I thought we were pretty much done with deduction games. I was most assuredly confident that drafting games were a stale mechanic. So imagine my surprise when I was presented with Overseer, a drafting and deduction game. Another in a market saturated with drafting and deduction games. Damned if I didn’t have fun playing it.
Overseers is designed by Guan Chih Huang, published by ThunderGryph Games and plays 3-6 players in about 30 minutes. The game mythos describes a world divided by two opposing forces and so the Goddess sent the Overseers to maintain balance in the world between vices and virtues. Don’t look too far into the theme. It will only raise more questions and subtract from the actual gameplay. You draft vices and virtues, but they could just as easily be sets of Sushi like in Sushi Go, or Cities and Technology like in 7 Wonders. So let’s get straight to business with the gameplay.
You begin by receiving 6 Trait cards and 1 Character card. The Character cards are an interesting mix in the drafting process as they each have abilities that will trigger at different stages of the game and will sometimes influence how you draft. Drafting the Trait cards is performed in a standard 7 Wonders style. The nice thing is that time and effort has gone into balancing the game at each player count. A chart is provided indicating how many of each vice and virtue card is required for the number of players and this forms the deck from which to draft. There will always be more cards than is drafted which provides an extra layer of hidden information as you will never be sure if the full number of any vice or virtue made it to the drafting stage. You draw your hand of 6, select a card and pass them to the next player and repeat until you have 5 cards where you then discard the sixth card creating a face-down discard pile. While the drafting feels familiar and uneventful, the next few stages will teach you just how important the drafting is. What follows is 6 more stages that generate great discussion.
Cards are placed in front of you in two rows, the top row with three face-up cards and the bottom row with two face-down. The players must then decide who is going to be the winner. The players discuss this intensely looking at each set of cards laid out in front of them and eventually place their voting token on the player they think has the highest score. The player who receives the most votes will then decide if they will be the winner and either admit they have the highest valued cards or deny they have the highest. If they admit they lose two cards of their choice. If the player denies they have the highest score play moves to the Judgement phase and players flip their remain face-down cards and compare scores to find out who drafted the highest total. If the voted for player denied and is the highest they will lose the two cards that provide them with the highest score. If they denied and were correct they then get to look at the discard pile and select any card of their choice to add to their score. This part seemed problematic to me initially. It seemed like I would do my best drafting and if I did draft well, I would be penalised for having the highest score regardless of if I chose to deny or agree.
Yet this mechanic both works as a catch-up mechanic for other players and ultimately becomes the skill of drafting. What I initially failed to see was that the draft process in Overseers isn’t necessarily about drafting the best hand. You need to either draft so that you look like you drafted the highest score, but didn’t and therefore get the bonus card from the discard pile, or hide the fact that you are the highest and get people to think it’s someone else. This requires more skill than you think. I tried to draft so as to look like I had the highest, got selected, denied I had the highest, but then found out I did have the highest and got penalised. It sucked, but in a way that left me laughing at my misfortune and failed bluffing attempt. The game lasts three rounds and the person with the highest score is the winner.
I did enjoy my experience playing Overseers and look forward to a few more games with the different friends. I found the deduction and drafting worked well together mechanically and added a dimension to the game that made the draft far more complex and engaging than I expected. The fact that the game only last three rounds is good, mostly because I think the game works as a quick filler. That said, they have kept the time to the right length and I would be happy playing one or two games in a row.
One thing I didn’t fully understand was the theme and its integration. It is something that you will mostly ignore and will inevitably brush over the bits that don’t quite make sense. Yet while the theme was a minor issue I found the art to be far more problematic. Now the art in Overseers is beautifully done, the colour, style, detail, and style is incredible. However, sadly the content is questionable in how it represents women. It posed quite the discussion on the representation of women in games at our table. All the women in the art seemed powerful and confident, but were pictured in an S&M context.
I could discuss the political nature of such representation, but the practical issue was that I was simply unable to share this game with the students at my school. This was a disappointment for me as it seemed exactly like the sort of game they love to play in my high school board games club. However, I didn’t think the game was so fun that I would risk exposing the kids to scantily clad women with nipples popping out. I kind of like my job and wanted to keep it. I think this is a sad misstep that could have been easily avoided and does warrant consideration in future. I don’t want to simply gloss over it. That said I had some female friends tell me it is not that bad and they liked the art. I guess I'm really saying that the choice is yours, but just be aware. I did like the game, but I wish more thought had gone into their portrayal of women. What I can recommend is the game-play in Overseers, the mechanics work and it is a genuinely fun drafting game that uses bluffing and deduction well to heighten the fun.