I generally avoid IP-based games because I’m worried that it will either not do the IP justice (if it’s something I really care about) or fall flat when it comes to gameplay. However, every so often there’s a game that I’m intrigued enough to play — Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle by Beach-A-Palooza’s co-designer Andrew Wolf was one that won me over. When I heard about Steven Universe: Beach-A-Palooza Card Battling Game, my interest was piqued. I’m a pretty big Steven Universe fan (I may have walked down the aisle to this beautiful cover), so I was interested in seeing what a Steven Universe game “for Steven Universe fans by Steven Universe fans” had to offer.
You Are The Crystal Gems (Gameplay)
In the Steven Universe: Beach-A-Palooza Card Battling Game players are competing to be the best band performing at the festival. During the game, 2-6 players will draft cards to form their band, as well as their audience.
The game is played over three Acts, each composed of three rounds. Players start an Act with nine cards and each round everyone simultaneously drafts and plays three cards. One of these cards is placed into the Common Area and the other two will either go on your stage or in your audience depending on what type of card it is. To play a card to your stage, you’ll have to pay the cost in power shown on the top right corner (each player receives 10 power at the start of each Act). The power goes directly onto the cards that you played to the stage. When you play a card to the audience you’ll get some sort of bonus, most often adding power to your supply or moving power from your supply to your band members (Crystal Gems).
After all the cards have been placed each round, players begin the battle portion of this card battling game. On a player’s turn, they can use their band members to attack the Party Crashers (corrupted and Homeworld gems). Each Crystal Gem has two levels of attack they can do, each costing a different amount of power. If you have the right combination you can also create a Fusion with two (or more) Gems to have a more powerful character to attack with that round. These Gems and Fusions attack the Party Crashers, filling one or more of the attack spaces and gaining the shown benefit. If their attack fills the last space, the Party Crasher is bubbled (discarded) and the player receives a benefit: rescuing a card from the Common Area or Cookie Cat points.
After the end of the third Act, points are tallied; set bonuses are given based on the audience members you collected and a bonus is given for having the most, second most and third most power leftover.
For the Steven Universe Fans
So, does this game do Steven Universe justice? I think so. It’s clear that every decision was made to best reflect the spirit of the show, right down to the fact that while it’s a competitive card battle game players are still essentially working together to stop the Party Crashers. Different characters are introduced in different Acts to follow the chronological order that they are introduced in the show. For instance, the option to form the Stevonnie Fusion doesn’t come out until Act 2 and Smoky Quartz comes out in Act 3.
Many audience members have bonuses if certain characters are on stage. These bonuses were chosen based on the relationship between the characters in the show. It’s really quite cute. There are also funny little quirks that some audience members have, such as Renaldo and Onion who will actually lose the player points at the end of the game if one of their family members aren’t also present in the audience to rein them in. Little things like this are nice thematic tie-ins to the events of the series.
And obviously the art is fantastic. All of the components scream Steven Universe (at least from what I can tell — I played a game on Tabletop Simulator with Canadian co-designer Erica Bouyouris and the other members of our self-named Maple Mountain triad, Kurt Refling and Ashley Gariepy). This game is definitely designed to be a collectible item for fans.
For the Gamers
Steven Universe: Beach-A-Palooza offers a nice light card battling game that can be played in 30 minutes with up to 6 players. It has the unique feel of cooperation, despite the fact that it is a competitive game, and players don’t fight head-to-head. It’s clear that the game was designed to be accessible to Steven Universe fans who are maybe not that into board games, while still providing something interesting for board game enthusiasts. The game introduces many common mechanics such as card drafting and set-collection.
So there are two big questions I want to answer in my final thoughts. First: should you buy it? If you’re a Steven Universe fan, I think it’s definitely worth considering and that you should check out their Kickstarter (Thursday is the last day so think fast!). I found the theme delightful and consistent with the show. If you aren’t a Steven Universe fan, this would be a strange purchase. It’s a good light game with well thought-out mechanics, but in my opinion most of the value is in the integration of the Steven Universe universe and that would be lost on you.
The second question is: am I going to back it? Honestly, I’m not sure. The fan in me really, really wants to, but at 30 USD with 20 USD to ship to Canada the game would cost me around 70 CAD. So while the cost conscious part of my brain is telling me that’s crazy (I could buy a huge game like Terra Mystica for that price), the Steven Universe fan in me says just go for it. After all, if every pork chop were perfect, we wouldn’t have hot dogs. I really did enjoy playing it and I also like to have quick games for large player counts so I’m definitely tempted. This decision is really coming down to the wire for me. I guess, dear reader, you’ll just have to check back in for my Author’s Update to find out for sure.
Six Month Update
Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic and restrictions on social gatherings this game hasn’t made it to the table again since the review. This is not a reflection of my feelings towards the game, and I hope to get it back on the table once board games have become a regular part of my life again.