Monday, July 26, 2010

Battleball – The NFL, But With Robots And Mortal Kombat Style Fatalities

I was at the local swap meet where there's a nice old lady selling nothing but Sci-Fi toys and board games, and I found a brand new copy of a cool-looking game called Battleball. It had all the Ameritrashy coolness I would expect from a Milton Bradley game; there were futuristic footballers, beheaded robots, and a steel ball. I don’t know about you, but that kind of thing is pretty much an autobuy for me. I bought it, not expecting much, and took it back to the lair for later examination.

As it turns out, a buddy who is both a gamer and a huge NFL fan rolled by, saw it on my table, and asked about it. That was all I needed to crack it open and give it a test run. It wasn’t long before I realized what an amazing find it was as we played it three consecutive times and loved every single play. I’m not entirely sure that anything that cost ten dollars could be so satisfying without the requirement of a lighter and an air freshener!

Inside the well illustrated box is a veritable sea of plastic and cardboard, all of outstanding quality. There are 22 very detailed, prepainted miniature footballers with color-coded bases that are equal to or better than the quality of Heroscape figures, 13 dice of varying colors and denominations including the coolest D6 die I have ever seen, a metal football on a stand that resembles an old pineapple grenade, two cardboard “locker room” boards, a bunch of “carnage” chits, and a big ass football field board that is about four feet across, maybe two wide, and that is made of three interlocking sections. All in all, it was an epic win purchase, just based on the components.

The concept of the game is that there are two teams of eleven figures each trying to score a touchdown by having their player not only take possession of the ball, but run it into the end zone. It’s much like American football in many respects, but there are some major differences, such as instead of tackling enemy players and then resetting the field, there are no “downs”. It’s more like soccer or rugby in that it’s all game, all the time. Once a player scores a touchdown the entire field resets and the first “half” is complete. The first player to score two touchdowns wins, and that’s that. It’s quite a simple game to learn, simpler yet to play, but there in an immense wealth of strategic options to employ during your stay at Chez Battleball. There are even some extra rules you can employ that are chosen from a list at the beginning of the game, if you so choose, which further deepen the strategy.

The game is set up by assembling the board, placing the football in the center, and placing your team anywhere you wish behind the 20 yard line. You then put your locker room board near you and keep the little “carnage” tokens nearby in case someone gets blasted. Once you’re all set up, roll a D20 and the high roll wins the coin toss. That’s it, and it’s that simple; It takes maybe 5 minutes to get from closed box to epic sports warfare to begin.

The figures themselves are the main focus of the game, with each team being able to perform a very limited set of actions on their turn. First, a player selects a figure to move, rolls a die, and may move up to that amount of spaces. Some players are faster than others, but the tradeoff is that they are more fragile, so you really need to consider your options when placing them. The bases of the figures correspond to the color of their respective dice used for determining their movement and tackling abilities, so the running backs that roll a red D20 have a shot at running up to 20 spaces where the tackles with the yellow bases use yellow D6 dice and can only move up to six spaces.

After you’ve moved, if two figures are adjacent to one another, the player must attempt a tackle. Both players roll their respective color-coded dice and the person with the lowest roll wins the battle. Now, if this was American Football, there’d be one man who gets knocked on his ass and the other would keep going. In Battleball, the figure that rolls highest is not only tackled, he’s removed for the half, leaving that team one player short. In a tie, both figures are removed from the game for the half. If either player rolls a one on his die, that figure is not only removed for the half, he’s been killed and is removed from the game entirely.

If no enemy figures were adjacent, the player may attempt a handoff with each figure having their color-coded dice, and unless the rolls tie it’s a completed handoff. If on the off chance it was a tie a fumble occurs and the ball is placed up to 2 spaces from the ball carrier by the defending team. This is a great way to move the ball up the field as a slow, powerful tackler can hand off to a fast running back when the time is right.

There are rules for passing too, and that’s where the super cool football-shaped die comes into play. Any figure may pass to any other figure, regardless of position. To pass, simply declare who the receiver is, count the spaces from the passer to the receiver and then roll the receiver’s die as well as the football die and have the sum equal more than the spaces you counted to be a complete pass. If not, it’s an incomplete pass, but unlike the NFL, the ball becomes loose on the ground and the defending player gets to place the ball anywhere up to amount of spaces away from the intended receiver that was indicated on the football die roll. If one of the defender’s figures was in that area the defender can even give him the ball, in which case the incomplete pass becomes an interception!

Play continues until a player scores two touchdowns, and that’s the end of the game. It’s a brutal game of sport and warfare and the game itself is half sporting event and half light skirmish wargame. It’s fast-paced, fun, and one hell of a value for the ten smackerels I dropped to get it!

Why Battleball Is Heisman Trophy Level Fun:
-The game plays in 45 minutes or less, and each turn is about thirty seconds
-There is no way Analysis Paralysis can happen, really
-The production value o f Battleball is exceptional
-It’s tons more fun than a ton of $50.00 games I’ve bought

Things That Were A Battle To Get Past:
-Battleball is a little on the simple side, so don’t expect Battleball is going to be Power Grid
-The “extra rules” that are optional make the game a little wonkier than it otherwise is.
-If you don’t like Dicefest Showdowns in Luckland, pass on this; lucky rolls are a big part of Battleball

All in all, this is a quick little football game that every person should own, even if you’re not a sports fan. For me, this is an autobuy-type game, and this is a game that will never, ever be purged from my library. The best analogy I can use is that this could be classified as “Grind Light.”

4.25/5 Stars

This game was produced around 2003 and is out of print, but there's a bunch available for very low prices at the Marketplace:
Universal Head has a really great Quick Reference Guide, although Battleball is simple enough that it may not be necessary:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Heroscape - Heroscape Tournaments Aren't Just For NBLs

This week will be a little different; I usually do game reviews on Sundays, but today I'm going to tell you a bit about Heroscape events that are held all around the country, and what makes them different from a lot of the other types of events I've been to. I know what you're thinking; a Heroscape tournament is probably a lot like Magic, without the foul odor and sissies crying foul when they lose. Heroscape tournaments aren't just a place for losers with no other notable skills, who could never compete in anything other than playing board games would thrive to shore up their insecurities. These tournaments are places for friends, new and old, to meet up and play a couple of games together.

The premise of these is that a player brings an army that they wish to play with the whole day, and then play four or five consecutive matches against different opponents. Many of these are free, although some require a nominal entry fee around five dollars, but it is an expectation that everyone there bring a prize of some sort, usually Heroscape-related like a twelve dollar expansion pack or the like. The initial pairings are, essentially, random, but each subsequent match is based both upon your win-loss record as well as any variety of formulaic equation that takes into account how much of your enemies' armies you've wiped out thus far. The winner is the person who had the best win-loss record and, generally speaking, how well they fared during those wins and losses.

These tournaments are held in all manner of places, such as in halls, churches, and most commonly, at game stores. There's anywhere from ten to 35 people that show up at these, although at some local venues there are far more. There's even a national Heroscape Championship at Gencon where 60 people vie to stomp the piss out of their fellow Heroscapers for a set of Gencon Heroscape Dice, a bad ass trophy, and an assload of fresh Heroscape swag. Well, that and the ability to tell other Heroscapers to kiss your ass because you're the Champ.

You show up at the venue, sign in, pay if you need to, put your prize on the prize table, and then you’re ready to play. There are maps all set up and ready to go, generally, but If not, most people chip in and help in the setup. Scope out the competition, because the minute you get there, people will be chatting about what the best strategies are, and which army is the “one to beat.”

After all are aboard that are coming aboard, the Tournament Director will draw random names from the sign-in sheet and set the timer. Most matches last fifty minutes or an hour, although many end long before the time runs out. Although these games are adversarial and there’s a lot of hemming and hawing about bad dice rolls or bad moves, there’s more friendly banter and chatting about luck than anything else. People are not out for blood, they’re out for a good time. Every once in a while you get one of these competitive asswipes that are clearly either completely fucking insane or are obviously compensating for other shortcomings, but in my experience these things are just a bunch of people that share a hobby coming together to play with people they don’t normally play with.

After a match ends, you tally your scores by noting how many points of your figures have fallen gallantly in battle and how many you’ve gloriously slain, and who won the match. These go to the Tournament Director or their proxy and then you have time to chat it up with the other players. This, in my opinion, is the single best part of Heroscape. These events are all about the people and the love of the game, not about schlong measuring or bragging rights. It’s good folks having some fun.

I’ve met professional musicians, accountants, CEOs, janitors, college professors, bums, telemarketers, and security agents at these things and the vast, overwhelming majority of them share one singular trait: they’re good folks. At all of the great many Heroscape tournaments I’ve been to, I’ve only met one guy that I’d have liked to see sliced along the carotid artery for the sheer delight of watching him clutch at his throat as he breathes his  last. He was an outright cheating bastard who I saw making illegal moves, very slyly, against some ten year old kid because his enourmous ass couldn't have handled it if he got beat by a child; the other Hutts would've exiled him for sure for his weakness. On top of that, there's only been one guy I've met that was as annoying as a bee in your car, stinging you in the face while you were trying to just get home for dinner, and he is even a great guy but a little too competitive.

These are the exceptions, though, and they are certainly few and quite far between. There are kids, families, and just regular Joes at these things, and it’s amazing who you’d meet. In fact, I met and became friends with two standup comedians, one who is a nationally known comedian who plays venues all over the country. These are simply great, great folks, and not what you’d expect at a geeky little game convention. It’s just not like that. They may be geeks, but they’re not the basement-dwelling, nerdy, unshowered gamer-funk dispersing NBLs that you might find at a Magic: The Gathering event or something. These geeks are definitely a cut above the stereotype.

One of the most interesting things that you find at these events are people actually helping their opponents out, reminding them that they forgot a specific bonus to roll, and other beneficial stuff. In fact, the one I played in on Saturday had a total freshie; a guy who really had never played the game much at all, and I helped him out several times. This is simply the norm, and people are far more interested in having fun then kicking ass.

At the end of the day, the players get to choose prizes from the table based upon the order of their final standing, and if everyone brought something, everyone gets something. At every event I’ve been to, in fact, there’s been a second round of prizes handed out because quite a few participants will bring more than one prize as a token of appreciation and because they’re simply generous folk.

When it's over, people all pack up their toys, help disassemble and store the maps for the Tournament Directors, and either say, “Via Con Dios” or go shopping at the game store the event was held at. It’s always a great time and people are just exceptionally friendly in most cases.

In short, if you are looking for a good time with some cool people, for less than ten bucks, a Heroscape Tournament is one hell of a good way to go.

What Makes Heroscape Tournaments Heroic:
- Great folks
- Heroscape is such a fast paced game that rounds seem to end quickly
- Cheap way to kill 6 hours on a weekend when you don’t want to get drunk

How These Events Can Be A Six-Sided Pain In The Ass:
- Rarely, but worth noting, people decide to wear rubber, nasty, stained flip-flops without showering for a couple weeks or some other manner of odor faux-pas
- Playing the same army for six hours can be discouraging if “you have chosen…poorly”
- There are times where a large, menacing robot will get his ass kicked by a Revolutionary War soldier armed with a bent musket

Heroscape tournaments are a great place to have a good time, meet new friends, and chill for a day. If you’re not familiar with the game, though, you should know that Heroscape is a luck game at its core. I don’t give a shit how good you think you are, if your dice hate you, well, you’re screwed. If you can’t handle that, you should stay home and wrestle with Jimmy. Otherwise, head to your local venue and have a great time!

4/5 Stars

Looking for a venue? Shit, man, how am I going to leave you hanging! Check out this link for every Heroscape event on the planet:

Adam White:
If you ever get to see this cat at a comedy club, do it. The man is ridiculously funny both in person (once you see him you’ll understand) as well as on the stage. The man is a comic genius, so if he’s in town, show him some love:

For those of you wondering what NBLs are, it is a “Ne’er Been Laid”. Think about that fat kid in school that the assholes picked on, never had a date in high school that didn’t involve Jergens Lotion and a streaked page from his Dad’s Playboy. The guy who doesn’t shower, his house is always nasty as shit, and has no hope of ever, ever, ever seeing a vagina in real life. That, my friends, are what NBLs are.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Epic Engagements Has Arrived!

Well, boys and girls, I've finally completed all the writing, illustration, and playtesting of my new print-and-play game, EPIC ENGAGEMENTS! This is a space combat game, complete with its own Star Map, ships, statistics cards, tokens, and everything else you'd need to play.  If you don't want to go through the trouble of cutting ships out, you can use the Statistics Cards and ships from Star Wars Minitatures: Starship battles as that game's rules are incredibly craptastic.  I took some of the concepts there, amended them heavily, added a bunch of my own stuff in, then created 2 factions of ships and a backstory to go along with it!  All in all, it's a ton of fun.  My buddy Mickey, his family, and my family have all played it a great many times during playtesting and it's absolutely a blast to play.

Here's some of the artwork:

The formidible Phalanx-Class Free Alliance of Stars Space Station:

The devastating Omicron-Class Continuum Battleship:

The nimble and powerful Falcon-Class Inderdictor Fighter:

...and 13 more ships, complete with their own statistics cards. 

Download it, along with the Star Map, here:

Any feedback would be appreciated!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Touch Of Evil - Chasing Mouth-Breathing Vampires Through Shadowbrook For Fun And Profit

Well, after WAY too long of a hiatus, I'm back in action for another review! Now that birthday parties, drama on the interwebz, and finalizing my game design is pretty much out of the way, I've decided to make good on my promise and write a little bit about a game that, when released, had a lot of people talking, A Touch of Evil from Flying Frog Productions. As you can see from the game box, they've decided to use the neat live-action shots FFP is known for, but unlike Last Night on Earth, there are indeed some LARPer Hall of Shame shots. That being said, if you can get past what appears to be a photo of the love child of Marty Feldman and The Bride of Dracula, this game is actually a lot of fun. It's a co-op/competitive game that pits the players against an unspeakable horror that's terrorizing the town of Shadowbrook, with minions and baddies galore trying to stop them. While not necessarily an autobuy game, it's certainly a good one that bears taking a look at.

As I noted before the cover art is, while not quite an Epic Fail, not all that interesting. From the photo above, you can see that it's very decent, but that goofy fucking vampire simply ruins it for me. I'm not sure whether he was sneezing when the photo was taken, if he simply has nasal polyps, or just has a terrible overbite, but that particular bit is really bad. Not only that, but everyone knows that you can't photograph real vampires, so obviously this one is a fraud. That, and you'd think and undead thousand year old Master of Darkness could've seen a good orthodontist and a plastic surgeon to get them damned ears fixed. I mean, it's pretty hard to sneak up on somebody to drink their blood when you look like a goofy bastard at a low-budget costume party, especially when it's not Halloween.

Anyhow, I got past that after a good laugh and cracked the box open to find a great rulebook and a veritable ocean of plasticized die-cut chits and cards, all of which are of the exceptional quality that FFP is known for. There's also a large, well-illustrated, sepia-tone black and tan game board for use in the game. Searching further, there's the well-detailed grey plastic miniatures that one has come to expect in games these days which are used as the player pawns and the FFP-standard "track" card which keeps track of your nemeses' strength. Speaking of players, there are player dashboards that are also plasticized and are of the same dimension and layout as the Last Night On Earth boards. The baddies also get their own large dashboards which tell you who they are, what they do, and what manner of fell beasts are under their control. Finally, there's some minion charts that help you navigate which minions do what, a couple of handfuls of mini-dice, and the trademark cheeseball mood music CD that someone at FFP believes to be a good idea. All in all, the component quality is exceptional, as usual, and the art, while mostly good, has some really bad ones that made it in. These are the ones that make you wonder who the hell is steering the ship at FFP's art department, and when you add in the fact that they put in a jewel-cased CD that does nothing more than add five smackerels to the price of the game, you begin to wonder what the hell you were thinking when you decided to buy this game for fifty bones.

The wondering stops once you delve into the rulebook and realize what a solid game this is, and what a neat little theme the game has when you look at it in its totality. It has a surprising amount of depth, but it's not too horribly complex that it becomes a four-hour ordeal. Once you've punched and sorted the bazillion chits, simply separate the cards and chits and you're ready to set the game up, which only takes about 5 minutes or so. Setting up involves picking a baddie to battle, putting the chits away that you won't need, setting the cards up in their respective locations, and putting the characters you've chosen to play in the town center. It's really simple, and because each main archfiend has it's own set of chits, there's really not that many in play at any given time so there's not as much "chit overload" as you might expect, considering the massive swath of tokens you get when you first open the box. The last bit to decide is whether you want to play a cooperative game or a competitive game, the difference being what information is shared and whether or not you can join forces during boss battles. Once you've set up the game and have determined who goes first, the game is ready to go, and you're off to hunt the big bad monster. For the purposes of this review, I'm going to look at the co-op game only because I believe that's where this game really shines the most, although the competitive game is fun to play as well.

Speaking of the Big Bad Monster, the technical term is "The Villain", but I always think of The Joker from Batman when I hear Villain, so I'm avoiding that term. In this game there's 4 uber-baddies to select from: That seriously ill Vampire, the very hollow Headless Horseman, the creepy Scarecrow, and finally, the evil Werewolf. Each has their own set of minions and a minion card for use with each Villainous One. The art on these are very good, with the exception of the aforementioned Vampire, who is, well, incredibly stupid looking. In fact, I noticed a similarity with the Vampire and "They're Not That Into You guy"; looks like someone found himself a modeling gig! Hooray for Big H! The chits are well-illustrated and thematic, with each representing a different creature with a different ability as noted above, so you really need to punch-n-bag them into 4 sets as no creatures overlap and if you're playing one Villain, the rest of the minion chits get the night off.

The game plays in a very linear roll-and-move fashion, with players taking turns moving via a D6 roll, fighting any enemies that you happen to run into, and then taking actions, with the round ending by having the first player draw a Mystery Card which is the narrative mechanic in the game. The Mystery Phase, where you draw that Mystery Card, also acts as a bookkeeping phase where you reconcile reviving dead heroes and heal the Evil One if he was wounded in a previous altercation. Actions break down by the space you land on, with every named location having something special you can do just by landing there. There's multiple actions a player can take as well, so it's not like Talisman where once you land on a space and do whatever the space tells you to do, the turn ends; there's a lot going on, generally. The only required action is that you must do what the space tells you to do or, if there's an enemy in the space, you must fight that enemy. The corner spaces on the board allow you to take a card, and these cards generally represent weapons and special abilities that help you defeat monsters, where the center spaces represent the town where you can take actions such as being healed, buying items, and other like actions. There are also Investigation tokens you can try to take by making skill checks against your character's abilities. All in all, there's a lot of dice rolling involved in this game, but this is a good thing because it certainly helps keep the game replayable as well as keeping it from being a simple "puzzle game" where if you do the right thing enough times you end up winning.

Another cool mechanic in the game is the Lair Cards, which essentially tell you where the bad guy is hiding out. You have to buy these cards with Investigation tokens, and this information is shared, meaning once one player has a Lair Card, everyone can go kick the boss's ass. Another twist to this is that the cost of the card is determined by the Shadow Track I mentioned before, which is essentially a chart that tells you how tough the "monster at the end of this book" is. The further down the track you go, the less expensive the Lair Card is to buy, but the stronger the boss is, and if the Shadow Track gets to the end, the town has been completely taken over by the forces of evil and all the players immediately lose. Having this information is vital because you need to have this card and be in the location listed on the card in order to enter a "Showdown" with it, which is the end-game battle. The Lair Card also has a battle cost associated with it, which is printed on the card, and this value is how many Investigation markers it costs to initiate a Showdown.

Yet another neat little inclusion into the game are the Town Elder Cards. Apparently, Shadowbrook's nobility is a bunch of crooked bastards, and they all have done some bad stuff in their past that they don't want anybody to know about. In the course of the game, they can be investigated via spending Investigation tokens to buy a Secrets Card which is placed underneath the Town Elder Cards at the top of the board. Each Elder has one, and these secrets essentially tell you if the Town Elder is in league with the Evil One or not, and if they can be counted upon to help you defeat him in a Showdown. your nemesis is trying, via Mystery Cards and events, to kill or turn them, which will bolster them against you in a Showdown, so making sure to determine the allegiance of the Elder is pretty critical to beating the Horror Of The Hour.

Combat is pretty simple, really, as it is essentially pitching dice at the enemy minions as it does the same to the players. D6 rolls are the sword of the realm, with fives and sixes registering hits, and both the player and the minion can be hurt during a battle; there are no "defense dice", only cleaving blows and musket balls. Battles are done in bloodbaths of dice-rolling rounds, so if neither the player or the minion are killed, the player has the option to continue the battle or to flee to an adjacent empty space, if possible. Players can even use healing items between combat rounds if they're injured! There are also cards and items that can be used in battle which players extra dice, re-rolls, and other bumps to your death-dealing ability, so the odds really are stacked against the minions. That being said, the Villain is a whole different issue. The Villain has buddies to help him, like fallen Elders, and is tough as the odor of an M:TG tournament. Generally the Villain has a ton of life points, special abilities, and multiple fight dice which can bust your shit loose with the greatest of ease. The good news is that you can also call Elders into play on your side, if they're "good", and you can also have co-players jump in and help you knuckle up some Villainous ass.

Death, in A Touch Of Evil, is not permanent, though, with the players who lose all their life not actually being sucked dry of all bodily fluids. The Villain, who apparently is not entirely villainous, just kicks your ass, leaves you knocked the hell out, and walks back to his lair to catch some "Everybody Loves Raymond." Punked players simply roll a D6 and lose that many items, Investigation markers, or allies. It's a lot to bear when you consider that it takes a lot of time to get that stuff, but at the end of the day it's not too harsh a fate since the game doesn't have anyone killed early, sitting by the table and second-guessing every single player's move loudly and obnoxiously for the rest of the game. The end comes when one or all of the players kick the hell out of the Villain or if the Shadow Track gets to the end, and the cleanup is relatively simple after everyone's done talking smack or high-fiving.

All in all, the game is a lot of fun, is pretty difficult, but not "Ghost Stories" difficult, and is challenging enough to make you want to play again. There have been several boxed expansions, the largest of which is called Something Wicked, and there are several little expansion packs with new heroes and whatnot. There are also some online exclusive expansions as well as a set of templates to create your own villains and heroes. I've only played with the extra bits in Something Wicked once and it did add a bit to the game, so that may be something you'll want to consider when you make this purchase.

Things That Make Me Want To Touch Some Evil:
*Good co-op gameplay that doesn't drag on for 4 hours
*Simple enough to be approachable, even to light gamers
*Complex enough to be attractive to the uber-gamers
*Good replayability makes this a decent value for the dollar
*Lots of expansions allow even more fun and mayhem

Things That Define Dumbass-Vampire Levels Of Suck:
*What the fuck is up with these CDs they keep including?? I want my five bones back on these coaster-quality wastes of box space
*Lame-looking Vampire Lords are the pinnacle of suckage

Aside from the Count Suckula, the game is a hit at my house. We really enjoy the gameplay as it's brisk and engaging, and the game doesn't take 4 hours to finish. Some compare this game to Arkham Horror by calling it "Arkham Horror Lite", but I'm not one of them. They're two very different games with pseudo-similar themes, but at the end of the day this game stand on its own as a solid co-op light horror adventure game. Definately check it out, and were I you, I'd buy it before it goes out of print.

3.75/5 Stars

Learn more about A Touch Of Evil from Flying Frog Productions' page:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Adventurer Card Game – Dirk Daring, Dyslexic Vampires, And A Bunch Of Trophy Killings

There comes a point in your life where you have so much going on that you simply can’t get around to playing a two-hour session of Last Night on Earth or Space Hulk, but you still want to game it up. Well, today’s little entrĂ©e into gaming glory is a relatively unknown little card game that is great for playing with friends or kids who like ultra-light RPGish games, but don’t want to spend an hour doing it. It’s called The Adventurer Card Game, from Shadowcircle Press, who I had never even known to exist until I started doing my fact-checking for this article. I got this game from a buddy of mine for twenty bucks or so back around last Christmas, and since I haven’t bought games for review of late, I’ve decided to start reviewing games that people may not know about but are pretty neat little designs that people may enjoy.

The art isn’t astoundingly good, but is reasonably good and serves its purpose. The first thing I thought when I cracked open the parcel and looked at the cards was that it reminded me quite a bit of the old Don Bluth classic video game, Dragon’s Lair. The nostalgia value alone was worth it, with the campy skeletons, traps, pitfalls, and other dire evils you’ll negotiate during your adventure. It’s a really, really silly, simple game, but for some reason, it’s just fun, especially with kids. I’d almost call it a Munchkin clone, but this is somehow more fun, even without the cutthroat backstabbing aspect that’s missing from this game’s core set. I’m not saying it’s a favorite, but I am saying I’m glad I own it.

So, I cracked the box open and was a bit disappointed to find the rules consisted of a single 8.5x11 sheet of paper with text alone. Also inside were two dice which would determine the fate of nearly every riposte and parry, and a scant 85 cards. That’s the whole shebang. Luckily, this game retails for a mere $19.99 USD, so it’s really not a bad deal if the game is good. I’ll get to that in a minute.

As I noted, this is a light RPG, and by light, I mean helium light. It’s certainly not the Simple Jack of gaming, but it’s not Warhammer Quest, either. The main concept of the game is that the players play as one of four character classes that, while almost exactly the same regarding abilities, have unique enough art so that the girls can play the girly characters and the lads can play the manly ones. The purpose of this little romp is to adventure through a dilapidated mansion loaded with all manner of peril to hunt, and ideally impale with a stake, the dreaded Count Lodrac, vampire of stature, and dyslexia sufferer.

The gameplay is almost precisely like Munchkin in that it consists of “take a card, resolve a card,” but there’s no treasure deck. Each player, on their turn, will take a single card from the deck and set it before them for all to see. Most cards are encounters with terrible monsters, but some are traps, obstacles, and other dangerous plights. Each card must be resolved by passing a skill check, which amounts to rolling a die or two, and the result is generally limited to keeping the defeated card as a treasure item, being able to pass onto the next room, or being hurt. Some cards are even free, unguarded treasures, with most treasures being weapons or armor. In all, there’s some variety, but not a tremendous amount. Let’s explore, together, what these epic horrors entail.

In the case of enemy cards, they will tell you what room you’ve just entered, have an illustration of the vile fiend you’re there to smite mightily, the fiend’s name, and what its attack bonus is. At the bottom of the card there may be a treasure indicated, and this card is kept by the player after a victorious slaughtering of the fell beast as both a trophy and a treasure. Many times the treasure is a weapon, which will bolster your attack bonus for further tussles down the road.

Trap cards simply have an illustration, a description of what the trap you’re encountering is, and the bottom section of the card describes what it is you need to do to avoid becoming yet another of the foul Count’s permanent decorations. Each of these also has a reward, generally, but these are more suited to exploration than beheading, with most being keys or potions.

Obstacle cards, such as doors and fallen rocks, may only be passed by either using an item or character power to unlock or unblock them, or you simply lose your turn while searching for an alternate path. These cards have no reward other than the ability to take another card if you can remove the obstacle. Each character has a special power, as noted, and all of them relate to the obstacles.  For instance, the wizardy bloke uses his eldritch, weird powers to unlock doors sealed by magic.  The He-Man guy, well, he can move boulders out of the way.  It goes on like that, with all the characters being able to defeat one type of obstacle without penalty.

Unguarded treasures are niceties that allow you to simply walk into a room, pick something up, and then walk onward. No check, no test, no hidden surprises. Consider these to be like finding that penny in the K-Mart parking lot, only these generally turn out to be a hell of a lot more valuable. These items can be single-use potions, multiple-use items that benefit you somehow, or decent weapons. Now that you’re familiar with the cards of Adventurer, well, let’s get to the good stuff, combat.

I know you were expecting some rousing commentary about the swashbuckling, parrying, dodging and slicing of carotid arteries, but no luck. Combat is simple: roll one die for yourself, one die for the baddie of record, and then add your respective combat bonuses to determine the attack values of both parties. The high value wins, with all monsters being murdered mercilessly on a single hit and the player taking one damage point on a loss. To further insult the monsters, ties count as hits on the monster. If the monster is too tough to handle, you can also run which is resolved by a die roll with 50/50 odds of escaping.

Armor cards can be used after a failed attack, and this mechanic simply allows you to roll the dice again, with a victorious roll not killing the monster, but instead merely allowing you to not take damage. These items are fairly rare, all things considered, so they do actually offer a good amount of value to the player who owns them.

Regarding damage, the character cards have their edges numbered one through four, and when a player is hit they rotate their card to the next lowest number. Once a character loses all their life points, the player loses half their items and can start again, which is really not all that bad of a deal for the player, seeing as the beheaded monsters end up being carried by the player, generally, to warn other monsters that you’re just not in the mood to be fucked with. Well, that’s how I envision it, anyhow. I guess this is another reason that Adventurer is better than Munchkin; these guys actually included counters!

Traps, as mentioned, are fairly straight forward, but you need to roll two dice instead of one. Some items give you bonuses to this roll, but they are few and far between. A loss generally results in losing a hit point, but I always thought being sliced up by razor-sharp wheels of death or falling in a vat of muriatic acid would be a little more gruesome and may result, at a minimum, of needing urgent medical care. The only reward for beating traps is not being killed, really, although some traps do have really good treasures like +4 bows or stakes.

Count Dyslexia may show up at any time as he’s randomly inserted into the deck so making sure you get, and keep, a stake in your inventory is crucial. The funny thing is that you don’t actually need to “use” the stake in battle to kill the count, just having it on hand is enough. I suppose once you’ve pulled a Holy Grail move and severed his arms and legs, he’s not really squirming enough to resist you dropping a stake through his heart while doing a Don LaFontaine impersonation, screaming “Fatality!” If you don’t have one, you simply lose the battle and reshuffle the old vampire back into the deck to be encountered later.

If, by some chance, you happen to defeat him, he’s dead and the game is over. The winner may do a victory lap around the table while slapping his opponents in the back of the head, or you just put it away and go get a cold drink. Your call.

There have also been two expansions released, Portals, and Chaos, which add a bit to the game. Portals adds player interaction in that it allows trades, theft from one another, and assaults upon your companions. Further, an interesting magic-like system comes into play, and some really nasty traps come into the fold. It’s certainly the better of the two, in my opinion.

The second expansion, Chaos, adds some evasion cards which allow you to decide to enter a room or not, but the real draw for this expansion is the Chests of Power mechanic. Instead of simply snuffing the King Vamp, you need only collect three of these treasures to be declared the winner. Chaos came out after Portals, and without Portals being in play along with Chaos, this mechanic is pretty useless. It’s hard enough getting three chests, but not being able to steal from your opponents makes this a truly difficult task unless only two players are involved. I find it ironic that it's a game about a vampire, and that you have to count one...two...three treasure chests to beat the Count.  Somehow I think this may be a Sesame Street reference, but I can't be sure.

Finally, there are some expansion heroes, one of which was designed by none other than the late gaming icon, Gary Gygax. It must be a decent game to have Gary mess with it, and this is another of the main reasons I’ve decided to review this game. I’ve played it around twenty times, with and without the expansions, and all things being equal I’d have to say that for as simple as it is, it’s quick enough to get through it without getting bored, and it’s fun enough to play with your kids rather than another round of Hungry, Hungry Hippos. Like I said at the beginning, this game is very, very light, has some RPG elements, and is very acceptable for playing with kids that aren’t frightened easily. The art is very campy and cartoonish, but that being said, I certainly wouldn’t play it with a seven year old little girl. I waited until mine was seven and a half.

What Makes The Game A Fun Little Adventurer:
*Nostalgic, campy art makes this fun, and funny, to play
*10-30 minutes is all you’ll have to endure if you don’t dig it, and if you do, you can play twice in an hour
*Simple, understandable rules make it very approachable and explainable to kids and non-gaming adults

What Makes This Game Really Forgettable:
*It’s very, very simple in both theme and mechanic
*If you don’t have kids, or have played any other “boutique game”, forget about it, this isn’t going to fly
*The rinse/repeat aspect of the game can get old quickly

Hey, this is a game that’s fun to play with your kids, or maybe even with the friends you usually play Munchkin or Lost Cities with. It’s not ever going to be considered groundbreaking or even memorable except by those who’ve played it, and that’s only because there are some fun moments in the game that add up to a reasonably good time.

2.5/5 Stars

To learn more about adventuring heroes and evil vampire hordes, check out The Adventurer Card Game’s site here: