Card Game: Penny Arcade Paint the Line ECG Review
I was really excited when I got my copy of Penny Arcade’s Paint the Line: Red Tide ECG. The two-player card game, which is set in Penny Arcade’s comic series of the same name revolving around ping pong between the United States and Russia (Soviet Union, if you will) during the Cold War. I really enjoyed the comic strip series, and the idea of a card game emulating table tennis seemed like a really good idea. The game itself comes in a small form box and is pretty nice to look at. The card in Paint the Line is nice and the cards are of a suitable quality. You get two decks of cards (one deck for Tycho Brahe and one for Oksana Svedlovigoba), a d20, and the Escalation Cards, which set the difficulty for each shot (more on that in a moment).
The Paint the Line ECG is built around a rock-paper-scissors mechanic (Lobs beat Spins, Spins beat Drives, Drives beat Lobs). On each turn you play a Stamina card if you have it (mana to those of you who have played Magic: The Gathering) and then you can use your stamina to play cards from your hands (mostly ‘shot cards’) or to use a card that you already have on the table. Each shot has two different sets of stats, one that is used by default and the other when you a shot that has the advantage over the one just played. There’s a fair amount of book-keeping during the game as you keep track of ‘Okay, you just used a shot with a -3 to my shot and I have a +6, so I have a +3 to my next roll’, but it never gets too bad and there aren’t many modifiers in the game (although there are one or two more complicated cards, like one that has you creating +1/-1 tokens each time it used, although it does a pretty poor job of explaining exactly what that does). The rules cover most of the questions regarding the game, but I didn’t find that they were terribly intuitively laid out. Play in the Paint the Line ECG goes back and forth, as in ping pong, with the first player playing or using a shot card and rolling against the current difficulty (it starts at six), the difficulty then goes up by two and the next player takes their turn. The Paint the Line ECG is listed at 35 minutes, but we have found it typically runs well over that amount. As you get late in the game, you amass a huge arsenal of different cards (shot cards stay in play after you play them and take two turns to cool down after you use them unless the point ends, at which time all cards are readied) which results in a lot of time looking at your cards for precisely which one gives you the best option in this case, which slows the game down pretty badly, in our experience. You frequently, after a few rounds, have to tap and untap large amounts of Stamina (we were using nine or 10 at a time frequently after about the half-way point). When the game works, it works very well, though. On the occasions where both players know exactly what they are doing the ‘tap card, roll to see if you make it’ can create some interesting moments, and the Paint the Line ECG really does feel like table tennis in those moments. However, in our experience those moments were far outweighed by the ones where the game dragged as we went through cards and figured out what we had on the table, what card we were countering, and what we needed to play. I’m going to hold onto the Paint the Line ECG and hope that continued familiarity speeds the game up exponentially, but – right now – for a game that is basically taking turns rolling a die my experience has shown that it plays way too long (there is some light strategy, and I felt pretty good once when I got my wife to use the type of shot I wanted by ceding the advantage and then blowing it by failing to roll an 8). The Paint the Line ECG also feels strangely complicated for what should be a light, fast game given the theme and the amount of luck involved. I can play luck-heavy games (where luck may even be the predominant factor) for about 30 minutes, but I need something a little more substantive beyond that. So, at the end of the day, I can’t really recommend the Paint the Line ECG to you. When I bought the game and decided that I was going to write a Paint the Line card game review, I was really hopeful. If you absolutely love the theme and can power through the game to get enough games, there might be something here for you. For most people, I think, the Paint the Line card game just hits the net.
Have you all tried any new games recently? Do you enjoy Penny Arcade? What are your favorite two player games? Head down to the comments, won’t you?