Inside the Lynchian reality of Cribbage With Grandpas


Promoted from our Community Blogs

[There are a lot of amazing blogs that have been promoted to the front page of Destructoid over the years, and some of them absolutely deserve another look. We’re going to be occasionally boosting some of the classics, in case you missed them the first time around, starting with this masterpiece from Vadicta. – Kevin]

[Original (12/05/2017): This month’s Bloggers Wanted promptis all about fan fiction. Whether you want to write your own or drool over your favorite creations from others, it’s all fair game. Almost a year ago, Vadicta took a harmless mobile game about playing cards with your grandpa and turned it into a terrifying story about abusing the elderly. It stuck with me, and I love it dearly. There’s clearly something wrong with this guy, but we can’t stop putting his work on the Front Page. His depravity is so dense it’s endearing. – Kevin]

After more than a dozen hours with Cribbage With Grandpas, I’m certain of one thing: I have no idea how Cribbage works. I won maybe two games and both were by sheer luck. Cribbage is the kind of game someone desperate to come up with his own card game would create. It’s over-complicated. There are pegs in a board, for some reason, to show score. All of the rules seem totally arbitrary, and I only know what scores based off rote memorization.

I don’t know how to make sure I have a nice crib that MTV would want to visit. What is a Nib? What is a Nob? Why do we do a run of cards before scoring? What reason is there for thirty-one to end one row in a run? Why do we even create cribs? Why are we playing this card game when we could be playing any other card game ever? I feel entirely inept at all times and like I’m only going through the paces in order to experience the most important part of the game.

Time with grandpas.

So, ifCribbage With Grandpaswere just Cribbage, I would’ve vomited on myself and immediately uninstalled it. But this game has an extra layer, a theme running through which completely repaints the experience of being a person playing a shitty card game. In this game, you play against grandpas. Your grandpas. And you know that they’re your grandpas, because you create them. Through a surprisingly robust platform, you create grandpas like Miis, giving them eyes, noses, ears, races, clothing, and accessories. You even choose the place they prefer to meet up in order to force you to suffer through Cribbage. And a step beyond that, you even get to choose their personalities.

That’s right. Through a diverse range of options, you decide three traits you want your grandpa to have. Is he a sneaky grandpa? Sad? A sore loser? Happy? Thoughtful? Academic? Laid back? You even choose how talkative this person is. And through doing all this, you can’t help but attach a life to this grandpa that truly makes him your own.

But how many grandpas does one person usually have? Two? Three, if there’s some kind of divorce. Four at max, surely. So, then what happens when you fill your cell phone with grandpas, and you find that you have five? Surely, these can’t all be your own biological or by-marriage grandpas. They run the gamut of races and facial features, temperaments and attitudes. They can’t all be cut from the same cloth. At this moment, when you’ve already become invested in these grandpas that you’ve created, chosen, that you know inside and out and have taken for your own, this is whenCribbage With Grandpastakes its most sinister turn.

These men are not your grandpas.

One thing I sorely miss from older video games is a complete lack of story. Only the setting, style, and themes allow you to piece together who you are and what you’re doing. You have to figure out while you play, as you spend time with the game, how all the pieces fit, building your own narrative for the world in which you inhabit. This doesn’t take hours of cut scenes that force you to sit through a story you might not care for. No, you’re in the game immediately, and the story is what you can cobble together from the context clues the game gives you. It’s immediate and satisfying, andCribbage With Grandpaslends itself perfectly to this. So, let’s find out who you are. What sort of person hasCribbage With Grandpasmade you?

Upon bootup, the game drops you in what sounds like a crowded café. You can hear constant chatter, the clink of dinnerware. All that sits in front of you is your phone. A black square, nothing special. Tap the square, and the phone lifts to the grandpa screen. You have all five of your created grandpas here. That’s all the phone has room for. Clearly not one with much memory. In this modern world, it would be hard to believe that whatever hipster would hang out in this popular café wouldn’t be able to afford a decent smartphone. What we have here is a 20 dollar burner phone from Walmart, filled with grandpas. Something to be disposed of.

Since you only have a phone built to call grandpas, and since Cribbage is a bastard game designed by Satan to be unwinnable, you must only be playing it to placate these old men. To what end? Cash. Each of these games take long enough that you’d imagine a tenth of a grandpa’s remaining life would be wasted at the cards, and as long as you can keep them happy enough to believe that you are in fact their grandson and to get your name scratched on that will, you’re in the clear.

You’re the con man, the villain. Who would’ve guessed? But just keep your wits about you, keep up the charade, and these grandpas will be none the wiser. All of them are fine, anyhow, offering help to understanding this nightmare game that defies logic while talking about how happy they are to see you and cracking strange rhyming jokes that go along with every point value that they score. Except, some don’t rhyme quite so well. Thanks for trying, gramps.

And one in particular comes off a little odd and prophetic.

Fate? What’s that supposed to mean? And why the pause before saying it? All the dialogue feels a bit unnatural and stiff and dreamlike. Are these old men saying what they’re saying, or is there a deeper meaning to all of this?

And what’s up with Evil Harold? Those hollow eyes, that sunken scowl of an expression. And he has the most violent outbursts of any of the grandpas. Worst of all, he seems to know something about you.

You return to your burner phone one afternoon at the café to find that Jerry’s gone missing. Where is he? You’re not sure, but a cold feeling creeps up your stomach, this sensation that you already know his fate. That somehow you caused it. Like you just deleted him. But what’s this? Entering a game with Evil Harold brings you to Jerry’s snowy retreat. In those cold eyes, you see that he knows. You’ve been seeing other grandpas. You’ve been playing Cribbage with them. But Evil Harold, he’s the only one you should play with. He’s your real grandpa, and there can only be one.

You play out the game with Evil Harold. He seems different, now. A little sadder. Less of a sore loser. A strange personality shift. That makes you even more nervous, uneasy. Evil Harold wins. He always wins. He’s the best at Cribbage. After all, only the devil can truly win this game.

Jerry disappeared without a trace. You can’t prove his death, so the insurance company surely won’t pay out. But you have schedules to keep, appointments with your other grandpas around town. How about Estil? No wait. He’s gone, now. Your guts twist tight as you call Evil Harold. And of course he tells you to come over. You’re at Estil’s place. And Evil Harold, he’s wearing Estil’s orange suspenders. And once again, his personality has taken a wild swing, though his cold, dead eyes remain the same.

This game is full of tension as you worry that this game may be your last. The rules fall apart in your head. You can’t remember what adds to fifteen or how much a pair of Queens or a run of three counts for. You throw random cards into each crib, unable to focus. Evil Harold trounces you, but only calmly asks if you want to play again. When you decline, he seems upset. You get out. You escape one more time.

Then, you’re in the café, but it’s cold now. So cold. Snow everywhere. Your food half-eaten, coffee stale. There’s no sound of voices around you. You’re alone. Was anyone ever there to begin with? Does this world contain anyone other than you and the goddamned grandpas?

Your phone lights up pink with an exclamation point. A warning. A cry for help. Even the phone knows your fate. You open up to see that even Merms has fallen.

And of course Evil Harold in his place, wearing his hat and glasses, holding the same empty stare and pained expression. His personality has shifted once more. You could just about shit yourself. But you don’t. You hold those bowels tight as you play out the game, losing again, and rush away.

You don’t go back for a little. You stay away from its curse. The police can’t find these grandpas. They wonder if these old men have even existed. It’s like they’ve been erased. Stricken right off the face of the earth.

You return to the phone, and, of course, only Evil Harold remains.

When you go to face him this time, doom hanging heavy through your innards, you find yourself in a room you don’t recognize. Evil Harold is cloaked in all black, skin as red as the devil. You see him in his true form. Satan himself. You will now face your wicked ways for conning old men, for manipulating them using a card game you don’t even understand.

And so, if you want to escape this grandpa Cribbage hell, you need to win. You need to win this one time against the best of the best. Against the devil. You quickly lose any chance of a lead, and the game only drags on from there, agonizing as you see your fate spelled on the board. How could you ever expect to win? This game, senseless as the tragedy that befalls all of us, was formed in hellfire by cloven hooves on a board of brimstone. The path of your pegs was set before you even sat down. So, you play your final hand. The devil wins.

And this is when your phone goes dead.

Damn, what a ride. What a world. Who would’ve guessed that a card game with grandpas would be wrought from such a devilish narrative. Sometimes games are so much deeper than you ever give them credit for, and it’s the ones that hide it most that prove to be the cleverest of all.

I decided to explain my journey to the developers ofCribbage With Grandpas. I wanted them to know that I found the meaning of their game, that I had discovered what they had so craftily hidden. I asked them for more illumination on the subject. What inspired this darksome tale? Was this the way it was meant to be played? Could there be any other outcome?

And they’ve responded to me. Their email is below:

We at Less Than Three Interactive apologize sincerely for the unintended consequences of this rogue grandpa. I can assure you that Harold does not represent us or our brand, and we’re doing everything we can to protect our users from demonic forces. In the meantime, we recommend placing your phone within a simple circle of protection when not in use and sprinkling sea salt around it twice daily for added cleansing.Seriously though, wow. We loved your email so much, thank you for writing it.Side note, I volunteered with a seniors organization as a “friendly visitor” (basically I hung out with a grandpa for a day a week for a few months) to research dialogue for this project and his name was Harold. I’m glad he made it into the game after all haha ?

Some classy people work there with great spirits and even greater senses of humor, which emblemizes how this sort of imaginative expanding of a game’s universe can be an experience that entertains anyone.

Cribbage With Grandpasis an amazing game. Not because Cribbage is fun. It’s not, and anyone who says otherwise is a grandpa trying to lure you to hell. What makes this game a blast is the addition of adding quirky make-your-own grandpas to the game that instantly brings depth and texture to the experience and allows players to build their own people, their own personalities, and their own stories from the game. This is something that I would spend hours doing while playing the arcade modes of low-budget fighting games during the PS One and PS2 eras, building my own rivalries and stories of how my character survived losing matches and worked his or her way up for revenge. These little stories, built from the art, the tone, and the context clues of the games, could turn even the most lackluster button-mashers into sweeping epics that multi-million-dollar budgeted BioWare games could never dream of reaching. I found such immense satisfaction that a silly little game likeCribbage With Grandpascould bring me that same experience all these years later.

I’m sure I’m not alone in finding joy through bringing games to life in this manner, so, please, feel free to share your experiences in the comments or in your own blogs, if you so choose. I would be thrilled to hear about them.

Cribbage With Grandpasis available for iOS and Android for $2.99.