18 June 2021
A good parlour game let down by its use of the subject matter
This is not the kind of mind game we’re into. Side Effects is a take-that card game with a touch of set collection in it. Players randomly lay out a set of four ailments in front of them, mostly mental illnesses, and throughout the game they attempt to treat them with drugs. The problem is that every drug a player uses to deal with an illness opens them up for other illnesses to be played on top by the other players.
The actual mechanics of the game are quite good fun. There’s a certain amount of nastiness inherent as well as some tactical choices in holding on to likely cures for the side effects you’re opening yourself up to. It’s also beautifully put together with art of a variety of skeletons having a really rubbish time of it.
But it feels odd giving someone else anorexia, impotence or a gambling addiction. The game suggests these ailments are all on the same level in some way, which seems a little confused. Therapy cures everything, but then, so will a cocktail of the right drugs apparently. Like all games that approach mental health and makes them part of the mechanics, Side Effects suffers from a kind of tone-deafness. It’s not that it’s offensive really, but more that it just feels off. As does the line within the rulebook about wanting to ‘facilitate open and honest communications about these issues’ and a link to the Wikipedia page for suicide crisis lines feels tacked on.
Fundamentally, Side Effects is a good parlour game let down by its use of the subject matter. It’s not a bad game, it’s just difficult to recommend.
Christopher John Eggett
PLAY IT? MAYBE
Designer: Jen Igartua, Jade Shames, Kat Thek
Publisher: Pill Box Games
Time: 10-30 minutes
This article originally appeared in issue 48 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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