Inevitable: First Impressions

Inevitable, by Jeremy P. Bushnell and Jonathan A. Leistiko, has a strange pedigree for a board game printed in 2010. It does not consist of flashy, over-produced cards, the rules are not distilled down to a 4-page leaflet, and it is filled with many, highly-geeky and often very obscure references to pop culture, cult films, underground comics, sci-fi and black comedies. It is rough around the edges, there is true grit in the crevices, and it almost feels as though it would be more at home on the top shelf of an independent game store circa 1986. All of this, of course, is a very good thing – for the right group of gamers.

I must include the caveat that Inevitable would seem to be the perfect board game for a certain subset of geek culture because it is very densely packed with dark slapstick and references that would leave the average Joe scratching their heads in confusion. The game has a wide variety of influences – some more noticeable than others. There’s certainly quite a bit of early-80s Steve Jackson in here (before the simplified staple of Munchkin became their bread and butter), from the use of strange groups for the players to control and manipulate a la Illuminati, to the catalog that allows you to upgrade your arsenal, reminiscent of Car Wars. The dark comic world of Inevitable is steeped high in the influences of comics like The Watchmen and V for Vendetta, while the smiling yet malevolent supercomputer that rules the overcloned citizens harkens back to the beloved, classic role-playing game Paranoia. Reading through the rulebook and the Glorious Progress! game guide, it almost feels as though much of 1980s gaming, geek and hacker subculture were tossed into a blender, put in a time capsule to ferment and then redistributed to the unknown Bieber-loving masses like a certain soylent meat product. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but certain individuals may not recognize the punchlines.

The core of the game consists of rolling dice, moving your pawn around the gameboard that conjures up images of Monopoly as designed by someone tripping on acid while watching a 24-hour B movie marathon, choosing to beat on your opponents, gathering goodies, buying things, gaining Influence points and so on until you have attained enough overall awesomeness to beat the aforementioned ruling malevolent supercomputer – HappyCOM-9 – in an election. Yes, an election. If you are successful, the computer is deposed, you now become the benevolent ruler of the human race and your opponents must kneel before Zod. Oh, and you also win the game.

Detail of the Hospital Quadrant. Click to enlarge.

Gameplay sounds easy enough, but there are a lot of parts to this whole. Every player has a myriad of actions from which to choose on every turn, and each square on the game board has an immediate effect on the game. Some squares are simple enough – Hit on the Head with a Rock knocks 100 points off your intelliegence – while others are too intricate to even include instructions on the board itself. For those squares there is a separate booklet – Glorious Progress! – dedicated to outlining, in detail, specific in-game effects when someone lands there. Obviously, this game is not for those with short attention spans, and a hardy memory and a bit of patience will surely come in handy.

The catalog may be the real life of the party. This comfortingly-chaotic pamphlet contains items that can be purchased at certain locations on the game board. Most of these items do something bad to your opponent, some of them do something good for you, and all of them are sick and twisted.

The Fruitcake, for instance, is very affordable and can be “mailed” to an opponent on your turn, causing the opponent to lose 50 influence points. The drawback is that it is now the property of that opponent and can be regifted to some other (un)lucky player on the next turn. Another item is the ever-popular Box of Dead Raccoons, which causes the Stress level of the selected opponent to rise. Naturally.

The catalog evokes gaming days of yore when not everything was printed out on tiny cards and you spent half a day leafing through Uncle Al’s Auto Stop and Gunnery Shop studying the damage and range of side-mounted flamethrowers. Like those days, however, if you’re not aware of the items in the catalog and their effects, the heavy amount of explainer text could slow the game down considerably while an inexperienced player searches for just the right item to put them ahead. Wisely, the designers realized that this could happen at the beginning of the game and have provided a convenient package deal of some of the catalogs most popular items to get players into the game quickly.

FATE card samples. The charmingly-schizophrenic art of the board, cards and catalog seems to capture the aesthetic of two subculture-soaked high-schoolers sitting in the back of Algebra doodling in the margins of their textbook. Given its retro sensibilities, that suits the game and its intended audience perfectly.

There are several things about Inevitable that may turn off a few gamers other than its sick sense of humor. One of those is game length. Much like the game from which its board is inspired – Monopoly – Inevitable is a long, very involved game that can span hours if left unchecked. There are instructions for a shorter variant in the rulebook, though, so the designers have tried to be helpful if you only have a couple of hours to play.

Another hurdle for the average gamer is the sheer amount of information. As I mentioned before, the board itself requires a 33-page manual in order to get the most out of every square, and each player needs a two-page data sheet with which to track their fluctuating in-game statistics, items they have purchased, their stress level, a place to work out combat results and an election workspace for tallying base votes at the game’s end. There’s a lot to keep track of, and those that are used to simply moving a token around a victory point track during a game are likely to get a bit flustered.

Overall, though, Inevitable has a lot to offer both dedicated (and geeky) board gamers and the occasional role-player who wants a break from their GM. Inevitable may be the game of a future not much bleaker than our own, but its future place in many geeky hearts seems pretty hopeful.

Inevitable is published by Dystopian Holdings and will be available in two versions: a print-and-play edition downloadable from the Inevitable website and a deluxe edition with custom-printed board and professionally-printed components. Both versions will be available for purchase in mid-September.

Note: I was provided with an advance print-and-play version of Inevitable, but have only been able to test the gameplay within a limited time and with a smaller audience. Therefore, in the effort of fairness, I am not providing a full scored review and will provide one at a later date.

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Comments
4 Responses to “Inevitable: First Impressions”
  1. Thanks for the very appropriate and reasonable review! I laughed out loud while reading your description of Inevitable, and I’ve been living it for months, so that’s a good sign.

    I’d like to offer one clarification: Each player has a half-page (4″ x 11″) data sheet to record their stats; and a half-page Group profile that tells them about their group’s background, starting stats, and special power(s). Theoretically, a player *could* use two pages to record their stats, but that’s very unlikely.

  2. admin says:

    Well, if I can make the game designer laugh, then I consider my job complete! I do enjoy the game and its humor – it takes me back to a special time when games were just a bit more off-beat and special.

    Thanks for the clarification; I guess I used some vague language in regards to the data sheet. I just remember a couple of people using the back to make copious notes during the game, so it stuck in my head that it was a “two-pager.”

  3. “I just remember a couple of people using the back to make copious notes during the game, so it stuck in my head that it was a ‘two-pager.’”

    That’s totally understandable. You (and they) had a lot of other data to absorb at the same time.

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