some components may vary from a retail purchase of the game.
In Overseers players take up the mantles of celestial beings whose purpose is to continually strike a balance in the world of men, to do this they will apply Traits to human-kind such as Courage, Hope, Greed and Anger, however; they will also be in constant conflict with one another, thus ensuring that no one Overseer can impose their will exclusively upon mankind.
Truth be told, the theme in this game is a very simple, yet very beautiful, veneer; so if theme is of paramount importance to you in your games, then this one will certainly not be plucking that string. Do not stop reading though, because mechanically this is a wonderful game of drafting, set collection, and bluffing with variable player powers and heaps and heaps of player interaction. And to top it all off, these things are pulled off quickly, deftly and with panache.
Overseers is played over three rounds, with the player collecting the most victory tokens being deemed the winner. Three-player games will take about thirty minutes but do not mistake its brevity for any lack of depth. Each player will be dealt a new Overseer at the beginning of every round, each with their own special ability, before being dealt a hand of six Trait cards.
As a Set Collection/Drafting game, each player is looking to put together the best five cards they can, selecting one card from their hand before passing the remainder to their neighbour. The main area of Overseers comes from the following Phase: Placement.
Here, players will place their five cards on the play space in front of them, three of the cards will be face-up, the other two face down. All players then discuss who they believe to have the best and highest scoring set of cards, before entering the Vote Phase and simultaneously placing their Token in front of that player.
The Judgement Phase only affects that one chosen player, where they will either Admit (and discard two cards of their choosing) or Deny that they have the best hand. In the Showdown Phase all players reveal their cards, and if the voted player is Denied, and didn’t score the highest scoring cards, they get to take one of the discarded cards to bolster their final score! Which is ace. Alternatively, they lose two of their best cards if they did have the high score.
The Greed Phase allows the player with the most Greed cards (very low scoring) to steal a card from another player! Which introduces a brilliant and simple Take That system into the game.
The round ends and each player dives into the Overseers stamped cloth bag to dig out their victory tokens with the winner being declared after three rounds to the player with the most victory points.
These coins are a bit of a struggle, with denominations of one, five, 10, and 20. They vary in shades of grey through to a greyish-gold on one side and then a uniform grey/brown on the reverse makes this part of the game a little sluggish and saps some of the pace in this game, I have a mind to pimp mine out with some simple wooden tokens at some point and if you have any form of colour blindness you may struggle even more here.
Overseers may well be my favourite drafting game (insert gasp here), and this is for one very simple reason; because it is very easy to keep track of what you are giving to your neighbours. With only six types of cards to keep track of, you almost feel like a card counter in a Las Vegas casino; you know you passed your neighbour a (blue) Courage card each and every time, but come the Placement phase he isn’t showing any? Not a chance, he is sitting on a hidden 21 points there and so we enter the Vote phase and everyone around that table thinks they know what each other has hidden.
This is integral to the enjoyment of Overseers, you make the best of the draft but go charging into the next phase with a slither of knowledge, with accusations ready, and so the player interaction ramps up.
I always enjoy this part of the game, the bluffing, the miss direction, and even the trying to attract all those counters (that I like to call the Denial Trap). In my games, this phase can get pretty heated, increasingly so with each successive round. However, the boisterous extremes I’ve seen this game taken to aren’t fundamental or necessary, shyer, quieter players will certainly be able to fully engage with this phase, just with a lot more decorum.
Choosing your play group is important with this game, much like many games that use a bluffing/bidding mechanic, arguably these mechanics in Overseers are more accessible than Sheriff of Nottingham for example, as all players are simultaneously hiding something, and no one person is the “bad guy."
The art and graphic design (from Studio Amatiz) are…noteworthy. It is brilliant, the Overseer cards and box art have the very popular and attractive spot UV varnish, the artwork itself is beautiful, intricate, and detailed, reminiscent, I think, of Soul Calibur. But; it is a little racy for my very English sensibilities.
All the Overseers are women, all of them are Caucasian, all of them are scantily or revealing clad, some of them are verging on pornographic. None of this is relevant to the theme of the game, it has been a very conscious decision to have these cards look this way, simply to have them look that way.
The trait cards, conversely, are purely graphical, simple, large with bold iconography with Chinese writing which is all you need for a set collection card game. Some people will be absolutely fine with the artwork, they will appreciate the talent and skill required for it, and then just get on and play the game.
I’m not one of those people though unfortunately, sometimes I play games with my nieces and nephews who are all roughly around 13, and I simply wouldn’t feel comfortable putting Meixiu (a girl’s name meaning grace and beauty) down in front of a 13-year-old boy or girl, and even some grown men or women could be made to feel uncomfortable with the art too.
For me, this limits who I can play this great game with, it limits when I can play it and these limitations result in people missing out on a great, fun little game.
Final Thoughts on Overseers
This game was one of the first games I ever backed on Kickstarter, and I’m proud to be one of the 2,617 to help bring it to life because it is fabulous. Overseers has a lot of my favourite game mechanics and some of the best player interaction I’ve experienced in a competitive game.
It is quick and light, and although may sound fragmented and clunky with all the phases, it is actually very slick and easy to pick up. I only wish that I could get Overseers to the table as often as it deserves.