Artwork: Mihajlo Dimitrievski
Published: Arcane Wonders
Players: 2-5 players
Duration: 60-90 mins
I had two misconceptions about Viral: Namely that I thought it was aimed at younger players, and that it was an educational game. There’s nothing inherently wrong with either of those things I might add, but I was surprised at just how wrong I was. It’s not a game of science and creepy cute viruses, but an area control game with an interesting hand management aspect. But yes, Viral is also littered with adorably nasty critters.
In Viral you are the virus and it’s your job to take over and infect the human body (i.e.- the central player board). Armed with basic virus and body cards you play over 6 rounds and 6 simple phases. Every organ has a randomised token that depicts the area and cure value. You use two cards each turn to place tokens and infect your desired organ- this is where you can move, attack another virus or shield yourself by flipping your token over (making it tougher for another player or research to remove.) At the end of each round you score every organ, check if research has cured you, deal with any crisis areas (when a number of players are present in one organ) and resolve the event card- which can have a positive or negative impact depending.
I came to think of Viral as a mini ‘body war-game’, because in terms of mechanics I couldn’t help but to draw comparison to Twilight Struggle. It’s a highly tactical game of conflict, where playing cards at the right time is everything, dominating certain areas is highly important, and executing your multi-use cards is a real brain cruncher. Moving up the research track is like the DEFCON5 of diseases- you want to score without being cured to quickly whilst also scoring the most points. However, as well as the theme being a world apart from Twilight, it plays in around 45-60 minutes (2P) and as isn’t quite as large and complex.
Viral also had a couple of interesting aspects that really strengthen the hand management aspect of the game. As you ascend the score track you are able to gain the more powerful virus cards to build your deck. These provide new abilities- pushing another player out, pulling another in or absorbing another virus and moving it with you. This makes for tactical thinking and playing your cards with caution.
I also liked the way the cards cycle; after you have played two turns the four cards used are unavailable, then after two more turns they go back into your hand. So this really gets you thinking ahead and planning carefully. It’s almost like deck building where you choose which cards to play and when.
I’m also a fan of gaining as you go- it’s very satisfying to climb the score track and keep an eye on how close you are to winning in relation to other players. I like gaining new cards, and I like when score tokens are flipped and organs are levelled up, meaning higher points at stake. That’s what gives Viral the fun factor for me.
It’s also worth mentioning that it plays very well as a two-player game with some fantastic direct conflict. The only difference is you have an AI player who you manage a little, but nothing too strenuous.
I love the packaging and illustrations; The Mico is fast becoming one of my favourite artists. I like that the viruses made me say ‘awww’ and ‘ewww’ simultaneously, kind of reminiscent of Garbage Pail Kids (I’m definitely showing my age now!) And I liked how the abilities of the viruses were reflected in their name and characteristics.
So that’s Viral. Conflict, area control and excellent hand management wrapped up in a big gross bundle. Play it.