Emoticons Are Taking Over The English Language - Smiley Face Review

Hello readers! It's 2014 and this is the first review of the new year! Looking forward to getting January out of the way work-wise given my job profession as an accountant, but in terms of gaming, there's some great titles coming out and I hope to attend at least one, if not two major board game conventions as well. 

I'm going to start things off on a lighter note with what has to be, one of the most under-rated games that exist out there. This game is ranked in the 6,000's on BoardGameGeek and to most people you would probably just ignore any kind of game that was ranked so low. But many gamers and podcasters out there have included this game on their under-rated lists and it's designed by Bruno Faidutti who is responsible for some quality games including Citadels so for less than £11, it had to be worth a look.

"Not an easy game to sell by cover alone! Oh and sorry for my parent's Xmas style tablecloth!"

Designer: Bruno Faidutti (2010)
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
# of Players: 4-8
Ages: 8+
Play Time: 30+ minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: #6,113/5.74
Dice Tower 2013 People’s Choice Rank: n/a
Category: Light Family Card Game

Why So......Serious?

Smiley Face can essentially be called "Emoticons: The Card Game". The whole theme of this game is set around various interpretations that exist on the Internet for emoticons within four main expressions: anger, sadness, happiness and surprise. 

The game plays over 7 rounds and the object of the game is to acquire the most points (gee what a surprise). Each round plays out the same way. You have to play cards from your hand to try and score the most points from the cards themselves, but you can only score one colour suit at the end. Before the round begins, four suit cards (without numbers on them) are laid out in a column. The bottom card is flipped over to indicate that this suit will score zero points this round. A "+1" token is placed on the top card to indicate that it's the Boss suit and thus all cards of that colour will score an additional point in the round. This column layout refreshes every round.

"It's quite fun to match the expression on the card to the player you've just screwed over in this game"

Now that alone sounds a bit bland. But let me continue, there are two other things to consider. First there are the Mischief cards. These represent emoticons that are more complex such as cats, clowns, mice, aliens, etc and each has a unique special effect, some of which cause mad chaos during the round. For example the mouse allows you to reset the round and ignore it for the purposes of scoring at the end. Playing this card when you've been screwed over out of some points is always a classic moment.

"I Aim To Misbehave"

Secondly there are the Helping Hands. If you think that you have no chance to win the round then you can pass and give your Helping Hand to the player who you think will win. In addition to this you give them one of your played cards to boost their chances further. If that player then wins the round you get a token with a points value on it ranging from 0 to 2, so it's not always going to benefit you but they can be significant enough that you might base your whole strategy on grabbing them. Once you help someone, no-one else can so you have to make your decision quickly to not be beaten to the punch and that's assuming that no-one swaps them around with Mischief cards anyway.

"Standard token affair - best hope you don't draw a zero for helping someone out!"

The winner of each round takes the corresponding round card with a points value on it. Once 7 rounds have been played you total up all the points and. . . . . well do I need to say who the winner is?

It's Mitigated Chaos

One thing that can be said about this game is that it's chaotic. VERY. The Mischief cards allow you to swap helping hands, reset the round, boost cards, steal cards, peek at hands or tokens and even rearrange the Boss Suit column how you see fit. Some rounds degenerate into such madness and that's before you're trying to suss out what players have in their hand, what their tactics are and whether you're going to lend a helping hand. Allegiances change more often then in the Game of Thrones here. 

This works for the game's benefit though as it's a great laugh and the game is meant to be light, but it also works against the game as some of that randomness and chaos can confuse non-gamers who aren't used to having to think on the fly. I played a 7 player game with fellow gamers and it was a big hit, but I tried a 4 player game with the family and it still was received well, but my Mum could not understand the game at all, but then she only understands roll and move / trivia games anyway!

"Typical layout - it's very colourful and there's 20 different faces across the range of cards and suits"

Don't Judge A Box By It's Cover - Especially When It's Covered In Smiley Faces

The game itself is a good laugh and for £11 is a steal for the amount of laughing and shouting that can occur in a game, but here's the biggest reason why it's ranked so low in my opinion. The game is called Smiley Faces, it has pictures of emoticons on the cover and it emphasises the fact that it's a family game. This is a tricky game to "sell" to the gaming world and I've had a tough time getting people to look past the cover and try the game out due to these reasons. When they do play the game, they enjoy it, but how do you express what this game is about and still keep them interested? It's one of those "you have to try it yourself and see what you think" style games. Yes the theme could be interchanged for something else, but I find the emoticon pictures amusing and I like how they've shown the syntax for how to type the emoticon into Internet chat on the cards as well. 

One big negative however is that the box is WAY too big. Fantasy Flight Games have a habit of making box sizes stupidly large for what is in the game. There are a bunch of cards and a few tokens and a very small rulebook (seriously there's not much to teach in this game so you can get it going really quickly) yet for some reason the box is about 3 times the size it needs to be to store all the cards. Why? You did so well with the Citadels re-print putting such a quality game in such a small box that stores effortlessly on my shelf and yet you have something like this which is a pain because you know deep down you could store the game in a small bag, but that would involve discarding a box which I never like doing!

"Seriously that's how big the box is. How hard can it be to have more folds in the rulebook?"

Verdict

Smiley Faces appears a lot in the under-rated games lists of many players out there. It's not the best game ever made, but it's a solid fun chaotic game for when you need something quick and easy and light to bring to the table. You can teach the rules in 5 minutes and get on with playing the game. If 7 rounds is too much for you, then simply take out a couple of the round cards and play with less.

The chaos can be off-putting to non-gamers who aren't experienced at thinking on the fly tactically, but otherwise anyone should be able to pick up this game from the word "GO" and even though it's chaotic, there's still an element of tactics that you can incorporate into how you play your cards. Do you strike hard straight away with your high value cards to make yourself the contender for assistance, but risk becoming a target for Mischief cards? Or do you play your poor cards and hide your real strength in your hand till the last minute before trying to grab a last minute win?

So give it a try, it's incredibly cheap and a good laugh and not deserving of it's 6,000 ranking on BGG. I can think of MANY games I'd rather see in the 6,000's. Just be cautious about the box size unless you plan to ditch the box anyway. 





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