One Sentence Synopsis: It’s all about the endgame.
One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, or so the saying goes. In JunKing’s case, humanity’s junk is the Scavenger Imp’s treasure. Set in Justin Hillgrove’s whimsical Imp Lands world, JunKing pits 2-4 aspiring Imps against each other in the Junklands as they try to find the most prestigious items to raise their standing within the tribe. Throughout the game players decide which cards to equip in the limited slots available to each person and which cards to hoard for their points value, all while attempting to strategically position themselves for the coveted crown being found. The game ends once the crown card is drawn, and the Scavenger Imp with the highest junk value is declared the new chieftain of the tribe.
JunKing is a very simple game mechanically that finishes in roughly 20 minutes per game and should be equally easy for adults and younger audiences to pick up and play within a few minutes. Setup is straightforward, consisting of each player receiving an Imp character card sporting a unique ability, and 5 cards from the Junkpile. The rest of the Junkpile is shuffled, and “The Crown” card is shuffled into the bottom half of that deck. Play begins once the Event Deck is shuffled, and players take their turns in full consecutively.
Turns begin by drawing 1 card from the top of the Junkpile. If it’s an “event” card like the one pictured above, the player immediately draws a card from the “Event Deck” which usually results in either everyone having to discard a certain kind of card they have equipped(types are designated by the cog, leaf, or blue flame), or just the player who drew the card. After the player has drawn they have an opportunity to equip a card from their hand, playing it either to the right or left of their Imp character if it’s a “Device” card, or on the top/bottom of their character depending on whether the junk is a “Helm” or “Mount” card. While normally only the top card in any slot is worth points/can use its ability, some cards have a small “+” symbol next to their card type which indicates additional cards may be placed on top of that card while still benefiting from its point value.
Next, the player may choose to use their character’s ability, or the ability of an item they have in play. Among others these include looking at and rearranging cards from the top of the Junkpile, giving points for drawing/not drawing the crown, and moving cards into the player’s hoard to generate 1 point value per card at the end of the game. Once done, the player discards down to 5 cards and the turn passes to the next player.
JunKing ends as soon as the crown card is drawn and no one has a card in play which forces it to get shuffled back into the remainder of the Junkpile. At that point players add up the values of all the top-most items they have equipped along with points from any applicable special abilities on those cards and “stackable” cards underneath them. Each player also receives 1 point for every junk card in their personal hoard, and the person who ended the game with the crown receives 10 points. The Imp with the highest total wins the game and becomes chieftain over the dump!
I’ll admit, the majority of my first play-through of JunKing fell pretty flat. Drawing cards and playing them, occasionally re-ordering the deck in the hopes of having someone else draw a negative Event Card that would affect only them, and shifting cards from my character to my hoard all seemed overly simplistic and dull. Then we hit the bottom 1/3 of the deck, and I finally saw where JunKing was going.
Sure, there’s some strategy to equipping cards and eventually sending them to the hoard- determining which few cards you’d like to end the game equipped with because they’re worth more than the single point they’d give you in the hoard, planning placement of “stackable” items to maximize what you can score, and deciding when/whether to use your character’s special ability. That in itself though doesn’t make for a very exciting game. When you factor in the crown, however, each turn and action takes on a whole new purpose. Staying within striking distance of other players by keeping the above considerations in mind is essential, but positioning yourself for the eventual crown draw is the real meat of the game. The crown itself is worth 10 points, which is nothing to scoff at when players normally end the game with under 30 points. As a result, players must balance their normal play with using abilities to re-order the deck wisely, or equipping cards that may let them put the crown back into the deck if it’s drawn by someone else all in an effort to ensure they’re the one who pulls the one-two punch that is the Crown card.
JunKing also includes cards which give extra points if the player is not the one to draw the crown, enabling players to employ a strategy of mitigation and full-on hoard-mode to try and out-junk the player who does draw the crown. The game is interesting even with everyone jockeying for the crown draw, but having an alternative path-to-victory adds a great interplay that further enhances the strategic value of a game that’s so simple to learn and quick to play.
My only real complaint about the game is its Event Deck. With a couple of exceptions events are negative and generally involve discarding cards, and since there’s no way of mitigating their effects players must resign themselves to a good deal of random bad events. I like dynamic/random negative elements to games when they fit thematically(see my reviews of Fief: 1429 or Dead of Winter), but I don’t really see the value here. This is especially relevant since many of the event cards affect everyone, not just the person who drew the card, making any strategy of ordering cards so others draw events instead of you kind of a moot activity. I think an even spread of good/bad effects, or even counts slightly skewed in favor of positive results, may have added some additional strategy to the game.
Although nothing is ever completely set in stone for a Kickstarter campaign, the art and graphic design for JunKing are both finished and excellent. The cards are all laid out well and easy to read, and the art really reminds me of some of the old Nickelodeon shows I used to watch as a kid. The box art image is what actually made me initially notice the campaign, and clicking into the campaign page you’ll find a very well-laid-out project from someone who has clearly done their research on how to run a successful Kickstarter. What you receive in the box is clearly presented towards the top of the project, and there are some great how-to example videos for people who want to watch the game being played before pledging. The rules and a free print and play are also available for download, and considering there aren’t that many cards in the game I’d really encourage anyone who’s even remotely interested to download the demo copy and give it a try.
There are lots of examples of the aforementioned art to see on the page as well, and while I don’t normally care for a bunch of superfluous add-ons that don’t have anything to do with the game, this campaign is an exception. Justin Hillgrove’s Imp Land is already an established world, and for old and new fans alike there are some cool Imp Lands related add-ons like copies of the Imp Lands comics, art prints, and a large selection of plush Imp dolls. I think the plushes are an especially great choice given the appeal this game should have to kids…after all, what’s better as a young gamer than falling asleep in a bed full of awesome looking monsters?
COG Takeaway: David Gerrard designed JunKing as a game he could play with his daughters to teach them about long-term planning, but one that’s strategic enough that adult players will find value as well. I think he’s completely succeeded with the latter, as the game promotes both mindfulness of the present as-well-as the importance of the future while being easy enough that, with the occasional card explanation, I think younger players will pick up on the game fairly easily. For the former, JunKing is a good gateway filler game that provides some quick fun, good laughs, and art that may remind you of childhood shows.
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