Debtzilla was brought by Capital Gains Studio to Spiel Essen 2018. The game was standing side by side with their other economy game, Cryptocurrency. Anyway, yes, Debtzilla was designed to be an educational game. It helps to teach about the economy (and how debts can be a real pain in the ass).
An overview of Debtzilla
You are a group of vigilantes trying to save the Banana Republic from a bunch of villains but also from the wrath of Debtzilla. The villains will scam the citizens and the Debtzilla will make your country succumb to bankruptcy. Are you ready to save the world while getting an economy lesson? Let’s play Debtzilla!
Set up the game
We have to lay up all the four boards in the middle of the table. The shopping board provides you with the Gadget cards (basic and advance); you can buy to equip yourself for the war against the villains and the big boss. Shuffle the basic and advance Gadget deck separately, put it face down on the most left row. Top lane is for basic Gadgets and below is for advance Gadget. Then, reveal 6 basic Gadgets and place it in the designated place. Whenever a player buys a Gadget card, that place will get replenished by basic/advance Gadget card, depending on the lane.
The vigilante board will accommodate the Villains and the Citizens they try to scam. There will be 3 Villains and 3 Citizens. Take and shuffle Villains cards to form the Villain deck based on the player count; reveal 3 and put them on the villain’s space. Do the same for the Citizen decks; reveal 3 and put on the citizen’s space. Do not forget to put the green cubes to track their finance (their health points).
The working board has all the Income cards you need to survive this game. Income cards can be Savings, Luxury (or Lifestyle), Insurance, Budgeting, Debt Refinancing, and 3 types of Loans (credit card, student, and housing). Last, the boss board is where all the event cards for the boss you want to fight are placed.
Each player picks the hero he/she wants to use in this game. These heroes have unique skills that help you to win the game. Then, he/she gets his/her starter Income deck. This deck consists of 4 Luxury, 3 Credit Card Loans, and 3 Savings.
Each player takes the turn simultaneously; no down-time whatsoever. There are 4 phases in Debtzilla with an additional Boss fight phase. The Working phase lets you draw 5 cards from Income deck. You can gain money, trigger actions, and acquire a new Income card or pay debts. The money you gain can be used in the Shopping phase to buy gadgets. This gadget gives you an additional bonus/effect to win the game.
Afterwards, there will be a Vigilante phase. Every player will try to defeat the villains before they scam the citizens. This is done by using the dice the players have. Usually, each player has 2 dice but additional dice can be used if there’s an appropriate gadget or skill is triggered. Every villain and citizens defeated will go directly to the discard pile. Meanwhile, villains who remain undefeated will scam the citizen; the citizen who goes bankrupt is going to discard pile and contribute more health to Debtzilla.
Debtzilla’s health and event cards
Any debt unpaid and citizen scammed will contribute to the boss’ health point. When the health reaches a certain threshold, an event card is drawn and its effect is triggered. Be aware that this event card will really drag you down. It only lasts for one round only, but all your efforts will go down the drain.
Resolve phase is the last thing to do every round. Active event cards will be removed, empty villain and citizen spaces replenished, and Debtzilla gains health through interest.
Boss fight phase
If there’s no villain left, then Debtzilla will emerge and it’s the final fight with the boss. The triggered event cards are now becoming the ‘villain’ you need to defeat before it makes the citizens go bankrupt. Anyway, in this phase, everything goes like the other round except that you can no longer acquire more Income cards from the Working board and also you can not buy anything from Gadget board. In addition, whenever a citizen goes bankrupt, his wealth will not contribute to Debtzilla’s health point anymore.
How not to lose the game
Practically, you lose the game if you have no more citizen left or if you let Debtzilla’s health point to reach equal to or more than 99. You can win the game if you beat all villains and also the big boss, Debtzilla. It’s not a walk in the park, trust me.
My experience and opinion
Was it just I or this game is pretty much hard and so punishing? I wanted to win so desperately I even resorted to using the family-friendly mode. The mechanic to defeat the villains was definitely depending on your luck. You can buy gadgets to help to manipulate your dice result and enhance the chance to defeat the villain. However, because you can only use one gadget per round, well, it was still hard.
Anyway, relying only on your income won’t be enough; the heroes need to take the debt to buy the gadget as well. Paying your debts to reduce Debtzilla’s health point is also an interesting mechanic here. I always have my debts available in the deck so when it comes to the boss fight, it can always help to fight the big boss, too. Too many debts cards in your deck, however, might be irritating. Credit card debts, for example, give you nothing when you draw it again.
Thematically, this is a correct way to show the players that to make more money, you need money as well. I really like how they designed this game to be educative and it was spot on. Capital Gains Studio even provided a sheet that explains economic terms even further.
On a side note, their rule book needs an improvement. It should be organised more properly. I think they also forgot to edit the Luxury term to Lifestyle in this version I reviewed. Their latest version of the rulebook has it done and it was available here.
The artwork is a subjective matter; I myself prefer something more realistic. But, because Debtzilla is meant to be fun, informative, and educative, the use of cartoonish illustration is actually a good strategy to attract more teenagers and even younger players.
Debtzilla is a good way to teach your kids that unsettled debts will come back and bite you hard. The dice usage in the mechanic to defeat the villains is not my favourite, but if you like to push your luck with a mechanic addition of dice manipulation, this might be for you. Please also take notes that this game includes a deck-building mechanic, too. This means Debtzilla is also prone to low replayability because deck-building games tend to be repetitive.
If you are looking for a cooperative game with dice and deck-building, Debtzilla is good for you. You might replay this game several times because it’s a bit hard to win a game (or, again, was it just my experience, I don’t know). An extra boss is provided and it offers a nice variation in your gameplay.