This review is for the early prototype version of #notPOGs (official name TBA) that debuted at PAX Unplugged 2018.
It started in September as an inside joke on Facebook. But at some point, the joke took a life of its own. For some, the best game at PAX Unplugged didn’t involve meeples, tiny wooden cubes, cards, dice, or boards. Instead it involved slamming hard plastic discs at stacks of thinner cardboard discs in an attempt to flip them over. Sound familiar? If you said, “That sounds suspiciously like POGs…” well, you’d be wrong. It’s #notPOGs, and it’s super fun.
Manny Trembley, artist and co-designer for Dice Throne, teased the game to his fans for months before finally debuting a prototype at PAX. #notPOGs (unofficial name—still waiting on the reveal of the official name) takes the basic premise of POGs, the collectible game us 90s kids remember fondly from our youth, and adds a thin layer of complexity and strategy, transforming the game into one that hits all the right nerdy buttons: competitiveness, nostalgia, dexterity, sweet art… and chucking things. Lots of chucking things at other things. How often do we as adults get complete freedom to chuck things with wild abandon?
When I finally got my hands on the game at the end of the first day of the expo, I was initially self-conscious. What were the other, Very Serious gamers going to think of me throwing things and chasing after the stray cardboard discs that rolled underfoot? As it turned out, no one seemed to care, except for the half-dozen people who walked by, did a double-take, and asked, “Wait…. is that POGs?!” We took great glee in telling them, “No, of course not. It’s a Projectile Object Game!” To which we usually received a shake of a head and a chuckle.
Unlike POGs, #notPOGs is #notcollectible. Instead, each player takes a stack of identical discs corresponding to one of the heroes from Dice Throne, which represents that hero’s hit points (HP). Players take turns throwing their “hero” (what we called a “slammer” back in our POG days) at their opponent’s stack of discs, and each disc that flips over represents a loss of 1 HP. In addition, the player chooses either an “active” or “passive” ability for their chosen character. The passive abilities are simple: they automatically activate each turn. “Heal 1 HP at the beginning of your turn,” by returning a disc to your stack, for example.
The “active” abilities are where you find the real challenge of #notPOGs. In order to activate these abilities—for instance, Pyromancer’s ability to throw an additional 3 HP fireball—a player needs to catch their hero as it bounces back up. This is way harder than it sounds. I think I managed to do it once. In fact, simply flipping the discs was harder than I remembered. Over half the time, my hero landed with an ineffective “thud” on top of my stack, or I missed entirely. “I must be doing something wrong. Is there a technique to this that I’m missing?” I asked Manny. He laughed.
“You’d think so. You’d think, as a grown-up gamer, ‘There must be some trick, some strategy, some way of chucking better.’ But there isn’t. This is all there is.” That may sound frustrating, and it was. But it was also surprisingly freeing to know that I was just as likely to have an amazing turn as the game designer across the table from me was, and could just chuck to my heart’s content.
The “rules” were still in spreadsheet form on co-designer Nate Chatellier’s (also of Dice Throne fame) phone, and I was concerned that Nate would be annoyed with us constantly bothering him to look up various character abilities while he was trying to run games of Dice Throne with other people at the table. To my delight, Nate was just as enthusiastic about the game as Manny. It warmed my little nerd heart to see two grown men brimming over with excitement about their ridiculous creation and its first ever exposure to public scrutiny.How often do we as adults get complete freedom to chuck things with wild abandon?
Even after I was instructed to “let loose,” I was still too reserved with my chucking. Being mature and collected is a hard habit to break. I enjoy games that push against this boundary between maturity and childish glee, like dexterity games Ice Cool and Rhino Hero, or card games Happy Salmon and Win, Lose, or Banana. But I found chucking to be a step beyond flicking, stacking, gesturing, or arguing about bananas. Now that I’m back in the real world of responsibilities, I regret not letting loose a little more.
#notPOGS is still in its early stages of development and while rumor has it that eventually we’ll get a published version, no news yet on when that will be or how the final product will differ from what I played at PAX. In the meantime, I am itching to get my hands on some POGs and a slammer so I can practice my chucking and catching technique in preparation for a rematch at PAX South.