I was very excited when my copy of Five Fingered Severance arrived at the house. It’s the first game (but hopefully not last) I’ve been given for the purposes of reviewing/blogging about; which gave me a feeling of something akin to credibility.
I cracked it open, looked over the rules, and made arrangements to play. With that credibility came a responsibility. Let’s get right to it and talk about this game.
With the exception of the title, I’m going to carefully avoid making a bunch of Clerks references.
Five Fingered Severance, if nothing else, oozes with theme. The concept is pretty basic.
The players are all workers at a convenience store on its last day of business. You’re all being fired at the end of the day, that’s unavoidable. So, in the face of this tragedy a revenge plot is born.
Justice can only be served by Sticking It To The Man (TM) Via Petty Theft. This is important, not only to the gameplay/mechanics, but also to the mindset of the game. Everything acts under the assumption that the players are a group of ne’er-do-wells, riff-raff and scallywags.
Everyone’s going to be fired by the end of the day, so the only appropriate response is to trash the joint, right? And what hooligan hesitates to rat out one of the other wage-slaves, so that the boss will go harass them while you “flavor” the coffee?
The more you embrace the a-hole teenager mentality, the more you can relate to the game. Stealing everything that isn’t bolted down, avoiding anything that looks like it could be responsible (unless the boss is standing right there), telling off the clueless customers in the store (they are legion) and fingering everyone else for your crimes against common decency.
The components are pretty good for a publisher not called “Fantasy Flight Games“.
The cardboard chits are sturdy, and keeping consistent with the themes above, a lot of the art-based humor is low brow, like “Get Layed” brand potato chips (SEE WHAT THEY DID THERE?). There are (2) six-sided dice, though I could only ever figure out use for one. The rulebook is well-written and pretty clear on how the game goes. The cardstock used for the Event deck and Character cards is a good thick cut.
Physically, the game isn’t flimsy. If you take decent care of it, it should last a long time.
Setup is pretty quick. You lay out the board, shuffle and deal random characters and seed the board with things to steal and a few tasks and/or customers.
The longest set up was the first, and it wasn’t bad, even with the punching and bagging. I like an easy setup. One of the reasons Epic Thunderstone is gaining such popularity is that with the exception of the first game, it eliminates almost all of the setup time. As much as I love Battlestar Galactica, setting up that game feels like it takes forever, and that game is already really long as it is.
Onto gameplay, which is pretty simple. On a player’s turn, you draw and resolve the top card of the Work Marker deck, which populates the store with customers, opportunities to create mischief (called “slacking”) actual productive things to do, and events that shake things up, either by moving the Boss, or creating a rush of people, etc.
After that step, the player has two actions to take from a list of actions you can perform, ranging from pocketing goods from whatever area you are in, storing your ill-gotten gains in your locker (rendering them safe from getting caught on your person), insulting or assisting customers and even legit work.
You know, the thing you’re being paid to do. In addition to these, there are Plot cards which can be played before, after and in between other actions.
The game plays pretty quickly, which is another point in its favor. There are two end game mechanics, and neither of them take a long time to occur. The game ends when A) only one player is left still working (all other players have been fired) or B) the Work Marker deck runs out.
A player is fired when their Heat total reaches 30 or greater, Heat is gained in a number of fashions, like the other rapscallions talking smack about you, insulting customers (which gains you points) or getting caught with stolen wares by the Boss. Heat is reduced by being helpful to customers and actually doing some of the work in the store. A low Heat score will give you a nice amount of points at the end as well, so it’s not just a stall mechanic.
The Boss is the “x-factor” as it were. As exuberant as you are about showing off just how badass you are by creating as much trouble as you can, you are still intimidated by authority figures and don’t dare to engage in any rebellion around him.
When the Boss occupies the same space as you, you cannot steal things, insult customers or slack off. Additionally, if he enters your space while you have unstored goods, there’s a chance that you’ll get caught, which will result in the confiscation of your stuff and your Heat total rising.
Oddly enough, the gun you can steal from the Register area, if caught with it, does not equal an automatic firing. The Boss can be moved a number of means, some of the Work Marker cards move him, and he can be sent specific places or called to specific places by player actions.
However, the Boss can only move once per player turn, so careful timing is required if you’re trying to set someone up, or avoid getting busted. However, with the knowledge that he can only be moved once per turn, you know once he has moved for the turn, you are pretty safe to return to your life of crime.
Similar to the Boss, you can’t steal things or slack off in front of customers. You can help them or insult them, either of which removes them from the board, freeing you to return to your villainy. Some of the customers have special rules, which have to be looked up in the rulebook. This is a minor quibble, I was annoyed that I had to reference the rulebook each time one of these customers was interacted with. It would have been better to find a way to put the rules on the cards themselves, but it was likely a restriction of card space.
Each player is a different character and each character has different abilities. This is another thing I like in a themed game, and one that I believe helps to create replay value.
While not as pronounced as the Ruinous Powers from Chaos in the Old World or the characters from Battlestar Galactica, the variety of abilities helps create a new experience with each play. I haven’t given much thought to the balancing of these abilities. For example, one of the characters has the ability to insult a customer anywhere in the store (normally you can only insult those you share a space with) which doesn’t do much of anything if the store has no customers.
Pace of the game flows nicely, the turns breeze by, and I can’t imagine this game lasting more than 90 minutes, even with a full comp of players. I will definitely say that the game improves with multiple players. When played as a 2 player, it comes down to just trading blows; when we played with 3-4, it was immensely more enjoyable.
Of course, no game is perfect, and there are a few things that take away from an otherwise fine game. First is the clutter. The game starts off pretty clean, a few things to do, a couple of people to make fun of, maybe some slacking avenues, but the mess quickly escalates as the jobs start piling up and the customer density starts resembling scenes in Dawn of the Dead.
Before long, there’s so much to do that you really can’t keep up with it. The board runs out of room to put cards, customers are everywhere. This is due to the risk to reward ratios in the various tasks.
Actually working reduces your Heat, but doesn’t generate points. Insulting customers gains points, but also increases Heat. Stealing stuff, and timing it so you aren’t caught, provides points while potentially not getting any Heat, so this is the “correct play” most often and players will dodge the other choices on the board in favor of shoplifting, which leads to the clutter.
In the end, you have two actions per turn, an innumerable array of options to use them, but nowhere near enough time. This can cause decisions to become circumstantially forced and rendered meaningless.
The game is light-hearted and fun. The rulebook is funny, the art is good for a few laughs and the title alone is enough to warrant interest. While not extensively deep, I suspect there are deeper strategies that I look forward to discovering in more plays.