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Your target's death is in the cards

Assassination team's success turns on roll of die

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Machine of Death: The Game of Creative Assassination is a card game inspired by a collection of science-fiction short stories (entitled Machine of Death) written by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo and David Malki. The stories explore the idea of a prescient computer that can predict the nature of a person's death through a simple blood test. However, the prediction is always given in a way that is cryptic and perplexing to interpret.

Machine of Death was funded through a very successful Kickstarter campaign. The designers (including writer David Malki) aimed for $23,000 but raised an impressive $556,596.

GAME REVIEW

Title: Machine of Death: The Game of Creative Assassination

  • System: printed card game
  • Price: $18 per deck of death cards
  • Score: 2.5 out of five stars

You and your friends (two to four players) play co-operatively as a team of assassins. You will be given a mission that includes four "targets" -- people you will try to assassinate. Each target has a name ("Alias"), a location ("Co-ordinates") and two revealing facts that will help you plan the assassination ("Intel #1 and Intel #2").

For example, your target could be Jane Smith, a woman who can be found at the local bowling alley, who is deathly allergic to wheat and also fascinated by mariachi music.

Each target will also have a "Death Card" -- the prediction given by the Machine of Death as to how the victim is predestined to die. Your team must kill the target in a way that matches or evokes the Death Card.

For example, if Jane Smith's Death Card is "Mushroom," she might be killed by eating a poisonous mushroom that you have placed in her gluten-free bowling alley nachos. Or by ingesting a hallucinogenic mushroom and stumbling into the alley where she is hit in the head by a bowling ball. Or by the power of an explosion at the conveniently located neighbouring nuclear plant (mushroom cloud).

Your team will also be given three "Black Market Gift Cards" -- items that will help you enact the assassination. For example, "A Real-Life Robot" or "Spoiled Food" or "Something Red."

Together, your team will discuss the victim and the cards. You will then formulate a plan and decide the likelihood of each tactic succeeding, on a scale from two to six. Then you have 90 seconds to attempt the kill, rolling a die to discover if each tactic has succeeded or failed.

If one element of your plan fails (for example, your Real-Life Robot fails to push Jane Smith into the alley), then you draw a new Gift Card and try to retool your plan before running out of time.

If a kill fails, your team loses and the game ends. If you succeed in killing all four of your targets, your team wins.

Machine of Death has been touted as the next Cards Against Humanity -- a hipster card game with cult status. But while Cards Against Humanity features outrageous politically incorrect humour that never fails to startle and entertain, Machine of Death features macabre humour that amuses but rarely shocks or surprises.

The nature of MoD's gameplay requires players to contribute their own inventiveness to make the game interesting. If your close friends are all writers, standup comics or theatre students, then the game has the potential to be amazingly entertaining. But if you're looking for a fun game that will entertain you with its wit and challenge, MoD may leave you feeling unsatisfied.

Finally, there is no way to improve your gameplay or get a sense of accomplishment as you master the rules. In co-operative games like Pandemic, there is a feeling of satisfaction as your team learns to more efficiently contain and eradicate outbreaks. In social games like Cards Against Humanity, there is the satisfaction of learning which cards will amuse your friends while barely avoiding deep offence -- it's a game of discovery.

In Machine of Death, you are challenged to be creative -- but with no benchmark of clear success and with no sense of improved skill.

Machine of Death could be a great icebreaker at social events, as it provides a chance to show off inventive and creative thinking. But will it continue to amuse and engage after more than one playing? That remains to be seen.


Danishka Esterhazy is a screenwriter, film director and self-confessed video-game addict. She prefers games with a story but will settle for a good sword fight.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 20, 2013 C14

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Updated on Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 11:37 AM CDT: Adds video.

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About Danishka Esterhazy

Danishka Esterhazy is a screenwriter, film director and self-confessed video game addict. She prefers games with a story but will settle for a good sword fight.

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