Groo: The Game

Card game by Sergio Aragonés, published by Archangel Entertainment, 1997
Review copyright 1997 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated August 1, 1998 (added two-player variant)

If you already know who Groo is: rejoice! More artwork! A fun game! Go buy it!

If you don't know, I don't have space to explain the wonderful zaniness that is Groo the Wanderer, star of a long-running comic book of the same name. The comic is by Sergio Aragonés, winner of the 1997 Reuben award (sort of a cartoonists' Hall of Fame award). Groo is temporarily on hiatus now, but there have been over 140 issues over the last dozen years, so go check out some back issues at a comic store.

Good news to both Groo fans and Groo novices is that this is an excellent game. While not a collectible card game, there is already one expansion set, which is also highly recommended.

On the plus side, the artwork is wonderful, the rules simple and largely clear, the replay value high, most of your favorite Groo characters are included, there are enough special effects cards to keep the game exciting, and it's a blast to play - a mix of skill, luck and a lot of laughs.

On the downside, there is no mention of mulching, a serious omission. Also missing are Granny Groo, Bunta, and those lizardmen soldiers, for reasons unknown. And Captain Ahax is typoed as Captain Ajax, but Sergio might actually pronounce them the same.

The basic set includes 60 cards and seven dice, enough to play with up to four people. The dice stickers include pictures of Supplies, Labor, Kopins, Groo, Rufferto, and pointing hands. (Sergio is a very visual-oriented person, so pictures are used when possible.) The expansion set includes another 55 cards, which will allow you to play with up to six people (and makes it a better game regardless of the number of players. The game plays best with more people, BTW.).

There are six kinds of cards: Groo himself (only one of these, thank heavens!), Groo Effects, Events, Buildings, Troops, and Wildcards. The object is to be the first to build a town worth seven victory points (each building card has a VP value). This is hard because: (1) the other players may send their armies to destroy your town-in-progress, and (2) Groo. In the comic books, any town Groo enters suffers some damage - it's just the poor soul's nature. While not malicious, he's very stupid and clumsy, and a jinx of the worst nature. So the Groo card is a hot potatoe (spelling appropriate to Groo's mentality level) which can wreak havoc to whatever town he visits.

Each player turn has six phases:

  1. Discard as many cards as you wish;
  2. Draw your hand up to five cards;
  3. Make one attack (optional)
  4. Roll the dice to determine Groo's movement and your resources, then allot your resources;
  5. Pass any unused resources to your left - that player uses what he wishes, then passes them to his left, etc.;
  6. Draw your hand up to five cards, and it's the next player's turn.
Resources are required to bring certain cards out of your hand, shown on each card. You need Kopins (money) to build a Castle, for example, but Supplies to bring in The Minstrel (who can double your combat ability if you speak in rhyme). "Groo Head" resources allow you to play Groo Effects cards - when these are played, bad things usually happen to the town where Groo is currently located.

Phase five, above, is a wonderful innovation: pity the soul who rolls six Groo Heads and has Groo move to his town at the same time! You'll hear the other players gasp in admiration . . .

Most cards have a special effect listed at the bottom. This is very entertaining and keeps things from being a simple send-Groo-and-stomp game. The expansion set is very useful even if you don't play with more than four players: it adds a lot of variety in cards of all types (except Groo).

Combat is very straightforward: pick your attacking troops, the defender decides which troops will defend, figure any special effect bonuses, and subtract defense value from offense value. The result is the value of victory points (shown on buildings) the defender must lose. All troops which participated in the attack are then discarded. This simple mechanic allows you to whittle down someone near to victory, while preventing huge army buildups, the bane of certain other games.

This game is highly recommended - smooth, fast, fun play with wonderful artwork - what more do you want? And if your opponent draws a card, looks at the artwork for a few seconds, and bursts out laughing, you don't know whether he has the dreaded "Did I Err?" card (which shows a very embarrassed Groo watching townspeople fleeing from a town being destroyed by an avalanche he accidentally started) or a harmless card such as the Butcher, which simply has a very funny picture.

Two-Player Variant

This variant changes how you read the Move Groo die - the one with Rufferto and pointing hands.

When Groo starts a turn in a town:

  • if you roll a Rufferto, Groo stays;
  • if you roll a Move One, he goes to the other town,
  • if you roll a Move Two, he goes to a spot midway between the two towns!
When Groo is between the two towns, Groo Effect cards can be played by either player, to affect your opponent. He stays in between towns until moved by a card or die result. Thus, on my turn, I can play Groo Effects cards on your town, and you can play them on my town during the Leftovers phase, providing there's enough Groo Heads for both of us.

When he begins a turn in between towns:

  • a result of Rufferto means he stays there;
  • a Move One means he goes to the town of the person who rolled the dice;
  • a Move Two means he goes to other town.
BTW, my close friends who play a lot of two-player Groo really love it. Their house rule, however, is that it takes 14 points to win in a two-handed game! I'd be tempted to make it 10 points, myself.

NOTE: After I posted this article, r. n. dominick ( responded with a list of answers from the rules writer to his questions. Here they are:

  • The dealer goes first.
  • If you get dealt event cards, you play them when you pick up your hand. If they say "remove at the beginning of your turn" your first turn counts. [sos: we have a house rule to reshuffle them into the deck after drawing replacement cards if dealt Event cards, but I agree the above is the rule of the game.]
  • To win, you have to have seven victory points at the end of your turn, after the leftover phase, not have seven victory points when you roll the dice. [sos: This one is actually listed in the rules under Definition of a Turn.]
  • Structure bonuses are cumulative: one residence is worth 1 VP, 2 are worth 4 VP and 3 are worth 6 VP. The butcher, baker and candlestick maker are worth 6 VP if you have all three in your town.
  • Cards that "remove 1 [resource] result" (labor, kopin, etc.) aren't covered in the rules at all. It means that when you roll the dice on your turn, if you roll any of that resource, you lose one of them.
And I can add to this list, having heard a confirmation from the writer:

  • A card's self-referential special effects take place before any other special effects which affect it, and then doubling special effects occur before additive special effects.
    Example: (BV = Battle Value) You are attacking with a
  • Cavalry troop (BV 1, with a special effect of +1 when attacking), and have
  • The Minstrel, (doubles any one unit's BV), and a
  • Military Stable (+1 to one troop's BV when attacking).

    First you raise the attacking Cavalry to BV 2 because of its own special effect, then you double it to BV 4 because of The Minstrel, then you raise it to a final total of BV 5 because of the Military Stable.

Composition of the decks:

                   Basic Set    Expansion   Total  Different Cards
    Groo               1            0         1          1
    Event              1            5         6          4
    Wild               2            9        11          6
    Groo Effects      13            6        19         12
    Troop             18           15        33         15
    Building          25           20        45         33
    Total             60           55       115         71

And this message from Paul Chamberland, who played the game at GenCon:

I learned at the demo that at the end of a player's turn, ALL players fill their hand to 5 cards. In the tournament it was ruled that only the current player draws up to five ...

From reading the rules, it looks like the tournament interpretation was right. But, from seeing the game play, the demo was MUCH more fun while the tournament, using the real rules, was just a race to bring out buildings. ...

I HIGHLY recommend that you play the game with all players drawing up to five cards at the end of every player's turn. It will mean more cards will be played during a game, more Groo cards will be played (which means more fun), and more armies will be available for attacking.

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