June 4, 2008

Lawsuit: The Board Game Review

Lawsuit.jpgLawsuit [Official Website, Amazon] is a board game for kids. No really! Designed to entice little kiddos ages 6-9, Lawsuit puts each player in the occupational role of a Lawyer, working their way through their own careers.

We have lots of friends who lawyer away in to the wee hours of the morning, and hands-down we love them all. But we know what you're thinking - 'cause we thought it to: in this day and age of stereotypical 'I'm gonna sue you butt off!' we expected Lawsuit to be a bit upsetting, awkwardly making vengeance and greed "fun!" for such a young age group.

When we cautiously lifted the lid and started playing we made note of only a few moral monkey wrenches. Best of all - there's never a point where one player sues another. Instead, it's a game of collecting legal fees from cartoonish cases, which you can use as moral talking points if you wanted to.

Still - those of you with the same cautious knee-jerk reaction that we had might not find much here; as a children's game Lawsuit doesn't have many original virtues. Most of the game is centered around counting spaces and exercising math skills associated with counting money. These mechanics are stock from just about any children's game for ages 6-9. So if you're uncomfortable with the litigation theme for your youngins then you may want to look elsewhere.

But if you're looking to introduce the occupation of Lawyers ('cause, like, maybe you are one?) to your little ones, then Lawsuit just might be the game for you. No really.

The Good: The Base Mechanics
Lawsuit has some pretty straightforward play that themed with the unknown perils and triumphs of winning and losing cases. The game's dynamics stem from a series of movement dice rolls, community-chest like action cards, and the ability to forfeit your move in order to draw from a particular deck which is is equal parts rewards and equal parts monetary penalties. This may be a good thing when you find yourself strapped for cash, and the spaces before you look pretty treacherous to your wallet.

The game ends when a lawyer winds their way to the end of an increasingly perilous path of linear board spaces. A majority of spaces or neutral, or cause you to draw cards, but near the end more and more spaces will forgot he card draw and incur a flat-out fine of some sort. This makes for a harrowing sprint to the finish.

The lawyer who crosses the finish line first gets a sweet little bonus payment, and then he/she who holds the most cash in hand is crowned the winner.

Drawn cards cards aren't held in hand but are resolved immediately, and they either give or take money from your stash, or send you back a certain number of spaces. No cards reward you with forward movement, and we're comfortable with that. This is a game for kids, not strateticians, and so you have to earn your progress with dice throws just as Candy Land dictated movement with cards.

The So-So: The Strategy
The player is also confronted with a crisatunity - at any time a player can spend 20,000 (near their starting amount of cash) to form a Partnership, which causes no physical manifestation or social repercussions with any other player. Instead the player will earn double the cash for every reward, and pay double the fine for every penalty encountered. The player will never be able to leave a Partnership, so they're locked in 2x-land for success or ruined.

We toyed with this mechanic to see how much it effected the game - and it really didn't ever have a predictable result at all. It seems the game's cards are near-equal parts reward and penalty. If there is a mathematical advantage, it's so slight that it's lost in the randomness of the shuffled card draws and we couldn't discern one. In the end the Partnership mechanic seems tacked on, and if this is the strategic decision of the title (which sports a "[game of]Strategy" slapped on the front of the box), it makes us wonder what such a mixed-bag result will teach a six year old about strategic decisions.

Additionally the game's art is fun, as it stands on its own, but overall to many things lack a common structure and theme. The board is very busy and sometimes dizzying, and the cards themselves can get easily lost in the sea of shapes and colors. We like somewhat organic and natural drawing styles, but the art in Lawsuit could use a bit more standardization for clarity.

Finally, in the introduction we mentioned that you might use the case-cards as moral talking points with your kids. Though there are some situations where this actually works, most of the cards are too abstract to discuss right and wrong. However, with some quick impromptu narratives, a parent could easily fill in some missing pieces and design their own scenarios to ask their kids to chose for themselves between right and wrong.

The Bad: Some Iffy morals in the cards..? You decide.
The only problem we had with the game were the ethics in the game's penalties. Thankfully the game design never pits players in a mano e mano litegation fest. And it's a good thing: suing one another in a children's game would seriously put us on edge.

Instead the ethical questions surface in some of the game's content.

We wonder what the designers were thinking when they made some of the penalty cards, which send you back a set number of spaces. Below we rank three penalties in order of severity, and maybe you can see what we're driving at:

"You Sued the Wrong defendant.
Go back 5 spaces."

"You failed to answer the plaintiff's
complaint in a timely fashion.
Go back 6 spaces

"You filed your case too late. Go back 7 spaces and lose your next turn."

If it didn't jump out at you, then jump to the Conclusion and get this game. But if something seemed amiss, then you might want to wait for a second edition where hopefully things will be a bit more fleshed out. To see what we're driving at: read on:

Here's our beef: suing the wrong person and putting them through needless pain of lawyer fees, a trial, and many nights of anxious insomnia isn't least of all the penalities,a and is less severe of a "whoopsy!" as is filing your case too late? That's the priority of mishaps that we'd like to teach our kids?

If you don't feel like that's much of a deal then Lawsuit is a pretty sweet missing link between Candy Land and The Game of Life. It includes the basic counting of spaces, the math involved in monetary transactions, and has content centered around real world occupations. The game also includes a bit of thought regarding which cards to draw, and when to form a partnership, and despite its litigating theme the game sidelines the ruthless Revenge gameplay found in the other mainstream children's games from Milton Bradly.

If you don't mind the upside down set of morals in some of the cards, and if you're looking to help explain litigation to your kids within a fun environment, then Lawsuit is a good game for your collection. It should fill the nice stage-two gap (ages 6+) between early children's games and the more advanced rules of the stage-three titles geared toward ages 9 and up.

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Posted by Critical Gamers Staff at June 4, 2008 1:49 PM

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