Building an audience faster than “Words With Friends” or just about any other mega hit I’ve ever seen, “Draw Something” demands attention simply because it’s suddenly huge and because parents need to be aware that kids need to use it with caution.
The gameplay is a simple takeoff on “Pictionary.” You begin by connecting to someone via Facebook or in-game accounts. Only two people can play each other at once, but you can have multiple games going at once. The turns are staggered, so you don’t need to have a live connection. You make your turn, send it, and your opponent watches a playback of your picture as you drew it.
When you start a new gameplay session, you have a choice of three words, worth one, two or three coins each. The one-coin word is the easiest, while the three-coin word is the hardest. A one-coin word might be something like “foot” or “happy,” while a three-coin word could be “Skyrim” or “Lebron.”
Once you choose a word, you go to a simple set of drawing tools and just draw it. Obviously, drawing a happy face is pretty easy, while drawing a picture that conveys the word “Skyrim” is quite a bit more difficult. This guessing is made a bit easier by the format, which provides a limited selection of letters and spaces, thus reducing the number of potential words.
The basic drawing tools have a few colors to start with, lines of different widths and an eraser. There are no shapes or stamps, so all drawings are line-based. As you guess pictures and earn coins, you’re able to buy new color sets, but other than this, the art tools don’t really change much. Nonetheless, some artists are creating some astonishing drawings with these simple tools.
The game was created by Omgpop. Until “Draw Something,” they were mostly known for a minor social/gaming site where people could play simple flash games and chat. Within five weeks, “Draw Something” was downloaded 20 million times. By March, it was being played almost 11 million times a day via Facebook, bypassing the former social-gaming hit “Words With Friends.” Those numbers earned the attention of social-media powerhouse Zynga, which scooped up the company for a whopping $200 million and made it part of the Zynga empire.
The appeal of “Draw Something” is in its simplicity. This combination of humor, gameplay and social networking is coming to dominate game design.
Content issues: “Draw Something” is available for iOS devices in free (with ads) and $1 (without ads) versions. The game is not rated, but there is no problematic content native to the game. However (and please note this is the “Big Red Warning”), this is a social-media game. If you decide to play or let your kids play, be aware that it is not only possible but quite easy to start a game with total strangers. Those strangers can draw or write whatever they like during their turns, and it is not at all unusual for offensive words or images to be transmitted as game turns. A PC version is called “Draw My Thing,” which was an unfortunate name choice. The PC game includes multiple players guessing as one person draws. I popped in and out of various games one day, and one person popped into every session and, well, drew a body part no matter what the clue was.
It is possible to play this game on a handheld device with kids and not have this problem, but they cannot choose the “random” option when starting a game. The parent needs to make an account or allow them to connect via Facebook, and then limit gameplay to people known to them.
As far as new card games that the family will enjoy — with no need for parental warnings — there’s “Gubs.” GameWright Games makes excellent little board and card games for the whole family, and “Gubs” is one of their most appealing yet. The design of “Gubs” is credited to Cole and Alex Medeiros, with fantastic artwork by Israel Woolfolk. On the website, Cole Medeiros tells the story of the game’s evolution from a homemade project for family and friends to self-publishing and finally to the slick treatment given to the game by GameWright. Everything from the art to rules, card design, the “fun factor” and play balance is spot on. It even comes in my favorite packaging: the compact embossed tin.
A “gub” is a kind of bug-like fairy creature. They ride toads and giant moths, hide behind mushrooms, and face threats from all manner of creatures. A feather is enough to dispel a powerful attack, but a soap bubble can trap them. The world and the characters mine the same kind of lore which made “Spiderwick” such a success, placing players in a charming world hiding just beyond our ken.
The goal is to collect as many gub cards as possible before you draw a final letter card spelling out the word “G-U-B.” Play is from a single deck of 70 cards, with each player starting with a hand of three cards and one free gub faceup in front of them.
A gub must be played to the table to count for points, and each one may either be free, barricaded or trapped. A free gub is just a gub card on the table, with nothing on top of it. These may be lured away easily by other players to become part of their gub lineup. If a player places a barricade (toad, moth or mushroom) on top of the gub, then that gub cannot be lured away. Gubs may also be “trapped” by gold rings or “sud spouts.” Trapped gubs do not count towards the final score, but they also cannot be lured away once trapped. These basic elements are put through myriad modifications by event, hazard, tool and interrupt cards.
Despite the diversity of cards and card types, this is not a hard game to teach or learn. The basics can be grasped in a couple of minutes, while the subtleties and tactics become clear after a few hands.
The sudden turns of fortune can be maddening, but the balance of cards makes it quite fair. There’s a brutal quality to the way cards can be lost or stolen, and this can really irritate younger players, right up until they get to do it to someone else.
This is the kind of light, fast game that some call “filler,” but I don’t think that’s quite fair. Filler games are usually warm-ups before or between bigger, better games, but “Gubs” stands well on its own and demands repeat play. We’ve gone through eight hands in a single sitting, in part because it can play very quickly, but also because the mix of cards provides a fresh experience each time. This one is going to have a long life.
“Gubs” is recommended for two to six players ages 10 and up, costs about $12, and plays in 10 to 20 minutes.
Everything about “Gubs” just works, conveying an appealing, fun world. With just a hand of cards, you’re drawn instantly into the life and challenges of a hidden world.
Thomas L. McDonald blogs about technology, gaming, culture, faith
and other issues at GodandtheMachine.com.