Fluxx Digital Review25 Jul 2019 1
Fluxx Digital Review
Released 18 Jul 2019
Heraclitus of ages past surmised that, at heart, fire is the fundamental element of things. In other words, all things are beset by constant change. That philosophy has been boiled down to the saying ‘no man steps in the same river twice’. Sure enough and true to its name, no one plays the same game of Fluxx twice, for the party game is an ever-mutating affair. Its cavalcade of rules and action cards mean upsets are the norm. Fluxx been a standby filler game for ages now, and the app has always been a serviceable one. Thanks to a new 64-bit version, the game is back from the grave. It plays like a breeze but lacks the pep and polish most party games need to shine.
Fluxx has a metagame built right into its rules. Most of the cards in the deck tweak what’s possible and required on a ‘normal’ turn. ‘Draw X’ and ‘Play X’ are the usual culprits, with some rascally limits on hand size and Keepers popping up here and there. Most crucially, the Goal of the game itself is also a moving target: the winner is the player who, at the end of their turn, has Keepers in play matching those described on the goal card also in play. It’s a lock and key system which always gets jumbled up, since the same player who has the required Keepers rarely has the corresponding Goal. It’s a right mess trying to line up the victory conditions. The deck just reshuffles and play marches on interminably until someone wins. I’ve had games done on the first turn (my maiden voyage on the app was like this, somehow) and games which last an hour. The bedlam is entirely the point.
It’s manageable, just. And the app is well-organized, with big, bold icons and buttons for the UI. The game is mostly about timing and holding back strategic options for last-ditch switch plays. Fluxx has a story-like quality because even in lightning-fast rounds of the play, things feel stretched out and even long-winded. So if a million betrayals and thefts happen, the injury and insult is leavened by the game’s rapid-fire changes. Easy come, easy go makes for easy-going players.
Fluxx is in excellent company. There are a few playing-deck games about changing rules and guessing rules, like Mao and Eleusis. (Sidenote: The latter game was the seed inspiration for Zendo, another game published by Looney Labs) The conceit of changing rules feels nominally ‘clever’ without actually adding any difficulty. It’s not really that sophisticated, but it is good for a laugh, and I enjoy the volatility and uselessness of deep planning. Fluxx never puts on airs, it never promises a grand or thoughtful experience. Just some good old-fashioned sloppy fun. It’s a little old-school, though, and there are plenty of other short games which do pack in some mental crunch-time, even in just twenty minutes. As far as comparisons go, you might like Fluxx if Munchkin or Exploding Kittens are up your alley. It’s also useful as a kind of pressure-release valve for when the gamer brain wants to get its fix without too much strain involved.
Now, all of this might sound like one long back-handed compliment. Au contraire, my friend. Fluxx simply has settled into an unusual and somewhat dated niche, that of the insane, anything-goes filler. One of the most egregiously Type-A dudes I know loves Fluxx to pieces, though, so you never know who might become a fan. You play the game, or rather the game plays you, more than a bit. Technically part of the appeal of Fluxx is that it has a million different versions, with decent themes and comic-style art for all of them. The mix-and-match aspect isn’t present in the app, though, unfortunately. The regular deck of cards is plenty robust from a gameplay standpoint, strictly, but it’s missing the flair that Chthulu Star Trek Anatomy Mega-Fluxx has. This boast is only half in jest.
For all its zaniness, the game really is quite simple and shockingly devoid of decision-making. Depending on your breed of gamer, flat decisions might be an absolutely deal breaker. For the omnivore it’s no big. Far from a knock on Fluxx’s design, this straightforwardness makes it a great beer-and-pretzels game. Low mental overhead means extra presence of mind for banter and the hey-how-are-ya catchups which are part and parcel of why tabletop gaming is fulfilling. Systems and socialization in the same package. Fluxx fits in the flow of life, what with its playtime and light ruleset.
Well, on the socializing front Fluxx as an app oversells and under-delivers. Because there is only one physical index to track the game’s state, people’s attention wanders just a tad too much. If there’s much food, drink and merriment to be had, a lonesome iPad is bound to get lost in the shuffle. So while Fluxx is a great party game, the app itself won’t make a splash at those same parties. Whereas with a deck of cards spread out on the table, there are constant reminders of what’s going on. It seems a cruel paradox, but I find light-weight games have a harder time justifying their app versions, because the book-keeping and portability gains are offset by this reduced social presence on the table.
One could argue, fairly, that this reviewer has been rather hot-and-cold on the most pressing issue: is the Fluxx app any good? Well, the answer depends (fluctuates, even?) on what kind of void it is meant to fill. It’s certainly good for a bit of nostalgia, or shooting the breeze, and must be said that the game’s online play options are good. But as an app for premeditated play-sessions, the digital Fluxx has lost some of its spark.