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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Easy to play and teach.
  • Unique theme.
  • Amazing artwork.
  • Thematical gameplay.

Might Not Like

  • ‘Take that’ style of game.
  • The theme is definitely not for everyone.
  • Plays better with higher player counts than smaller ones.

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Side Effects Review

Side Effects Box

Side Effects helps highlight that anyone can be suffering from mental health issues, it is respectful of the topic at hand, and although it is good fun to play and brings plenty of laughs, it is the ‘take that’ mechanics that bring the laughs, not the theme it presents. I wanted to make that perfectly clear from the start, as mental health is not something to be made into a cheap joke.

I myself suffer from several of the mental health issues present in this game (I will let you guess which ones). This makes the game more personal to me and allows me to bring attention to them in a fun setting with friends who also suffer.

So, with that in mind, did Side Effects bring delight to my troubled mind, or did it highlight a deep desire for help? Let me take my handful of medication and I shall tell you all about it…

“Mental Pain Is Less Dramatic Than Physical Pain, But It Is More Common And Also More Hard To Bear.” C.S. Lewis, The Problem Of Pain.

Side effects is a really small game. One thing I have learned about board games is that the smaller a game is, the bigger a punch it needs to make in order to stand out. I think this game delivers on that. Theme is really important in the smaller games. Most people will argue against that and tell you that you can slap any theme on a small game and it would work the same. And they are right, but the game wouldn’t feel the same.

I have never come across another game where mental health is the main focus of the theme. Whether it is because it is so obscure that not many have thought of it, or it is a topic most have tried to avoid, the theme is unarguably unique.

The objective of the game is to cure yourself of all your ailments whilst trying to avoid opening yourself up to new ailments. When you cure yourself of a health problem with the required medication, the side effects of that medication can cause other health problems. This is when your opponents can inflict your psyche with more issues to deal with.

There are only 4 different types of cards to learn how to use: disorders, drugs, episodes, and therapy. Each being pretty self-explanatory. Drugs treat the matching disorder, episodes trigger effects on the opponents and therapy is a trump card that cures most disorders.

“Man Is Not Worried By Real Problems So Much As By His Imagined Anxieties About Real Problems” Epictetus.

There are 8 different disorders in the game: madness, suicidal thoughts, depression, tremors, gambling addiction, anxiety, impotence, and anorexia.

You start with 4 of these randomly in your psyche (face up in front of you) that you have to cure. Rushing to treat them does not usually go in your favour, however. Side Effects is less of a race to finish and more of a tactical reconnaissance mission to gauge your opponents' strategies. If you cure your tremors on the first turn, for example, this leaves you open to gambling addiction, depression and madness. If you are playing with 4 players, you could end up with all 3 of these by the time your turn comes back around.

Leaving yourself untreated is also a risk however as each disorder has its own thematical episode. Taking tremors again as an example, if you have that untreated in front of you, an opponent can inflict an episode on you which causes you to discard 3 cards in 3 seconds or discard your entire hand.

Luck Vs Tactics

As the game revolves around you having 4 randomly assigned disorders at the start, and collectively drawing your hand from a shared deck, there is a lot of luck needed in this game.

Some disorders are harder to treat than others. Anorexia for example can only be cured with therapy, whereas tremors can not be cured with therapy. This makes thematical sense, but if you start with these two cards, then you are starting the game at a disadvantage.

Tactics are a part of the game too but they are only formulated from what you happen to draw from the deck. You are also allowed to bargain with other opponents which help with your tactics. “If you cure my depression, then I will give Markus gambling addiction” for example. This obviously does not work in a 2-player game though.

The bargaining can be a great mechanic to make the game more interesting too. In the last game I played, my friend said to me at the start of my turn “If you cure my impotence, then I won’t give you an episode on my turn”. I promptly pointed out that that was not a bargain, but simply blackmail, and cured a different player of impotence instead out of spite. Needless to say, I did not win that game.

Components

The artwork on this game is what caught my attention the most. I would likely have never given Side Effects a second glance if it wasn’t for the amazing artwork. The artwork on each of the disorders is great and really thematic. All of the disorders have their information facing both directions so that you and your opponents can easily read them. The cards themselves are tarot sized, linen finished with minimal reading needed.

The rulebook is presented in an extremely old-fashioned prescription booklet which is just a superb little attention to detail. It is easy to read through, making the game just as easy to teach. With basic rules and basic strategies at the back, and a quick reference game key, it's a very useful and well put together rulebook.

That is everything you get in the box. Some tarot cards, and a small booklet. No more, no less.

Final Thoughts

Side Effects is a very thematical game. The card episodes tie in very well with the disorder they are representing. The game itself does not make light of what is actually quite a deep theme. It represents mental health well and opens up a friendly atmosphere in which to discuss them.

The game itself is incredibly light and you can easily get a couple of games in within half an hour. I really do recommend this game if you are a fan of smaller, ‘take that’ style games and are looking for something with a different feel. Side effects is definitely a unique choice.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Easy to play and teach.
  • Unique theme.
  • Amazing artwork.
  • Thematical gameplay.

Might not like

  • Take that style of game.
  • The theme is definitely not for everyone.
  • Plays better with higher player counts than smaller ones.

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