Friday, September 24, 2010

Bhazum - You Just Got Punk'd, Lost Cities!

So, I get this little package in the mail a couple of weeks back, and I wasn't expecting anything, so I got on my blast gear and carefully opened the box. Turns out it wasn't the anthrax I was was three Small Box Games from my buddy, John Clowdus, who owns the company. Now I know what you're thinking...."oh, this will be a positive review because John's your buddy". No. I've had sex with my friend's girlfriends. Don't think that because Clowdus is my buddy that if his game sucks, that I would not leave a hot, steaming pile of "post-morning-smoke-and-coffee" shit all over his game. I'd rather be honest, and I don't kiss anyone's ass but Mrs. Superfly's. That's the risk you take when you send me something, especially unannounced.

Luckily, Bhazum is not that game. In fact, Bhazum is the single most fun 2-player card game I've ever played. Granted, I've not played a ton of them, but this one trumps the hell out of anything else I've played, and by leaps and bounds. First, it's fast as hell. We've played 3 games now, and even the "learning game" took less than a half an hour. Next, it's simple to learn and the rules are not bogged down by unnecessary complexity as many I've played are. Finally, while the theme is incredibly Eurotastic, there is killing. Lots and lots of killing. I like killing, so that was a big bonus.

The concept of Bhazum is that you are some sort of provincial statesman that is vying to gain the support of the four councils of the prosperous city of Bhazum while establishing your court. Essentially, you're playing cards to your tableau, and each of these cards represents a noble, with each one having a specific set of abilities and a certain level of affluence. You also, at the end of your turn, may secretly place a noble in the court of one of the four councils, who presumably is hob-nobbing with the council members to attempt to sway them to your cause. It seems pretty bland, really, but once you play it the first time, you're not thinking about anything but how much fun it is. It's a great game, and that's really all there is to say about it.

The game comes in the standard "Pure Card Line" setup, which is essentially a stack of about 70 cards in a box, with a one-page rulesheet inside the box. By box, I mean a tuckbox slightly larger than a standard poker deck tuckbox. The art, while not amazingly beautiful, does the job and certainly helps you "get into" the theme. There are really only three kinds of cards here: there's the four Council cards, two Traits cheat sheet cards, and 64 Character cards. My only bitch about the game, which I have with a great many of John's games, is that the font takes a bit to get used to. It's not all that distracting, but I would've liked it better had he used something a little more legible. All in all, the quality of the cards is great, as usual, but I like this game so much that I anticipate putting sleeves on them because I truly expect that this will be my "go-to" game for the foreseeable future when I'm sitting on the back deck, having a shot and a smoke with the wife while waiting for Ultimate Fighter to come on the idiot box. This is the kind of game I can see keeping in my car for when I head to the local coffee shop with a friend or something. It's just that much fun.

So, let me get into the nuts and bolts here so you know what I'm talking about. First, to set the game up, simply put the four Council cards next to one another in the middle of the table so that both players can stack cards on their side of the Council cards. Next, players each take a Trait card, which acts as nothing more than a cheat sheet, and then each player takes 32 of the 64 cards and shuffles them up as their deck. Finally, the Draft portion of the game begins, where each player takes four cards off of the top of their deck, looks at them, and chooses 2 cards to pass to the opponent. Continue burning through your deck until all cards have been drafted, and then each player reshuffles their deck. Once you're all done, take the top five cards from your deck as a starting hand, and you're ready to play.

Each player's turn is broken up into Phases, which starts with the Draw Phase. During the Draw Phase, you take one card from your deck, plus another if you have less cards in your hand than your opponent. Finally, take an additional card if you have less Characters in your District than your opponent. Next, the Tax Phase begins. Normally, players get one Action to use during the next Phase, the Character Phase, but if you discard a card you may add the total Tax Value of that card to your Actions. Moving on, the Character Phase comes next, and that's where all the action begins.

The Character Phase allows you to spend Actions to draw a card into your hand from your deck or play a card into your District. The meat of the game comes from playing cards into your District, both potentially earning you the Affluence Value of the card as Victory Points, but it also allows you to use all of the Traits listed on the card. These Traits are the best part of the game, by far, as they allow you to discard opponents Character cards from their District, take cards from their hand, take cards from your deck into your hand, force opponents discard a card from their hand, and most importantly, call the Council to convene. I'll come back to that.

Finally, at the end of your turn, you may play a card to the Council, but it can't match the Clique of the Council you play it to. This is the mechanic that allows you to earn the support of the Council, and if you do that, you get to take that Council card into your District, earning you a fast 10 points for each Council you sway to your side. The way to sway them is to place cards with good Affluence Values on the Councils, and then when someone plays a Character card with the "Ksari" Trait to their District, the Council of the matching Clique convenes. Each player flips up the cards that were placed on that Council, and the player with the highest total Affluence gets to keep that Council card. I should note that the player who played that Ksari trait gets a +1 Affluence to EACH card they previously placed on the Council, so the player who controls a Ksari card really can cause trouble for their opponent.

The game ends at the beginning of a round when any player has no cards left in their deck, at which point you tally up all of the Affluence values of all of the Characters in your District, adding 10 points for each Council you've won. It's a simple, simple game on its face, but the depth of decisions begin at the Draft and are present throughout the entire game. It's a brilliant deck-building game that puts other, far more expensive games to shame. The only drawbacks that I can see are that while I like this FAR better than Dominion, it doesn't have the variety of that or games like Thunderstone, so it can get old after numerous replays. That being said, this game has caused me to totally, completely abandon games like Lost Cities and San Juan because this game is so bloody superior in every way. I truly expect Ashton Kutcher to pop up at Essen to kick Reiner Knizia in his oversized skull, screaming "You Got Punk'd, beyotch!" after seeing what a small-press, part-time guy like John Clowdus can do. If someone doesn't pick this game up for publishing on a mass-market scale, they're out of their bloody minds.

Why Bhazum Is My Kind Of City:
- Player interaction is what this game is about, and it's got it in spades
- Backstabbing and thievery galore make this game fun, and nasty
- The balance of Tax Value, Affluence, and Traits is excellent, and the Draft mechanism makes it even better
- 20-30 minutes is perfect for a 2-player card game, and this one is perfectly paced

Why The Council Disapproves:
- The fonts are closer to the "Causing Blindness In Children" side
- The art is not spectacular, and after seeing Cartouche from Small Box, I know he could've done better

This should be an auto-buy for any person who likes card games. It's fast, furious, and has an overdose of fun right there in the box, so $13.00 is a hell of a price to pay for something this good. The only downside is that you'll find it's hard to offload your copy of Lost Cities because once this game gets wide press, nobody will want Lost Cities anymore.

4.5/5 Stars

If you want to learn more or buy this amazing game, go to, but if you're on the fence, here's the rules:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Grindhouse is grinding out a FAT deal!

As noted on BGG and Fortress:Ameritrash, Grindhouse is selling their stuff at a HUGE discount right now.

You really need to look hard at this if you want Incursion but didn't want to drop 200$ on the full monty.  Get on it!

And, just to be clear, I will be writing and publishing a review today or tomorrow; my home PC has died a horrible, ozone-smelling death and thus I need to go to Micro Center today and get a replacement!

Get to work, soldiers!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Incursion - Is It Wrong To Love Crushing Nazi Zombie Skulls?

I heard about this game on Fortress:Ameritrash via a review done by Michael Barnes, and I have to admit that I was a bit intrigued about a game that has you running around ridding the world of two of the most hated things on earth: Nazis and Zombies. I mean, I don't know anyone who doesn't revel in stacking Zombie bodies like chopped firewood, and then if you add the fact that the Zombies work for the Nazis? As the two Guinness guys state so eloquently, the game is simply "Brilliant!" This game is much like one of the best games ever made by man or God, Space Hulk, but the differences not only allow Grindhouse to state that Incursion is better in many ways than Space Hulk, it allows them to prove it. The similarities really only rest upon the use of a few mechanics such as facings as an integral part of gameplay, action point allocations, and overwatch. Even then, though, the mechanics are changed significantly and are in fact even better than Space Hulk's sometimes ambiguous rules, making for a clean, easy to play game. In short, this is the game Space Hulk should've been, had Games Workshop had a little more imagination.

Incursion is a campaign-based game that finds "The Lucky Seventh" (7th), an American commando force whose main claim to fame is wearing diesel-powered "APE" suits that are essentially small, armored weapons platforms, facing throngs of the undead, fell beasts, and their Nazi creators. The basic idea is that in an alternate past where Germany has developed a "Special Weapons Division" (SWD) that has not only mastered the art of reanimating the dead as Zombies, but has a few other tricks slid down their jack boots such as Blitzhunden, werewolf-like creatures, and superhuman commanders to lead this legion of the occult into battle. Under the Rock of Gibraltar lies their lair of evil, and that's where the 7th are to strike during Incursion. Seven individual missions make up the built-in campaign to defeat the SWD's plans to use a doomsday weapon to change the direction of the war. Thus begins the Incursion.

When you crack open the incredibly engaging box, you'll be awash in cardboard that lies under the great rulebook that's well written and really smartly laid out. There's a big, beautifully illustrated board, and a great many die-cut sheets of character standies and chits of myriad purpose that all punch out cleanly and without danglers. Below that are two decks of cards, made up of Battle Cards and Player Cards that are used to track character stats and implement special powers, respectively, during the game. There's also about thirty or so stands for your standies, which are not enough for all of them, but enough for any scenario that you will possibly play. This means that you will be removing standies from their stands on a regular basis, so be advised that some fraying may eventually occur if you're not careful. Finally, there's a bunch of D6 dice in the box which are the primary dispensaries of death in Incursion. All the components are of great quality, and I especially liked the thickness and durability of the cardboard components. They've got to be about a sixth or fifth of an inch thick, and they are solid as stone. All in all, the quality of the components is top notch. If you prefer the feel of leaded soldiers to the cardboard standies, Grindhouse has a full complement of pewter models for not only the SWD and the Lucky Seventh, they also have a full set for MI-13 which represent the British contingent in the world of Incursion, although they are not represented within the core game. Those models look absolutely bad ass, too, as you can see from the photograph below.

Setup is a simple thing thanks to the double-sided board that comes in the box; you simply choose a pre-made scenario to play or make up your own, then set down the entrances and exits for both the Allies and the SWD, as well as any mission objectives or doors required. Next, you choose a set amount of Battle Points of models that you wish to play with; Sturmzombies are ever-spawning like the Genestealers from Space Hulk, but unlike Space Hulk, all the character types in this game are unique, which really gives you some actual strategic options. Each model has its own card as well, to remind you what kinds of weapons and other traits each character has, and these are laid before you on the table. Finally, each player takes several Battle Cards, with the amount being based upon the size of the armies in Battle Points. That's the setup, and when you include the placing of standies on their stands, we're talking about a three or five minute process at best. The beautiful thing about this game is that it's not just a "kill 'em all" system, and it has a multitude of objectives that you can enlist to make the game infinitely replayable and "fresh", and there's a ton of objective chits so you can make the game as difficult or simple as you wish every time you play.

Gameplay begins with an amazingly simple, yet brilliant, mechanic. Each player is given a set amount of Command Points which are like free actions that can be used by any player's model at any time, but these are also used to determine initiative for a round. At the beginning, each player secretly bids a certain amount of these tokens, and upon the simultaneous reveal the player with the highest bid wins the right to go first. Both sides then lose their bid amount in Command Points, meaning that the player who goes first generally has a disadvantage in total actions throughout the round. This mechanic has singlehandedly changed the way I look at how initiative should work in all games; It's flawless. Anyhow, on each player's turn they have an unlimited amount of time to take actions with all of their models, and each model has a set amount of Action Points to spend on their turn. Actions are of the standard variety for wargames: move, turn facing, shoot, and performing special actions such as performing a mission objective. Generally, the 7th are at a disadvantage because their units are more expensive, but many can take multiple wounds whereas the Zombies are one hit wonders, although they have the capacity to infinitely spawn, so they can swarm the 7th. The SWD forces also have a variety of units, with suicide-bomber Zombies, the quick and deadly Blitzhunden, and three SWD "heroes" that are strong, have special abilities, and most importantly, with firearms. On the flipside, the 7th all have firearms, many have special skills, and they all have hand grenades which can clear out a hallway or room with relative ease. It's a dicefest, no doubt, but the balance is about as perfect as I've seen when it comes to the die roll values. There is, of course, the pinnacle of human gaming achievement in this game: overwatch. Grindhouse doesn't call it "overwatch", but instead calls it "Reactive Fire", although it is very similar in design to the Space Hulk version. The good news is that the Grunt APE models, which represent the lowest ranking characters on the 7th side, are immune to the "Jam" mechanism that is so prevalent in Space Hulk, although they have their own weaknesses.

During gameplay, both sides can play Battle Cards upon themselves or upon the enemy, and these cards are the true differentiator from other wargames I've played in this genre. These cards are totally gamechangers, and you can buff your own guys or weaken your enemies, heal your guys, and a variety of actions in between. When playing a Campaign, these cards can be stacked under your models' character cards as experience bonuses, allowing a pseudo-RPG method of buffing your guys throughout a campaign and enticing you to play smarter to keep those guys alive. Another slick mechanic in the game is that each card has a price on it, and an opposing force may use their Command Points to cancel the power from coming into play. For instance, if I wanted to play the "Minor Wound" card upon my opponent, which reduces their Action Points, my opponent could spend two Action Points to force me to burn the card, cancelling the effect. The key to this is that knowing this from the beginning of a round can ultimately change the way you bid for initiative because in many cases you'll want to reserve some of your Command Points to negate a negative effect an opponent would play upon you. It's really well designed, and although the tactical complexity can get a little scary at times because of the weighing of these factors, it's amazingly fun to sweat it out during the initiative phase while facing the fact that something bad may happen to you during the round because of a card. At the beginning of each round you get to draw up to your hand limit, which is determined by the initial force size chosen for the scenario, and if you have cards that suck, you can discard them.

The game goes on until one side is completely killed or if a side completes their mission objectives. As stated, characters that survive can earn experience, making them more formidable for the next scenario in a campaign, but in a one-off mission this isn't a factor unless, like me, you write down what you had to carry on the characters the next time you crack Incursion out again. All in all, the game is an amazing design, two bloody fistfuls of zombie-killing fun, and is truly a successor to games like Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel and Space Hulk. Now that I have Incursion, I don't really see myself playing Space Hulk very often, and although I do like Sci-Fi themes more than World War 2 Alternate History themes, I have to say that the phenomenal retro art in this game really grabs you by the cojones and makes you want to play again and again. If you like tactical wargames, this is an auto-buy. My only complaint in all of this is that the pewter models are on the expensive side, with a near-full set of one faction costing around $100.00, so you'll be in the game $250.00 plus time in painting if you want to have a fully outfitted game of Incursion. I can tell you that my wife already has the website in her email Inbox, and a listing of what I want for Christmas. Hopefully, I'm not getting another pair of Doc Martens and a chainsaw like I asked for last year!

Why Incursion Is A Diesel-Powered Killer:
- The art is superb, and the theme is so prolific you can't help but get excited to play
- The game balance is as close to perfect as I can think of, so there's no runaway winners
- Replayability is right there with sex; you're never going to really get tired of playing it or run out of ideas for "scenarios"
- The component quality is superb, with high-quality cardboard used throughout
- A price of $33.99 at is a hell of a value for such a great game

What Can Be Thought Of As A Rectal Incursion:
- $250.00 to get a full set of a game is a bit much by light tactical wargame standards
- While I may be wrong, I can totally see my cardboard standies getting buggered up from repeated insertions into the stands

This game is an auto-buy for anyone who likes light tactical wargames, and those who do not have this game are missing out. Grindhouse is an independent publisher of miniatures and games, and we need to, as hobby game fans, support small businesses who come up with amazing products like this. Go buy the game!!

4.5/5 Stars

Check out the total badassness that is Grindhouse's website here, then tell me that its not one of the coolest-designed sites you've ever seen:

Tell me Grindhouse doesn't have this on the wall, somewhere, in their offices...

(Courtesy of