I’m not a doctor, but I play one at the game table. Critical Care: The Game is a cooperative experience that places up to 4 players in the role of doctors caring for patients over the course of 7 rounds. The goal is to heal each patients’ ailments together as a team.
To understand Critical Care, we need to understand where the game came from. Dr. Lakshman Swamy started development of this card game during some of the toughest days in the hospital during the COVID outbreak in 2020. “Working through the surge, he missed what the ICU used to be. He found refuge in designing a card game that reminded him of everything he loved about the ICU.” (source: Critical Care website)
Critical Care uses real-life medicine, procedures and situations as players work to stabilize and eventually release healed patients from the hospital. A patient card gives the initial injuries they are dealing with. The assigned diagnosis card will give an actual medical diagnosis that will continue to affect the patient each round of the game.
Even though each player has a patient to work on, players have to work together, sharing medicine and experience to heal everyone in the ICU. Each therapy card takes a segment of time (3, 6, 9 or 12 hours). The game keeps players from playing too many powerful cards by limiting players to a 12 hour shift. A strong treatment or procedure will take 9 or 12 hours but may not address another critical need for your patient.
Patient ailments are recorded with tokens on the patient charts. Each time a specific icon set is filled, crisis tokens are added to their chart. Filling up these crisis spots means that players are going to have to deal with a “code blue” card that could lead to the patients death.
If a patient dies, the game is over and the players lose. If players can heal all patients on the table before the end of 7 rounds, they win the game.
Being a Doctor is Hard
Each round of Critical Care is going to give players new cards they can use in treating the patients. These are medicines and procedures that can be exactly what your patient needs and could possibly cause a side affect that now needs to be treated. Finding the right balance feels like an art in this game as each passing round can bring more complications.
Each time an ailment is healed in a patient, the player gains that token in their experience pool. Players will combine these experience tokens to bring Specialists into the ICU that can be a huge asset. Players can also use the Specialist Board to share medicine and treatment cards with other players.
Critical Care has a legit tension to it without even mentioning the fact that each turn introduces complication cards and pager alert cards that can change the plan during that round. Pager cards can either be helpful or give a restriction for the player during that turn.
Playing Critical Care made one thing abundantly clear to us: we would be terrible doctors! In our first game Erin and I managed to kill a patient in only 3 turns. We understood the flow of the game, we didn’t realize how tough it was to manage the patients’ compounding needs.
A Team Effort
Critical Care places players in a tough situation that requires every mind at the table. Whether it’s managing the therapy cards or collecting the right resources, this game requires players to go all in.
Not only is Critical Care super engaging, but there’s an educational aspect to the game that was really impressive. Information about medical procedures, prescribed medicines, and even social issues that medical professionals deal with was eye opening for us.
Critical Care: The Game is going to check a lot of boxes for gamers and non-gamers alike. So until the final production of this game is ready, we’ll be practicing our bedside manners as we bring these patients back to full health.