Fluxx: a game for Keepers

Updated: Apr 10

Players: 2-6 Ages: 8+ Game Time: 5-30+ mins

Being asked to review Fluxx (by Looney Labs) is a bit like being asked to review Lord of the Rings, or the Bible. The Fluxx universe is so vast, and so much has been written about it by people much more cleverer than me. Where do you even begin for someone who might never have heard about this crucial patch in the cultural fabric of casual gaming?

Well, best to begin with the basics. Players start with a simple rule - draw one card, play one card, and a hand of three cards. Some of these cards might be Goals, which you can play to set your aim for the game. Most Goals are either a number or combination of Keepers: cards that represent objects, like Television, Cookies, or the Moon; or abstract concepts, like Love, Peace, or Milk.

(How, in the year 2021, can we confidently define Milk? Can you really milk a coconut in the same way you could milk, say, a goat? Why does corn become syrup but oats become milk? If soybean juice can be described as milk, does that mean baked bean juice is a tomato-based milk?)

Philosophical discussions about liquids aside, part of the appeal of Fluxx is this initial simplicity. Draw one, play one, combine items to hit a goal - people of all ages, at all steps of their gaming journey, can understand and latch onto it.

It quickly gets more complicated than that, though, with two other types of card you can play. There are New Rules, which replace that basic draw one, play one mechanic. Your scheming opponents can play New Rules to get you drawing two cards, three cards, four cards - and playing different numbers of cards too, including playing all the cards in your hand (whether you wanted to or not). The New Rules can also impose new limits on the number of cards in your hand, the number of Keepers on the table, the number of Goals you're aiming for, and even introduce a Mystery Play where you can choose to instantly draw and play the top card from the deck.

a table where Fluxx cards are layed out as described in the caption. The player has played Milk and Cookies, fulfilling one of the goals and winning the game.

In the game pictured above, "draw one, play one" is nothing but a distant memory. Each turn, players must now draw four and play three (boosted up to five and four respectively by the Inflation card), aiming to fulfil one of two goals (as per the Double Agenda card). There's a hand limit of zero, though, so once they've played their cards, they have to discard anything they might have left in their hand. Luckily, this player drew the Keepers for Milk & Cookies, fulfilling the goal and winning the game.

If that wasn't chaotic enough, there are also Action cards, which allow players to take all sorts of single-use, rule-bending turns - drawing extra cards from the deck, discarding cards they don't want from their hand, swapping their hand with other players', stealing cards that have already been played, and trashing New Rules altogether.

For a game that is almost nothing but rules, Fluxx encourages the player to bend and break its rules as often as possible. The delight of all these exceptions, though, is that you're always learning the rules alongside other players, whether they first played Fluxx v1.0 on release in 1997 or it's their first card game ever. If you're hosting a game night, all you have to explain is "draw one, play one, use Keepers to meet the Goal"; you work out everything else as you go.

That doesn't mean there's nothing in it for the more experienced or tactically-minded gamer. Once you've played Fluxx a few times, you'll get to know the cards in the deck, and the strategic cogs in your brain will start whirring about which Keepers go together to hit Goals, which Keepers will stop other players from achieving Goals, what goals have already been played & discarded... and we'll stop there so you don't know all my tricks.

Mass appeal is why I'm reviewing Fluxx's fifth version since its original 1997 release, and there have been several themed versions on top. The FCU (Fluxx Cardgame Universe) contains a wide range of popular intellectual properties, such as Doctor Who, Firefly, Monty Python, Star Wars, Cthulhu, Cartoon Network, Marvel, Batman, Jumanji, SpongeBob Squarepants, Wizard of Oz, and more versions of Star Trek than Trekkies could start a ceaseless which-one-was-better argument about.

There are educational Fluxx spin-offs themed for Nature, Pirates, Chemistry, Astronomy, Zombies, Pirates, and something our American cousins call "Math" too. A convincing salesperson might say there's a version of Fluxx for everyone, making it a very tempting gift for a franchise fan you want to bring into the fold of tabletop gaming.

Unfortunately, having hundreds of nonsensical spin-offs isn't the only area where Fluxx has a Monopoly-esque problem. The box says it takes 5-30 minutes to play a game of Fluxx, and when enjoying two player duels with my partner Rebeka over lockdown, this has been broadly true. But when you start to add in expansions and stretch it up to its maximum six players, games of Fluxx can go on for well over an hour, with players backstabbing, swapping, and stealing from one another long into the night. It's at this point that Fluxx can start to feel more like a endlessly rotating 100 card endurance test than a simple, fun game.

a 'four' displaying on a six sided dice

That said, Fluxx, which you can reliably pick up for no more than £15, has more than earned its place on my shelf. There are few other games you can get out when you feel like getting straight to play, rather than spending time setting up, explaining rules, or pondering over how it's even possible that something called evaporated milk could be a liquid.