Billionaire Banshee review


Billionaire Banshee (2014) (NSFW)

We also have an accessibility teardown of Billionaire Banshee available.

Way back in the prehistoric days of April 2016 I wrote a review of Cards Against Humanity.  Man, that seems like such a long time ago – Britain was still to vote for Brexit, Trump was still a hilariously flailing muppet in an ill-fitting man suit, and we had yet to realise the day to day danger posed by feral clowns running wild in our inner cities.   Pokemon Go?  Remember that?   That was a thing we were all doing roundabout then.  They were the best of times, they were the worst of times.  They were the best of times that preceded the absolute worst of times.

Anyway, today on Meeple Like Us we’re reviewing Billionaire Banshee!

Billionaire Banshee box

I don’t really like the art, but you can make your own minds up on that I’m sure.

I bring up Cards Against Humanity here for a reason – Billionaire Banshee feels like a refinement of that formula of party games.    Like CAH, it is fiendishly simple.  Like CAH, it can be very funny.  And like CAH it has a structural inelegance that means it’s not a very good game.   Whoops, I may have given away the ending there.   Pretend I put a spoiler alert. 

Box contents

All you need is love

Here’s how Billionaire Banshee works.  Every round, the current player draws a card from a deck of ‘perks’ that represent positive features of a potential lover they may bring into their lives.  There’s a big juicy stack of these covering territory from the banal to the baffling.   You flip this card over face up for everyone to see and then you read out what the card says.

They're a fashion designer

Okay, that sounds pretty good…

Then, you reach over to the ‘quirk’ deck where a negative feature of your supposed soulmate may be found.  You flip this over, and then read out the contents of that as well.

But they're a cult leader

Oh, like Hugo Boss?

You play down a ‘date’ or ‘deny’ card face down in front of you.  Everyone else places down their date or deny card likewise.  They flip their cards over in order, and explain how they arrived at their prediction  You flip over yours, and explain your reasoning.   Repeat until you get bored.   You can collect points, if you must, but Billionaire Banshee is a game that is primarily one of conversational prompts.  The game isn’t anything really – it’s a way of forcing conversation and discussion.  It’s a slightly risqué ice-breaker in a box.   It’s great if you’re in a room of people you kinda know but for whatever reason the conversation just isn’t flowing.  That said, given some of the subject matter it might be less appealing to introduce it than it would be to just sit in awkward silence.    ‘Hey, want to play a game?  I warn you though – you might have to disclose to the group that you’d be fine being punched in the face during intercourse just as long as your partner is into anal sex’

It’s good the game decks are so large because another feature Banshee shares with Cards Against Humanity is a fetishistic reliance on the novelty of juxtaposition.   The perks are occasionally funny, the quirks are often comic, but you need the two to come together in a compatible way before real hilarity can be generated.   A perk might be weird by itself…

They can transform into an ATV

To be fair, I’ve wanted to have sex with a transformer since I was six years old. Wait, that’s pretty weird, right?

That might be mildly amusing.  You can only have a discussion about it though when the associated quirk is revealed.

But they're super clingy

Oh. Well.

Would you date Starscream?   That’s essentially what you’re being asked here.  Why?  Why not?  What is it about this particular combination that is a turn off, or a turn on?   Is having access to subsidised transport worth your arse being constantly filmed by a perpetually charged Go-Pro?  Why?  Why not?

You orgasm with a kiss, but they're a skeleton

This is a tough one.

You have an orgasm every time you kiss!  That sounds exhausting by itself, but is that a good or a bad thing when the kisses come from a desiccated ambulatory skeleton?  What about if every time you have an orgasm he says ‘I didn’t even need to bone you’?.   Is that overall good, or overall bad?  Why?  Why not?

I’m sure you can already tell whether this is a game you’ll enjoy because there isn’t anything more to it – it is what it is, and it is no more than that.   Some combinations are winners, some are losers, and some are unintentionally dark.

They have a doomsday bunker, but they think God is going to fix all the world's problems

Uh… in what *way* is God going to sort everything out, buddy?

That often unexpected synchronization the best thing about the game.  It’s also really the core problem with Billionaire – it can set up the jokes, sometimes, but it still relies on the group to provide a punchline.    ‘They have a huge library of video games’ paired with ‘they are a holocaust denier’ isn’t really very funny in and of itsellf.  That could be the perfect setup for a joke about the median Gamergater if you’re in a group of funny people.    Billionaire is like an ongoing version of ‘would you rather’, except you rely on the inventiveness of the designers rather than on your own.   ‘Would you rather have sex with a mermaid/merman if he/she was fish on top or fish on bottom?’.    People have been playing games like that since they were able to talk, and all Billionaire does is put that basic system in a box and remove your ability to pose the conundrums.

A billionaire with a 10 year old's intelligence

And will you keep dating them when they run for president?

That puts the onus of the fun you’re going to have on the cards and here see yet another similarity with Cards Against Humanity – this is a game of deeply uneven comedy.   There are genuinely good, clever cards in here – cards that when paired against other good, clever cards will provoke real discussion and revelation.    There are card combinations that will move everyone to tears of laughter.  The cards set you up, and you knock them down.   That’s when the game works at its absolute best.

Those good combinations though are the minority because in the majority of cases either the quirk, or the perk, will hugely outweigh the other.  This kind of hypothetical positing works best when it revolves around a difficult question.  The question is only difficult when the pro and con column are well balanced.

‘They have a sexy accent’.  That’s nice.

‘But they need to punch you repeatedly in the face to get off’.  It’s not nice enough.

‘They love eating fast food tacos’.  Is that really a thing someone would care about?

‘They have random mid-sleep diarrhea’.  Yeah, I’ll pass thanks.   Will they stop eating the tacos? That might help.

Everyone, everyone at the table knows that I’ll pass on either of those combinations.  Everyone, everyone at the table knows the reason why.  So much of the discussion that poor matches bring up will be ‘Well, one of these is not like the other’ and as such it often fails to furnish the basic deliverable that I’d hope it would bring to the table.  A game like this must be a catalyst for conversation.   There just aren’t enough good matches in a game for it to work consistently, or even with a good ratio of hits and misses.

Coupled to these, even the assignment of particular quirks and perks is odd.   The following are all defined as perks – things that you might be swayed by in a partner.

Dubious perks

I reiterate. These are all perks.

I mean, what?  I don’t want any of those.  If someone vomits perfectly edible cheeseburgers I’m almost certainly still going to say ‘You know what, I think I’ll just go buy a fresh one’.   I’ve never been in such a desperate need for ice-cream that I’d eat it fresh from someone’s arsehole.   Maybe that makes me weird, but c’mon – it costs a few quid for a couple of litres of decent strawberry ice-cream.  At best what these perks are offering is ‘a small savings in your grocery bill’.

And then we move into some of the odder territory in the cards – there’s a regular undercurrent of perks that are downright creepy.  ‘They can use mind control’.  ‘They can enter your dreams’.  These at least add an ethical dimension to discussion but it’s hard to really see this kind of thing in a particularly positive light.  It’s a weird assignment, made weirder by the fact these cards almost always come with a ‘but it’ll be consensual for you’ caveat.   It’s as if the writer of the cards knows what they’re proposing is alarming but makes a special moral exemption for the poor sod stuck in a relationship with this X-Men mutant monster.

Worrying perks

These are all… morally complex

Even when that’s not the case often the perks are largely irrelevant.  It’s not a perk to me if someone is a race car driver, or ‘they protect the city from monsters’.   It doesn’t matter to me if they’re a skilled archer, or they’re a great novelist.  I don’t consider it a perk in a relationship if the most someone is bringing to the equation is ‘I’m amazing and you can be my cheerleader’.

Best cards

Would they be okay with painting a Marge Simpson to have sex with?  Asking for a friend.

The best cards in Billionaire, perversely, are the ones with the least comedy attached.  ‘They are a great parent’, or ‘they push you to be your best’, or ‘anything they paint comes to life’.  Those real, everyday super-powers that make a lasting difference in people’s lives.  The kind of thing that we see on a daily basis and never really appreciate.    So many of the perks are so limited in scope or so specialist in application it’s hard to really weight them at all.    The best perks are ones with real meaning, but so many cards in the deck are superficially shallow.   You want more things like ‘They are a great parent, but they think they’re a superhero’.  Is that a good combination?  What value do you place on parenting?  Does the risk that you’ll end up dating someone from Fathers for Justice sway you one way or the other?

The cards that focus on sexuality too are often troubling in their implication.   ‘They are a virgin’ is a perk, which is a little creepy for how it contributes to the ongoing fetishization of ‘purity’.  However, ‘they have a foot fetish’ is a quirk, suggesting that this is something about which you should be troubled.  ‘They have a tiny penis/loose vagina’ is intensely body-shaming.  ‘They are one year underage’ is horrifying since it’s basically equating committing statutory rape to a matter of weighing up pros versus cons.   I’m not even projecting there – it says on the card that they’re looking to be sexually active right away, and the parents don’t mind.

The sex cards in particular, it strikes me, would have worked so much better as a third deck from which to draw  That would neatly sidestep the issue of assigning positive and negative connotations to sexual preferences.    ‘They can control time but they wear breadbowls for shoes.  They’re into watersports’.   As it is there is a lot of value judgement made in the decks, and it seems weirdly specific to label ‘they are a dom’ as a perk while ‘they like to pee on you during sex’ as a quirk.   There’s a lot of kink-shaming in here.  There are people in the world that like neither, one, or both.    Sure, the game might just be playing the percentages but that’s never going to work especially well in being consistent.  People are complex, and nowhere more so than in sexual preferences.

Problem quirks

Well – this is a whole mess of problems

There are cards in the deck that are homophobic and transphobic.  There are occasional traces of ableism in the decks.   I’ll talk more about that in the teardown, as you can probably guess.   Suffice to say though that it’s not just the style of the game that will be a problem for many people, but also the content of the cards.     It can be intensely uncomfortable to be a man with a small penis, sitting listening to everyone say why they wouldn’t possibly date someone with such insufficient equipment.  Probably.  It would probably be intensely uncomfortable.  I wouldn’t know.   I mean, I’m not saying I’m super endowed or anything, but you know – it’s a pretty average penis.   Not the kind of thing you’d go out of your way to access, but not one you’d feel criminally short-changed by handling.    Seriously, I was just being empathetic about the small penis thing.  I was.  I WAS.  Hang on, I’ll prove it with a picture.   Let me get my phone.

A broken image

See – at least five, maybe six, out of ten.

Anyway…

Billioinaire Banshee doesn’t work especially consistently as a game.  It’s too uneven an experience.  It puts too much burden on its players to be funny which absolves the cards of that responsibility.   If a game is going to do that, I’d probably rather just sit around swapping jokes.   When it does work, it works well.  When it doesn’t, which is more common, the jokes land with all the surety of an airborne flan.  They fall flat, is what I’m saying.   It’s certainly better structured as a system than Cards Against Humanity but any title that relies on comedy juxtaposition better bring its A-game when it’s making available the moving parts of play.   Too often in Billionaire Banshee it looks like the designers assumed that randomness by itself would provide the necessary alchemy for the hilarity.   Unfortunately it doesn’t.  Combinatorial explosion creates a massive possibility space, but rarely does any part of that space offer interesting contours.

It’s hard to be too critical though of a game where you might spend five happy minutes discussing with your friends whether or not you’d date a wizard with buttons for eyes.    Is this a wizard from Harry Potter?  I bet sex is insane in the Harry Potter universe.  ENGORGIO. ACCIO CONTRACEPTIVO.  ALOHOMORA UNDERPANTS.  Man, Polyjuice potion by itself would make the Harry Potter universe a furry’s dream.   I bet the wizard Kama Sutra is more complex and more inventive than an Ikea instruction manual.

You know, if someone were to reskin Billionaire Banshee as a Harry Potter game I would be okay with that.  Just saying.  In the meantime, while it’s better than Cards Against Humanity it’s not as good as it could be.   It definitely can be fun but I’d be loathe to give too much of the credit for that to the game itself.

 

 


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  • I had heard of this game about a year ago, and it sounded funny, but I didn’t realise that the game was at points so crass, I have even been tempted by it a s a silly party game, but after reading some of those cards this game would probably have gone in the bin and ruined a game night if I had pulled it out.
    And talking of pulling it out, I’ve never laughed out loud to a board game review before

    • I once pulled it out and ruined a game night too. Sorry, that was a double entendre. I once went to a bar that served those. I said, ‘I want a double entendre’ and the bartender gave me one.

      But anyway…

      One of the best things about the way BB is designed is that all the decks have symbols on the back that let you remove content of particular types – sexual / fantastical / real world. So if you want it to be all the Dirty Stuff it can be, or a family friendly(ish) version is entirely possible. The problem there really is that you lose out on some of the good options from the decks in the process

      I actually do like BB as an idea – I think with some expansion packs and some borderline cruel culling it could be an excellent game. Maybe the trick is to just let everyone write their own quirks and perks on a piece of paper, throw them into a pair of bowls, and have your own bespoke version that plays to everyone’s preferences.