I was sold on Unstable Unicorns as soon as I saw the Basic Unicorn cards. Statistically, they’re called basic because they don’t have any of the special powers. But they’re also basic in their own unique way, whether it’s a flannel-wearing bearded hipster unicorn or one gleefully clutching her pumpkin spice latte.
That marriage of flavor and mechanics is present throughout Unstable Unicorns, which was produced through one of the most backed Kickstarter projects of all time. The cutesy but highly competitive casual game has two to eight players vying to collect a stable full of unicorns before anyone else. Gameplay is extremely simple and easy to learn. Each player starts with a hand of five cards, begins each turn by drawing a card, and then can play a card or draw an additional card.
Those cards can be unicorns, either basic ones or their magical cousins who are capable of powerful and weird effects. My favorite was the zombie unicorn who would eat your basic unicorns and then let you reanimate magical unicorns that were in the discard pile. There are also a wide variety of upgrades you can play that can protect your unicorns or even let you play more cards, along with downgrades you can put on your opponents to mess with their plans. There are also cards that remove upgrades or downgrades, kill unicorns, and counters where you stop an opponent from playing a card by saying “Neigh.”
There are a lot of casual competitive games that lean largely on flavor to cover up extremely simple and luck-based gameplay which is why I was impressed at the strategy involved in Unstable Unicorns. I managed to win my first game with a series of combos that let me place unicorns faster than my opponent could eliminate them, protecting cards that were important to my magical creature generating engine with Neighs and then using cards to dig through the discard pile and play the most powerful magical spells again. It was still a close game, but then I was playing a devoted fan who owned the game and was wearing a T-shirt for it. Her clothing choice provided a mechanical advantage in that the first player is the person wearing the most colors and the game’s rainbow logo made her the clear winner.
I also got the chance to try several of the game’s expansions, which add some extra flavor to the game without adding new rules that make it take longer to teach. The Dragons expansion is packed with aggressive cards for those who want to rain down fire on their friends’ cards like Daenerys Targaryen on a bad day. Rainbow Apocalypse takes a new spin on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with cards that have a tendency to hurt the person who plays them too and require strategy to make sure that your opponents are bearing the brunt of their impact. Whenever I was required to discard cards I tended to cast away ones from that set because I found them a bit too hard to play well.
I only tried a head to head match, but I suspect the game would be even more fun stretched to more players. The opportunity to play politics by considering who to attack when while trying to avoid looking too dominant on the board for fear of drawing the destructive ire of the other players is built into plenty of games. Having all those conflicts play out through cards like a unicorn wearing a Jason mask with a chainsaw for a horn that he uses to tear down downgrades in his stable just makes the ensuing fights all the more ridiculous.