Is Deer Lord! a game for all the family? Well, not exactly
There was a time when party games meant innocent family endeavours like Charades or Twenty Questions. These pastimes from times past maintained their popularity for nearly 200 years. Then along came Cards Against Humanity. Suddenly party games got a great deal more raucous. The unique selling point of Cards Against Humanity was its unabashed abandonment of political correctness. It was rude in every sense of the word. The game was designed deliberately to offend, so probably not one to bring out when granny comes round for Christmas dinner. Deer Lord! aims to offer a halfway house, bridging the gap between the more genteel party games of old and the brazen offensiveness of Cards Against Humanity and its many imitators.
According to the box, Deer Lord! is designed to be played by between four and eight players. It is at its best when played with a group of six or more, and I’ve managed to play it successfully with groups as large as 12.
You don’t need to be drunk to enjoy Deer Lord! but it helps
The game itself simply comprises a box of cards with challenges printed on them. Each player is dealt five cards face down. The object is to be the first player to get rid of all of their cards. On each card, there will either be a Duel or a Do Something challenge. To play a Duel card, the player chooses someone else and competes with them on the task set out on the card. Both players perform and the other players vote on who is the winner. The loser takes the card.
The Duel challenges are inevitably a rather mixed bunch. They range from a staring contest to silly requirements such as “who can do the best imitation of a famous landmark?” Some may cause embarrassment (“who will lick the most disgusting object?”) and some (“who can put the most objects in his/her mouth”) are probably best not attempted if alcohol has been flowing. Since Deer Lord! is a game more likely to be played when people have had a couple of drinks, it may be advisable to subject the deck to some judicious editing while everyone is still sober.
So players challenge each other; is that all there is to Deer Lord!? The real game is in the covert actions!
Varied as the Duels are, it is the Do Something cards that make Deer Lord! more interesting. These cards require players to covertly complete some act while others are having their turn. A disappointment is that the required actions differ too widely in the ease with which they can be performed. Players will have little difficulty meeting a requirement to “cough” but they will need implausible ingenuity to “lie down on your belly” without drawing undue attention to themselves. Rather shamelessly, the creators set as one of the requirements that a player “yell out how much fun this game is”, though balance is perhaps restored by another card that calls on a player to “yawn conspicuously”.
If a player carries out a Do Something task before his turn comes around, then on his turn he can reveal his card and the other players have to agree he completed the action, in which case he discards the card. If they disagree, he discards that card but draws another. If a player suspects another is carrying out a Do Something action then they can call him out by describing what he was doing. If they are right, and what they describe corresponds with the Do Something card, they get to discard a card from their own hand. The Do Something player who has been successfully called out has to discard their card and pick another.
Because it is likely that every player will have at least one Do Something card in his starting hand of five, players are constantly on the lookout for what others round the table are doing. If my friend is scratching her nose, is it because she has an itch or could it be that that is one of her Do Something objectives? Dare I call her out or am I jumping to conclusions that will penalize me by making me take an extra card for making a wrong call? This ‘tension’ means that everyone has an incentive to pay attention and keep involved even when they are not themselves engaged in a Duel. Seasoned games players will also use the Do Something mechanic as an excuse for misdirection – perhaps pointedly performing an act likely to be called out but which is not on one of their cards in the hope of tricking another player into making a false call.
Deer Lord! may not be everyone’s cup of tea
Seemingly arbitrarily, some of the Duel and Do Something cards specify a Reward for the winner. Some of these come across as patronizing or childish and others can be embarrassingly awkward. On resolution of “who gives the best hug?” the winner is granted the right to ask players to hug him or her if he/she asks. Players confronted with such a choice may well feel they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t claim their Reward. If you manage surreptitiously to succeed in the Do Something task instructing you to “smell the armpit of another player”, you may well think it stretches any definition of the word to claim that it is a “Reward” to be required to “describe how it smelled”.
Deer Lord! is a simple game but it can be fun when played with the right crowd of people. Even though it lacks the risqué single entendres found in similar games, you’ll find that players will enjoy it. The problem comes when some players in the group enjoy it rather more than others. Several of the “Duel” cards invite a degree of competitiveness that not everyone will get into. Not everyone will engage enthusiastically with tasks that demand they contest who can scream the loudest or who can keep gargling the longest. What some may find amusing others may regard as painfully tiresome. This means that, for some, this is a game that risks overstaying its welcome. As a party game with my local groups, it hasn’t proved to have the staying power of, for example, Mattel’s Funemployed.
What if I’m one of those who’s left wanting more?
The game comes with 108 cards and the makers have already published a series of 54-card expansions. These incorporate an element of theming. The For Fame and For Game expansion incorporates challenges “aimed at extraverts”. This expansion is subtitled “Broadway and Gangsta”. It typically involves singing contests but these could well include rapping. A Duel card in this set, for example, asks “who can come up with the best diss in a rap battle?”
The insensitively named Socially Awkward expansion is described as being aimed at “geeks who would rather interact with popular culture than with other people”. In this expansion, players may be tackling trivia questions or may be asked, as a Do Something task, to “use math” (Yes – the card says “math” not “maths”: though the game is published in Ghent in Belgium, the translation to English has evidently come via the United States). This expansion comes supplied in the currently available Bling Edition of Deer Lord!
The Emotional Rollercoaster expansion is subtitled “Flirty & Mean” and is far and away the most risqué. Some of the Duel and Do Something cards in this expansion merely demand a demonstration of mildly antisocial behaviour (“remark how ugly another player’s outfit is”) but others could well give rise to a sexual harassment complaint if you were playing with workmates. If you happen to be a psychology student, you will have a field day with the “Mean” cards in this set.
If you like to break out a card game at parties, Deer Lord! might just fit the bill as a game that some will see as a cheeky cross between Cards Against Humanity and Charades or Forfeits. It won’t replace these games but it offers an alternative that will go down well if played with the right group. I’d rate Deer Lord! 5/10, but take care over your choice of expansions. For best results, you should be prepared to edit the deck.
Selwyn has been playing, collecting and writing about board games for more years than he readily admits to. He has written about and reviewed games for Games & Puzzles, Spielbox and Tabletop Gaming, and his Board's Eye View page on Facebook includes short reviews and commentary on both old and new games.