Tuesday, March 30, 2010

El Grande – Conquer Spain And Overthrow King Phallus the First

I will tell you, folks, I absolutely love this game. I’m no good at it, and every single time I’ve played it I have lost miserably, but I still want to play it as often as I can. It’s not the theme that keeps me interested, because I would really have a hard time finding something that I could possibly give less of a shit about than Renaissance-era Spain. Hell, I never even knew there were cowboys in Spain except those in Sergio Leone movies! Anyhow, it’s not the art, because while adequate and quite appropriate for the theme, it’s not “Witch of Salem” or “Camelot Legends”. Maybe it’s the inclusion of a replica sex toy with the game, but since I'm not really into that, maybe not. I guess it must be the actual gameplay, because that is absolutely outstanding, not to mention that this game is about as backstabbity a game as you’re going to play. And those of you who read my musings KNOW that I love backstabbity games.

The theme of this game is that you play a member of the aristocracy in Spain, circa 1550, when the King is at his weakest and you’re poised to start some trouble and gain some territory. These nobles in the King’s court would be a Duke, Earl, or Viceroy somewhere else, but since we’re in Spain, you’re a Grande, hence the name of the game. That being said, the theme is truly rich and intriguing, and all of the cards, art, and supporting material help you truly feel like a noble, vying for control of Spain. The one exception is the King, who is shaped like a small dildo, but hey, Spaniards are known to be hot-blooded Latin lovers, I hear, so maybe that’s thematic too.

When you crack the nicely illustrated box, which is about the same size as a Monopoly box but slightly taller, you’ll find a durable gameboard laminated with a lovely map that is made to look like an old parchment drawing of Spain in 1550. Also included are five D6-sized wooden blocks that represent the Grandes themselves as well as five sets of 31 smaller, Euro-standard sized cubes to represent your troops, the caballeros, which means “cowboys” in Spanish. There are also five sets of numbered cards inside, one to thirteen, which are used to determine the order of play. Additionally, there are a great many tiles and cards inside that are used for various things I’ll get into later, and a big wooden Castillo, or castle. The last, and definitely the most hilarious, is the King pawn that I spoke of earlier. King Phallus the First of Spain is the single most influential piece in the game, and literally the whole game you think to yourself, “the King is a real dick”, or “man, the King really screwed me over that turn.” It’s the only game I’ve ever played that has people actively attempting to take control of a dildo and move it into a region of their choice, with others in the room watching enviously.

This is, at its core, an area control and resource management game, and every province on the map has three values printed within that indicates how many victory points a player gets when they have the first, second and third highest amount of caballeros in the province when a scoring situation occurs. Scoring normally happens after every third round, but there are also special situations that allow certain regions to be scored that can be played when they become available. Thus, making sure to deploy caballeros smartly and being sure to control your dwindling resources to be able to deploy them in the first place is the key to being an effective Grande.

Each Grande starts the game with a randomly selected province at their command, 2 caballeros in that province to protect the big cheese himself, and 7 caballeros in your active reserve for later deployment. Once you’ve placed them all in their respective places, you’re ready to begin. Every round consists of a player selecting one of their numbered cards, which have icons on them indicating how many caballeros that you can move from your inactive reserve pool to your active reserve. Once you’ve selected a card, each player bids it in turn with the highest bidder taking their action first. The higher numbered cards allow less troops to become active than the lower cards, forcing you to decide if you’d rather have more available troops for deployment or if you’d rather get to take actions before your opposing Grandes. To make it even more challenging, once you use a card, it is out of play until either an action allows you to retrieve it, or until the end of the game. Finally, the player who bid lowest, and subsequently played last, gets to bid first on the next turn.

After the bidding phase is complete, players, in turn, select one of five actions from the action pool. This pool is comprised of five cards with various abilities on it and an amount of troops that you get to deploy on that turn. Obviously, turn order is very important because the sooner you get to play your turn, the more options are available. These cards grant a variety of actions, such as the ever-present ability to move the king to any province of your choosing, scoring a specific region or group of regions, and the ever-favorite backstabbity powers like Intrigue, which allows you the ability to move opponents’ caballeros, thereby pissing them off to no end and potentially ruining their plans for that turn. I should mention one thing before going further, which is that while many games have rules that are allowed to be broken, El Grande has one hard-and-fast rule that is never broken: wherever the King is at, nothing can change in that province. Hail to the king, baby!

Once you decide to deploy troops from your active reserve, you can only place them in a region adjacent to the region King Phallus is in. Thus, wherever the King is resting his head, so to speak, the surrounding regions are the only ones that come into play for deploying your little cowpokes unless a played action allows you to place them to non-adjacent regions. The exception to the adjacency rule is the tower, which you can place your caballeros into on your turn, and they are released to the province of your choice, which is secretly chosen just before their release, during the three normal scoring phases.

Once the final scoring round is accounted for, just after turn nine, the game ends completely anticlimactically, in most cases, and the winner gets to scream “Goooooooooooooooooal” incessantly until the other players kick him hard in the nuts. Well, at least when I play. While the end of the game has no “Gotcha” moments, in my experience, the battles for second and third place are usually bloodthirsty and you generally don’t know how it will turn out until the last few provinces are scored.

Things I Loved:
*The theme, while uninteresting, is adhered to incredibly well and all aspects of the game create great atmosphere
*The balance is absolutely incredible, and nothing is left to chance
*There are just too many puns and one-liners about King Schong or King Phallus to not have fun
*Backstabbing and treachery galore, with a healthy dose of “Fuck You” in every round
*Learning curve is so small that from setup to the end of the lesson is 10 minutes

Things I Hated Like Screaming Babies And Taxes:
*If you get out in front early, there is no real catch-up mechanism, and the game becomes an attempt to be the King of the Losers
*Conversely, getting stuck at the back of the pack becomes a game of “Who should I cause trouble for, just to be a dick”

This game has become an all-time favorite, even after only a few plays, due to its simplicity, requirement for treachery and troublemaking, and its exceptionally fast-playing turns. Some Analysis Paralysis can set in from time to time, but even then it’s not more than a minute of waiting per turn. It’s just a brilliant, fun game.


Learn more about El Grande at Rio Grande Games’ web page:

Monday, March 29, 2010

There should be a law against it...

If you're not prepared for a full-on nuclear assault on your senses during this rant about stupid people, please shield your eyes now.

Are you tired of dealing with stupid people, and  I mean the kind of stupid that makes you do a double take?  I sure am.  Stupid people are ruining my time more and more often, and it's starting to grate on me.  I'm thinking maybe we should install wells and DNA testers in hospital rooms, and when a baby fails the "common sense and IQ above 50" test then we should dunk them in the well to preserve the clarity of the gene pool.  This is America, right? Nobody really gives all that much a shit about babies or there wouldn't be abortion, right?  So, just make a test for "stupid" and weed out the good from the bad, no? Maybe that's just wishful thinking, but hey, you "gots to start somewhere!"

Just so you know, I'm just kidding.  Dropping babies in wells, even stupid babies, is really fucked up.  I'm venting here, bear with me.

So, yesterday starts out with me getting the 900th call from my local cable provider. Yes, that's right, on a Sunday.  The cockweasel, er, salesperson on the phone is telling me about all the money I will save by going to their phone service.  I exlpained that not only is my number such that they can't transfer it over to their service, but that I've looked into it with them and it just didn't work out.  Then I explain that I have a Magic Jack phone, which costs me $20.00 a year and has better reception than Vonage.  Here comes the stupid part. The guy, after I tell him that I pay twenty bones a year, decides to tell me that I could be saving money on my phone by moving to their $24.99 a month plan due to the tie-in deals with cable and internet. I just told his ass I paid T-W-E-N-T-Y B-O-N-E-S A Y-E-A-R! Mother fucker, do you know how to do math?  Seriously? 

Look, I'm a salesman by trade.  I know how hard it is, and that tenacity is a virtue.  But honestly, if a dude tells you he's paying $20.00 a year for the EXACT SAME THING you charge $300.00 a year for, walk away. It's not going to happen. Save your credibility.

So, the day gets better...

I go to Rally's, and if you have never had a Rallyburger, you are missing out on a level I just don't know how to begin to describe.  The only burger better than a Rally's Double BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger is the Carl's Jr. Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger, FYI.  But I digress...

So I order a Rallyburger with no onions and cheese for Mamasan, I order the same for my eldest daughter, and I order a hot dog for my youngest, which incidentally she choked on, gagged, and subsequently vomited up and re-chewed then ate again. I guess recycling is in the blood. Anyhow, I get to the window and all appears normal. Order paid for, bag of delicious steaming goodness received.  All is well with the world....or is it? 

It's only after 2 minutes of driving down the Dixie Highway that my wife informs me that only one burger has cheese.  WHAT, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, IS THE PROBLEM?  I mean, I manage over 50 people in 5 countries.  I run the sales and marketing for an entire division of a big recycling company.  If you ask me for the EPA's RCRA laws as it applies to you, I can tell you.  If I can do this, WHY CAN'T A COUPLE OF DIRTY DISHRAG BITCHES NOT ADD CHEESE TO TWO HAMBURGERS?  I mean, I just asked the bitch 2 minutes ago!  Did she forget?  I was the only person in line, and I was there for a good 5 minutes, and nobody else was there.  It was just me, and my family, and them and the crickets chirping from boredom.  WTF?  Is it really that much of an engineering feat to fucking load a slab of cheese on a God damned hamburger? Seriously?

There should definately be an IQ test for people to work in fast food, because it is truly a job where if you accidentally forget to wash your hands after dumping the rat traps, you could mess someone up really badly. That, and people like me who are armed to the teeth may have just had enough and start blowing shit up before doing themselves on National TV when you get the order wrong...again. Well, not me, but someone like me.

So, to top off my craptastic day, I go to one of my usual online haunts, after the girls are in bed and Mamasan is on the elliptical machine keeping her sexiness level at well above 10.  At this particular site, you can upload images of things and they have a random user "moderate" to make sure that the file isn't bad, the image is of reasonable quality, and all that jazz.  Well, I uploaded an image of the unpunched contents of the game "Myth: Pantheons" that I reviewed yesterday.  Wouldn't you know it...the cocksucker declined the image.  Now note that this is the only image on the fucking internet that shows the box contents.  Anywhere.  So I posted something rather nasty:

...and then got a 5-day ban for posting it.  I'm OK with the ban, that's fine.  I don't really get how censoring your users who upload every single bit of content on your website is a good idea, but hey, whatever.  Their site, their rules, that's fine.  Hell, maybe I even deserved it.  What I DO NOT get is why those fucking morons think that it's better to have NO IMAGE AT ALL of a game that many people will buy and likely want to see what they are buying, than to have a slightly blurry but wholeheartedly adequate photo. I mean, I can't go back and un-punch it, so there is really no way for me to send another picture.  One dirty cocksucker singlehandedly stopped hundreds of people from seeing what was inside a game box. Unless one of my peers uploads an inside-the-box set, nobody will see what's inside until someone actually buys the game.  In MAY.  That's just ridiculous.

Again, people are fucking retards.  To quote James Caan in "Way of the Gun":
"I promise you a day of reckoning that you won't live long enough to never forget."

Classic line. If only I was a homocidal maniac or mob bag man, I could use it.  But, as it rests I'll just vent, but the next time they get my order wrong I'll drop that fucker open-faced on an employee's windshield.  There needs to be some justice in the world.

Have a great day, everyone! I will be reviewing a new game again tomorrow, so stay tuned!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Myth: Pantheons - Now I Know What It's Like To Play God

AEG's upcoming release of Myth: Pantheons is very telling, to me at least, that they are a versatile company that can make not only great "board" games, but they can make some killer card games too. With their last release, Thunderstone, proving that they can produce solid performing card games, Myth takes a traditional card game, Spades, and injects a high-powered dose of one part "Kick-Ass" and another part "Screw Your Neighbor" to create a clever trick-taking game that delivers a solid, fun gaming experience.

The premise of this game is that you play as one of a dozen Gods or Godesses, who are trying to claim cities and their inhabitants as their own, all the while attempting to unleash pestilence and war upon your opponents. The selection of Deities in the game is really quite varied, coming from legends all over the world. Included is Jupiter from Roman myth, Thor from Norse legend, Quetzalcoatl from Nahuan beliefs as well as 9 others from distinct regions of the globe. The deity cards, without question, are truly works of art, and each deity has special powers and traits that affect how they'll go about becoming the "one true God", so to speak. Once players select their deity, each player is issued their 5 one-time use deity cards, which provide special bonuses when played, and are also issued their character card that has a persistent effect during their reign and helps others identify you.

Also included in the game are City cards, Mortal cards, and a boatload of tokens to help you keep track of your worshippers, defenses, and finally, what kinds of actions you can potentially take on your turn. The cities, which are the focus of the game, have both a Challenge rating that indicates how many challenges must be completed by a player to take control of the it, and its inhabitants rating, which indicates the amount of followers live in that city. These followers are the coin of the realm in Myth, and act as victory points when the game ends. Mortal cards are the only cards besides the deity cards that actually are played against one another during challenges, and each has a Domain listed on it which acts as the suit of the card, as well as a Roman numeral which indicates the strength of the card. Each player starts with seven of these cards in addition to their Deity cards. Essentially, Domain is equivalent "Diamonds" or "Clubs" and the Roman numeral value is equivalent to a "Five" or a "Queen". These Mortal cards can also have special abilities on them which allows you extra actions during the "Divine Acts" phase of each turn, can allow you to draw new Mortal cards, or can allow you to take tokens for free. Many of these are outcome-dependent, such as "Take a War token if you win this Challenge", or "You may perform an additional act if you lose this Challenge", which really adds to the depth of strategy during each turn.

Gameplay is really pretty simple once you get the hang of it, but I will warn you that if you've never played Spades there may be a substantial learning curve. The basic idea is that there is a city in play that all players are trying to capture, and there is a Ruling Domain that is persistent until something changes it, and that domain is always the trump domain, meaning that the player who plays the card of the highest value in that domain will always win that challenge. To capture the city, all you need to do is win a set amount of challenges, which is indicated on the city card, by playing the highest Mortal or Deity card. This is tricky, because the first player to lead the turn can play any card they wish to, and the domain that is listed on that card is the Leading Domain that all other players MUST try to match if they have on in their hand. If they do not, however, have a card of that domain in their hand, they can play whatever they wish. The leading player does not always have to play a card from the Ruling Domain, meaning that if a following player plays a card of the Ruling Domain because they don't have one of the Leading Domain, they can trump the leading player and potentially snatch victory in that Challenge. It sounds complex, but my group didn't have any problems there, since it's a lot like the mechanic in Uno or Spades, and it's pretty intuitive. Once a winner has been determined based upon their played card, the losers take a token that matches the domain of the card they played that turn and the winner takes all the cards and sets them aside to indicate that they have one Challenge victory that goes toward taking over the city.

Once the challenge has been resolved and all tokens are distributed, the Divine Act phase begins, where you get to use your accumulated action points, if you earned any. The champion of that challenge gets to take a free Divine Act for winning the challenge, which can be anything from putting followers on a city from their pool of tokens they may have previously received, defending a city by placing Weather or Heavens tokens on it, attacking other players' cities with Plagues and Invasions, and arguably the most influential action, changing the Ruling Domain to one of that player's choice. Players take turns taking these actions, and once all have been resolved, gamplay continues.

If any player happens to have enough Challenge victories to take the city, they take that city card and place the indicated amount of Follower tokens on top of it to indicate the population amount that resides there. Your cities are initially very vulnerable to attack, and so it is very important to defend them or they can be destroyed by enemies who have Death or War tokens. Enemies can cause Plague in your cities by spending Death tokens to kill followers in one of your cities, depriving you of victory points, but you can help mitigate that by placing Heavens tokens on it which must be depleted before your population begins to die off. Alternatively, enemies can invade your city using the most powerful attack type in the game, the War token. Players may spend these in an equal amount to an opponent's city Challenge value plus the amount of Weather tokens defending it. For example, Ethiopia has a Challenge rating of one, and if it had no Weather tokens to defend it, that city would be destroyed and subsequently discarded, along with all its inhabitants, by spending a single, solitary War token. This happened to me last night when my wife mercilessly destroyed Jericho on one turn, then Timbuktu on the following turn, which cost me a great many followers, and by extension, victory points.

When any given player runs out of Mortal cards, the Epoch, or round, ends when the current city that is in play has been taken or nobody can play any more cards in the next challenge and passes. All Mortal cards are dumped into the discard pile, the entire pile is reshuffled, and 7 more Mortal cards are dealt to each player. The game is divided into three of these Epoch rounds, and at the conclusion of the third the game ends and the player with the most followers is the Supreme Being.

The first game we played last night took us almost an hour and a half to muddle through because we weren't completely sure of the rules regarding Divine Acts. Once we got that sorted out, every game that followed lasted 45 minutes with four and five players, and the turn sequence, distribution of tokens, and Divine Acts all became automatic to us. All in all, playing the game, although having a fairly steep learning curve, was a really fun time. There were a ton of "Gotcha" moments, and the brisk gameplay where everyone was involved made downtime boredom a complete non-issue.

Things I Liked:
*The art is outstanding on this game, like all AEG games
*The concept of taking Spades and adding combat and treachery was brilliant
*Devilishly evil fun was had when launching devastating surprise attacks, decimating my opponent's cities
*The realization that Death can be trumped certainly gives one new hope

Things I Disliked:
*The first time I played was excrutiating for me because I'm not great with trick-taking games and the rules weren't as clear on the finer points as I'd have liked, but subsequent plays were very easy once I "got" the concepts
*The Roman numerals on the Mortal cards were very distracting, and should've been Arabic numerals. There's only one Roman deity in the game, so it didn't make sense
*The numbers on the tokens were too big, making it hard to distinguish between domains from across the table, and they should've matched the Domain colors as well
*We ran out of Harvest tokens several times, but we did use War tokens as they have no persistent effect, which worked fine

If you like trick-taking games and are not opposed to blasphemy, this is the game for you. While the learning curve can be tough for the first game, if you stick through it, every subsequent game will not have you referring back to the manual for anything but to remember which tokens are for which Domain. This is a lot of fun to play, the art is amazing, and the concepts and mechanics make the game shine.

3.5/5 Stars

You can learn more about Myth: Pantheons here:

And for your viewing pleasure, here's some photos I took while we were playing the last game of the night, a 2-player (not recommended by AEG) game between my wife and myself, at 1:00 AM!

When I got the review copy from AEG, I was elated...

...so I immediately cracked the box open to see what was inside.

After learning the game and playing 4 games, my friends left and my wife and I set up a two-player match to see how it plays with 2.

And when it was all said and done, my wife stomped my ass until her shoes were shitty.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Munchkin – Proof That Steve Jackson Loves The Mentally Challenged

Let me start off by saying this – Steve Jackson has a tremendous sense of humor. Most of his games, including the Munchkin “brand” of games, are laced with great humor, and the art within his games truly make you laugh. Well, the first or second time, maybe even the third. That being said, after the laughing wears off and the “new game smell” has evaporated, you’re left with another smell. This smell is reminiscent of the smell at Gencon before the “Hygiene Warnings” went up: unwiped asshole, 2-day old pit-sweat, and dirty feet in well-worn rubber flip flops. In fact, you may actually believe that you are about to be attacked by “The Predator” until you realize that the mirage behind the box is simply the raw sewage vapor that’s being released by the game, causing optical distortion directly above it.

I bought this game due to the “buzz” around it many moons ago, and since I’ve written quite a few positive reviews lately, to show that I’m not just a game whore (even though I have bought every single game I own) who loves any game I get to play, I figured I’d break out a game that I wished I could go back in time and unbuy. Munchkin is that game, hands down.

When I cracked the box I was saddened to see that although it had a very nice manual and nice grey-scale hand-illustrated cards, the game had no “counters” for levels. The only “hard” component in the box is a single, solitary D6. The problem with this is that you need to keep track of your levels, and this requires a pen and paper, or ideally, a D10. I have ample D10 dice lying around, so it wasn’t a big deal, but seriously, why would a major game publisher not include an item that’s integral to gameplay? Especially since the box has almost nothing but cards in it? Seriously? Old Jacko couldn’t break me off 4 D10 dice? This is just the first of many disappointments.

When we first got it, we read the rules, which were quite humorous, and the premise is that you and your opponents are adventurers that are in a dungeon of sorts, felling foul beasts and collecting goodies and treasures that make your character more powerful and death-dealing, allowing you to defeat more powerful nemeses and, finally, get to the pinnacle of the game, Level 10, where you are crowned the champion and master of all you survey. The mechanic is simple – take a “room card”, see what’s there, and kill the baddie if you can. The combat essentially boils down to taking the level of the monster and comparing it to your character’s level, plus any enhancements that you have won or stolen along the way, such as the “+3 Bad-Ass Bandana”, the “+2 Buckler of Swashing”, and my personal favorite, the “+3 Really Impressive Title”. All of these enhancements give you “virtual levels” which make you more able to take on the really tough monsters such as the “Level 10 Floating Nose” and the “Level 12 Wannabe Vampire”.

If you can’t defeat the monsters due to too low a level, you can ask for help from your opponents, who will then hit you up for all manner of payment for their services, and there is no limit on what they can ask for, be it a card that you have in hand or a promise to watch their kids so they can have a date night later in the week. Once you’ve gotten any allies, provided they’re game, then you combine your respective levels and if it’s enough, you defeat the monster and take the amount of treasure cards listed on the monster description. If you cannot defeat the monster, alone or with allies, “Bad Stuff” happens. I’m not making that “Bad Stuff” up, it’s on the card. This can vary from losing levels, losing treasure, changing sexes, or instantaneous death. The cards are amusing, clever, and some are downright hilarious, but again, only the first few times you encounter them. The joviality soon wears thin, though, as you realize how completely retarded the gameplay itself is. It amounts to “Take a card, Resolve the card, End Your Turn”. That would be totally acceptable if this game were more fun. It’s as if Steve Jackson games wanted to make a comic strip in boardgame format, but the jokes, while funny, do not have much staying power.

Once a player has sold enough stuff or beaten enough monsters to get to Level 10, the game ends (mercifully) and you go off and take a shower to wash away the memories of such a boring game. It all sounded fun, and it was fun, the first time I played. The second time was less fun, but still passable, and the third and every other time I played, I was wishing to be doing something more fun, like sleeping, or going back to work. The randomness of the card draws is such that a game can last 20 minutes or an hour and a half, and the sheer repetitiveness of turns and lack of any significant decisions makes this like a “dirty” version of Old Maid or Go Fish. It’s just not that much fun, and that’s all I can say about it.

The jokes really carry the game, and as I stated before, but that wears off quickly. I am guessing that the endless expansions and variations on this game that have been published show that this is true, and that Steve Jackson may be a genius in marketing. By expanding the card selection, it expands the potential in-jokes and one-liners with every new card, like a comedian who changes his routine every night to keep his regulars coming back in. My only problem with that, in the context of that analogy, is that while the jokes are funny, the delivery is horrible, and it ‘s just a fact that for the $20.00 cover charge per show there’s not enough of a fun time to be had for me to want to come back.

Things I liked:
*There is a substantial amount of “funny” in this game
*The art on the cards, while not full color, is well drawn and appropriate
*There is a good amount of negotiation and backstabbery, which is the only saving grace of Munchkin
*The rulebook is really funny

Things I detested:
*It is an unforgivable sin to not include level counters in this game
*The repetitive nature of the gameplay mechanics makes it a real effort to get it off the shelf
*There are a lot of cards, yes, but not enough to play it 3 times without seeing many of the same cards again
*The cards should’ve been a hair wider so that they could at least be used as disposable coasters for drinks while you’re playing games you actually like

This game is a one-shot wonder, playable only a few times before boredom sets in. It's the Tabletop Gaming equivalent of “The Divinyls” in music. I would recommend this game only to people who are in prison and have absolutely nothing better to do, or to the mentally handicapped who might forget that they just played this game and it would seem new, or would at least not realize how dumb of a game this is.

1/5 Stars

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Adventurers - Take A Run Through The Jungle

I have heard this game compared to Indiana Jones movies more than once, and to be honest, I never really thought Indy was all that much of a Billy Badass. I mean, Allan Quartermain is a world renowned hunter, the best marksman in all the world, a famous adventurer, and ultimately, was crowned a king. Indy, he is a friggin' schoolteacher. Doc Savage is a scientist, adventurer, martial arts master, and inventor. Indy, well, he's a friggin' grave robber, at best. Why do I bring this up, you ask? Because this game is far too bad-ass to be equated with some grave robbing schoolteacher. Even a very popular one. This game is about a group of hardened criminals, treasure hunters, and mercenaries trying to steal stuff from a place of major religious significance to a dead race, and to not die trying. That sounds a little "Jonesy" but in this adventure, there's no funny sidekick to save your ass - it's you against the temple, and the temple does not have a sense of humor.

The premise is that the players are, not surprisingly, adventurers who are trying to run through some godforsaken Mayan temple to the rain god Chac trying to steal sacred artifacts, all while avoiding being crushed by enclosing walls, outrunning a giant stone ball, hopping over perilous stones suspended over a boiling pit of lava, crossing rickety bridges and finally swimming downstream in a raging river towards a waterfall of doom. In other words, you have a lot on your hands and very little time to do it.

When you first look at the beautifully illustrated box you are transported to a time and place where legends are real and mercenary spelunkers vie for the chance to snatch sacred idols and knuckle up their opposition. The game not only drips theme, it's like Vigo from the horrible Ghostbusters sequel...it oozes it all over the street. The box components have a bunch of cards that represent treasures, player characters, and other features, a bunch of tiles that are used for the lava-walk phase, the big rolling rock that chases you every step of the way, two walls that are used early in the game to try to make a nice rouge paste of the players, a black blinder card that hides the lava tiles until midway through the game, a nice little bridge with several sections, 12 well-detailed grey plastic miniatures, a well designed and quite pretty rulebook and finally, a tremendously well drawn playing board. The components are of exquisite quality and are thematically spot-on. My only gripe with any of this is that you can buy the prepainted miniatures, which are absolutely outstanding to a power of 10, but are not included and although the included grey minis are nice, there's no comparison. I can understand why they did it, so that more people could afford to get the game, but man alive, once you've seen them it is immediately apparent that you MUST have them or the game will seem incomplete.

The setup of the game is fairly quick, provided you separate the myriad cards into their respective types, and laying everything on the board is fast and painless. There is a small randomization factor in laying the tiles on the lava pit and in the first section, which adds replayability. Once that's done, it's time to select player characters. The characters themselves are a sight to behold - well illustrated cards and well sculpted miniatures help you relate to the characters they portray, as does the little biography in the rulebook. Each character has a special ability type, that is generally a one-time use power, which allows for even more variety and replayability. Again, the prepainted minis are fabulous, and not in a flamboyant way, but in a kick ass Jackie Chan and Steven Seagal's lovechild way. They don't "make" this game, but they sure as hell make it better. Each player selects two characters to play, but only starts with one. This is because more often than not, the first to enter the Temple of Chac ends up with a Chac outline on the ground, sans police tape. This is not a game where you can expect that your 'favorite guy' will traipse through the temple and walk out a winner. Every step of the way you are harassed by unfathomably nasty perils, and just surviving, let alone getting any treasure, depends on good decisions and a heaping helpin' of good old fashioned luck.

Once setup is complete, you load your guys at the temple's entrance, and are immediately faced with a corridor with nicely sculpted plastic walls. The walls themselves look nice, but the downside is that every round that characters are in that hallway, cards are drawn that can close the walls in around the players, as if old Chac is a fan of "People Wine". The tough decisions start immediately, as in this section you have the ability to use an action point to either get the hell out of dodge, take treasures or look at one or more of the downturned tiles that have pictograms on them that indicate which lava tiles are unsafe to cross when you adventure onward to that section of the temple. You only have five seconds to look at each one if you choose to, and then you have to place it back on the board, face down. Further hampering your cause is the fact that you can't actually SEE the tiles on the lava area as it's covered by a blinder card so that you have to actually remember the symbology, which is really rough as many tiles in the lava section are similar looking.

Once you pass that gauntlet, you have a short hallway where a boulder rolls toward the players, potentially moving progressively faster each round. This is a double edged sword as well because you can try to get behind it to save your skin, but later down the road you may not be able to pass it again and you will be trapped inside the tomb (cue drum roll) FOREVER! There are some treasures that you can spend action points to try to take if you feel you have the time, but the more treasures you have, the less action points you have to spend on your turn. This is a very clever mechanic that forces you to re-evaluate the elements of the game at every turn and make decisions based on not only the status quo, but what you anticipate to happen in following turns.

Once you pass through the hallway, you uncover the blinder card that is hiding the lava section, and you have more decisions to make. You can decide to risk it and cross the tiles, taking treasures on each safe tile or potentially falling into the lava if you step on the wrong tile, thus turning you into a "people fritter" and ending that character's adventure right then and there. Alternatively, you can keep walking the path where more treasures await the plucking, but you then run the risk of being flattened by the boulder, an equally horrible fate that ends that adventurer's burgeoning career. Both paths are fraught with danger, especially if you did not take the time in the walled room to view some of the glyphs to guide you on the safe path.

Once you're through the lava area, you have several choices to make, some safer than others but still dangerous. You can continue on the path toward the exit and the idol, the most valuable treasure in the game, while the boulder chases you mercilessly. Alternatively you can cross the river at the bridge, which can fall out from under you, piece by piece, and finally, you can try to swim in the river, taking underwater treasures as you go, but you run the risk of being swept down the waterfall at the end, drowning your character and, yet again, dooming your cause. The more treasures you are carrying, the more risky the swim is at the end where you try to exit the river before falling onto the rocks below.

All in all, there are a lot of critical choices to make throughout the game, and none of them come without consequences. This game is absolutely an American-style luckfest, and almost every aspect of the game has a die roll. For instance, trying to take treasures will many times force you to roll a "straight" with multiple dice to claim them, the boulder's speed is determined by rolling an increasing number of dice, crossing the bridge requires a roll, and getting out of the water requires a roll. At any time during the game, you can be killed in a variety of devilishly gruesome ways, and many times it comes down to how lucky you're feeling. You have some control over the outcome, mostly based upon how much of a burden in treasure you have, but at the end of the adventure it comes down to nerves, guts, or balls, depending on the vernacular you choose to subsrcibe to.

If, at any time, your character falls to the traps of the Temple of Chac, you may bring in your backup character at the lava section, provided the boulder has travelled to that section and opened the second opening. When you die, your treasures are gone, forever, and you have to start from scratch, and to add insult to injury, you start past the lava section and most of the easy treasures are no longer available. That, and you start behind the boulder, so you have to rush to get to the exit and hope to take a treasure or two along the way.

The game ends when all survivors have exited the temple or are trapped within. Each treasure card has a number or die printed on it, with the die being a "wild card" value that you roll to determine. The player with the most treasure wins and gets to brag to the others in the room how superior an adventurer they are until the next play, which if you're like me, occurs directly after the first.

Four words describe this game: "What a fun game!" I truly love this, and have been playing it since Gencon of 2009. It's simple, easy to learn, and although there is not much player interaction it always feels like you're neck-and-neck with your opposition vying for position to nab the great treasures while always leery of the "boulder of doom". It's great for kids, adults, pretty much anyone with a pulse, a love of pulp adventure, and a modicum of imagination.

Things I Liked:
*The illustrations and models are outstanding, especially the prepainted miniatures
*The playtime is short, but long enough not to be a simple filler
*The "adrenaline factor" is quite high, surprisingly, and you're always at the edge of your seat
*Replayability is moderate, and you never seem to quite get tired of playing it

Things I Detested:
*I know that it was probably not economically feasible, but the prepainted figures should have been included
*The luck can be good or bad, and sometimes the board beats all the players

I mean, seriously, if you don't like this game there's probably a missing gene in you, somewhere. Probably the "fun recognition" gene. This is the ultimate adventuring game, and the clever mechanics truly simulate the luck factor that I would imagine goes on when spelunking in some ancient temple. It is just, simply put, a brilliant game.


You can learn more about this game at Alderac Entertainment Group's page:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Citadels - A Card Game Of Buildings And Backstabbery

I love social tabletop games where you are forced to interact with your friends because my philosophy is that videogaming is for "solo gaming" and tabletop games exist to give adults an excuse to get together without a live band and alcohol.  Citadels, by Fantasy Flight Games, is the perfect game when a group of friends need that excuse. The game has all the social interaction any group of buddies should have - theivery, backstabbery, and all out cut-throatery. Well, my friends, anyhow.

Citadels, in short, is a well illustrated small box game in the "Silver Line" family of games by FFG.  It comes with a ton of cards, a bunch of little plastic "gold" pieces which look to be designed to look like tiny butterscotch choking hazards for small children, a neat little concise and well laid-out rulebook, and finally, a wonderful little "Crown" which denotes the player who is King at the time.  For the MSRP of 20-ish bones, this game is an awesome investment in a dump truck full of fun.  I, being a cheap bastard, really appreciate that FFG has made games like this, Drakon, and Cave Troll accessible for such a low entry price.  I figure that this type of game is well worth the price of a couple of movie tickets, and as a bonus the game doesn't suck like most of the movies I've seen recently.

The game's premise is that each player takes the role of one of the eight principal character in the game, and you collect and spend gold in order to build eight "districts" in your own little city, and each district has it's own price to build with the price being the victory points awarded for that district at the end of the game. Speaking of that, the game ends on the round when a player builds their eighth district, where players tally their gold, the cost of their districts, and then add in a couple of bonus points if applicable. One of the coolest aspects of this game is that until your character's card is called into play by the king, in numerical order, you do not know which players are holding which cards, which allows a ton of bluffing and misdirection. 

Each player, on their turn, can use their power, take a district card or take gold, and finally build one district if they so desire.  The gameplay is quite simple, but the choices are quite varied and make for some very tough choices at some crossroads.  There is quite a bit of "Kill The Leader" in this game where the person who has either the most districts or the highest potential victory points generally bears the brunt of the really nasty stuff like assassination, robbery, and having their districts torn to the ground.  The upside of this is that due to the hidden character selection the Assassin and Thief do not know what character is in your hand, and they have to take their turns before everyone else, so they may select a character that isn't even in play on a given round, wasting their activation and leaving the player all kinds of pissed off.

The character cards are quite varied in what they do and the differences in each make for a very strategic game.  You can select either the Assassin, Thief, Merchant, King, Architect, Warlord,  Bishop, or Magician.  Each must be played in order, as I have said, and each has his own special ability which grants him certain advantages. The tricky part is that at the beginning of each round you get to select one of these to play for that round, and depending on how many players are in the game you may select your character at random. An example of character powers is that the Assassin can select another character to assassinate, and the assassinated character loses their turn that round.  Another example is the Warlord, who can destroy another player's "districts" for a price, thereby taking victory points away from the enemy. There are also other powers that affect your cards, like the Magician's ability to swap cards and the Architect's ability to build more than the normal one district per turn. The balance for such a large cast of characters is astoundingly good, and there really is no "kingmaking" in this game.

The districts themselves are quite varied and come in one of five different "types" which are identified by small little colored rondelles on the card, and signify them as a "Noble", "Military", "Religious", "Trade", or "Special" district. These types generally are matched to the characters, meaning that the King gets a bonus for "Noble" districts and the Bishop gets a bonus for "Religious" ones.  The interaction between the districts and the characters is probably the single most important aspect of the game since most of these interactions allow you to gain extra gold which will allow you to more quickly build districts.  The downside is that you can easily become a target of theivery when you hoard gold for too long, so it's also important to get decent cards quickly.

The last thing I will mention is that the "Dark City" expansion is included with the latest printing of this game, which gives you 14 new districts and 10 new character cards that can replace some, or all, of the existing characters. The best thing about the expansion is the new districts that really add some coolness to the game with some very creative and interactive powers that had not been previously introduced, which expands the replayability even further.  I am told that this expansion also has the inclusion of the wooden "King" marker that gets passed to the player who has selected the King, but I have only ever owned this version so I always had it and quite honestly, "meh" is the appropriate response for this addition.

At the end of the day, this game can be quite strategic due to all the variables in play at any given time. I would recommend this game to almost everyone.  It's good for 1v1 play where each player can take two characters per turn to the most raucous 8-player groups starving for some death and dismemberment.  It's a hell of a filler game, and the short playtime allows for both multiple games per gathering or as a 'warmup' game while waiting for the rest of your group to arrive.

Things I liked:
*The game's price point is absolutely perfect for the value
*The quality of art is very good, especially with as many cards as you get
*Brisk play and fast turns allow for quick games and little downtime between turns
*Excellent replayability potential

Things I detested:
*The little gold coins are a bit on the cheesy side, but are passable and serve their purpose

This is a great game and the varied character powers, card types, and overall bluffing mechanics in the game make this a game that I believe every person who likes card games should absolutely own.


You can find Citadels HERE: http://new.fantasyflightgames.com/edge_minisite.asp?eidm=31

Monday, March 22, 2010

Healthcare "reform" passed...so I guess I can start smoking now?

First, let me state for the record that I am a recovering news junkie.  I used to watch C-SPAN, Fox, MSNBC, and listen to talk radio to get my news. Then I realized that I hate pretty much every politician on the planet, from my Mayor who assessed a levy on my property to pay for sewers that have been installed since before I was born all the way to Bush and Obama.  They're like many doctors - great at noting the problem, expert at "managing symptoms" but not so good at fixing things, and the ones they do fix end up having unintended consequences.

So, I stopped reading and started hoping for something like "A Boy And His Dog", "Fallout", or "28 Days Later" to occur so I could raid all the pharmacies for antibiotics, raid the libraries for books on medicine, and then raid the gun stores for more weapons and ammo to keep back the hordes of mutants, zombies, or slavers with my family.  A bit like lawn bowling, but messier, I suppose.

Anyhow, I was sucked back into the news fold via the pervasive reports on the Health Care Reform stuff. I dug in a little and it sounds like the usual: Instead of fixing the problem, just treat the symptoms and hope for the best. I find it disturbing that of all the morons that we've elected are trying to write legislation when 99.999% of them are lawyers, and of those, rarely have any ever run a small business, owned a corporation, or been living as a "normal middle class American".  Further, few are practicing doctors.  So, what makes them so bloody smart that they're going to change things for the better this time, when everything else they have ever done, with an infinitesimal amount of exception, has turned out like shit and been a costly and unsuccessful joyride to bankruptcy? The answer is nothing - this too shall probably end up failing, like everything else the government does, and they'll eventually end up blaming the last Administration, whatever group that turns out to be when we realize it's been a heinous error in judgement. It reminds me of a line from the movie 300 - "This will not be over quickly, and you will not enjoy it."

I keep reading all these horror stories about insurance companies and how evil they are, but then I think to myself that without them, or something like them, everyone who gets cancer, diabetes, or other really bad illnesses would be SOL and end up on the street, dying in front of God and country. Seems to me that if they're only making a margin of 2.2%, per some news reports I've read, they're on the verge of being broke anyhow.

What people don't realize, I think, is that insurance companies are like casinos.  They take money from some people who lose to pay people who win, and as long as more people are losing than winning, the company can pay its employees and set money aside for those big Jackpot winners.  If the casinos are always losing, they go out of business.  That's just the same with insurance - if the risk pool has a higher payable than receivables can cover, the money has to come from somewhere, and that's how higher premiums become the topic of the day - people keep getting sick...imagine that.

Then I keep thinking about how my experience has been so much different, and I'm not rich, I'm not influential (even at home) and I'm just about as average as they come. I have chronic illnesses (allergies to the 10th power) and I have 2 young kids, one of which goes to the Germ Warfare Center known as Public School, so they're sick all the time.  The thing is, I'm not going broke.  My premiums used to go up a lot, but now I'm on a new deal, an HSA.

I've been on an HSA (Health Savings Account) plan for about a year now, and let me tell you: This is how it should be. I pay a little over $200 bucks a month and of that $200, $75 goes into a tax-free account.  I never, ever pay tax on this except maybe sales tax.  I can use it however I want, be it paying for office visits, vasectomies, Sudafed, prescriptions, whatever I want that's medical related.  The best part is that I have a $2500 out-of-pocket maximum per year, and so once I hit that number, everything at all, from prescriptions to chemotherapy is 100% covered.  It's bad ass, in short. The best thing is that every eligible purchase I make from doctors visits to prescriptions go towards that $2500 nugget, and so if my wife buys her $80 birth control every month, by the end of the year we're $960 towards that deductible, and if we had some other expenses during the year to get us to that $2500, everything afterwards is paid 100% by the insurance provider.

The other aspect of this is that I get to go to whomever I want, since I'm paying. If I want to go get accupuncture, it's covered.  Chiropractic? Covered. How about a specialty allergist? Covered.  No cursory referral required!  Bush did a whole lot of completely stupid shit, as has every president I can remember, but this was the one thing those Texans got right.  I even negotiate with the billing chickies at the office and before I get service I ask them if they can give me a non-insurance discount rate which lowers my out-of-pocket costs at that visit by a good amount.  I just had some cancerous chunks removed from my back, and it cost me $400, where if I was on a normal insurance plan they'd have billed the company $780.  That's a hell of a deal, especially for an old horse trader like me who shops EVERYTHING out.

Now let me be clear here, when we were offered this we were scared shitless.  Worries of us going broke by going to the doctor, having to pay for everything out of pocket...all that.  Turns out that our fears were unfounded and we're actually SAVING money! I even had my employer take some extra money out of my paycheck every month to deposit it into the HSA account, and we're building savings for "rainy day expenses" like seasonal flu, allergy medicine, and a vasectomy if I decide that babies suck!

So, this reform bill is proabably like everything else that government does - wasteful, and a bad idea even if the intentions are good.  I really hope that it works out because I'll never bet against my own country, but I'm here to tell you that if they REALLY wanted to fix things, they'd take all this money they're laying out and simply do 3 things:
  • Fund people's HSA accounts and migrate the system toward that with subsidies and grants
  • Make insurance companies accept people with pre-existing conditions
  • Have a national pool of sick people and spread them across the nations risk pools so that there's an even distribution of sick people with healthy people to alleviate the burden on smaller companies and private citizens.
That's my answer, and I'm no expert, but from my experience this is one thing that I am positive will work.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Summoner Wars - A Card Game Of Death And Dismemberment

Reprinted from my review at www.boardgamegeek.com

Let me start this review by saying this: I'm better than you, at least right now. Probably not always, maybe even never again, but right at this very moment, assuming you're NOT an owner of this game in any of it's forms, well, I've got you beat, and you'll soon know it.

I had a FEDEX truck show up at my house this morning and deliver my Starter set for Summoner Wars. Soon, you'll see why my life is so blessed, and you, well right now you're reading this thinking me a fool, but that's your ignorance talking. Read on and realize why.

The box is about the size of one that might come with a nicer pocket knife, or perhaps a large wallet. It's a hair slimmer in width than a DVD case, a hair longer, and about as thick as 3 sitting atop each other. The art on the front, back and sides is very compelling and makes you want to tear the shrinkwrap off with your teeth, foaming at the mouth like some rabid, terrible creature. Well, maybe not that nice, but damned nice. It has a glossy, seamless texture to it that elicits emotions of joy, almost to the point of Gollum and his precious. Well, perhaps more like a rat and something shiny, but still, it's a nice little carrying case for the perilous yet enchanting treasure it holds.

After maliciously murdering said shrinkwrap I opened the box to find 2 decks of wonderfully detailed cards, 5 dice, a fold-out playfield, some wound markers and a rulebook sitting on top, tempting me to read onward into this necronomicon of the dark arts. I hesitated, as I knew that no good could come of this. It was all becoming clear...this box contained a gateway to another dimension, where dishes remain dirty, where the TV remained tuned to channel 834, "Alternative Adult Rock - 90's" and where Pinot Grigio and The Glenlivet flow freely. Yes, this will definately soak up some hours.

After cracking this dark tome of infinite knowledge, I found the short, yet interesting backstory enough to keep me interested without the feeling of reading a novella that implied I may need to make some room in the "Tolkien Knock-Off" file as some games tend to attempt. No pretense, only a quick, one page, "These guys all seek Summoning Stones, they want to get more, so they're kicking some ass".

The actual incantations and explanatory text were appealing to the eye, straightforward, and even rather simple, but were very effective and well organized. Each section had everything where it should be, and it was so easy that had my 8-year old not been eating lunch when the package arrived I may have performed a prescribed ritual and attempted to summon a creature of terrible power to defeat the "Evil One" that lives with me, well, that was until I realized that I only had pocket lint on me, and no Summoning Stone in sight. Damn you, page 1! If only I could find a stone...well, I digress.

The cards, after being carefully removed from their protective cocoon of what I can only identify as an aetherial energy of some kind of arcane manufacture (which has an uncanny resemblance to cellophane),have such lifelike art that the characters may indeed pop out of the card itself in a burst of summoning energy, blinding my children. I shielded my daughters eyes and was buffeted by cries of, "Daddy, don't knock over the kool-aid! I'm eatin' here!!". So young, so brave.

The cards themselves have a slick, playing card texture and are appealingly keen upon the fingers of an old cardsharp such as I. The thickness is perfect for the constant movement of the card/characters as they parry, dodge, and strike at the heart of the opponent's shabby and inglorious ragtag company of soldiers. Any thicker and the cards would be a pain to pick up when defeated, and thinner and they'd bend too easily. As the prophet Golda E.Lox thrice noted, "Just Right".

The battlefield is printed on a parchment-type paper, and my copy was crisp yet uncreased when I pulled it out of the box. Upon deployment to begin my training as a master spellcaster and "King of all I Survey", I noticed that the mat did not lay completely flat due to the warping of being rolled/folded for so long. I covered the sheet with a piece of acrylic and all was well. This practice, as I found later, also aids in the movement of the cards, as the slippery surface allowed the cards to glide like so many ballerinas performing The Four Seasons.

The wound markers are binderboard chits with lovely artwork as well as being thick and durable. The double sided nature, with one side representing one wound and the opposite three, is nice as the evidence left behind from your working of evil magicks for your foul purposes, the better.

The final components were the dice, neatly tucked in a plastic bag, which by all appearance are exactly like the Chessex opaque white dice, with the exception these particular dice would later kill Dwarves and Goblins with such precision that I intend to register them as deadly weapons and lock them in my safe to protect the innocent. Perhaps these are the Summoning Stones foretold in Legend...and speaking of Legend, did I mention that there is a lovely glossary at the back of the Tome Of The Dark Arts? It's quite complete and will help you with your pursuit of power and glory.

All in all, I'd give this purchase a 9 out of 10 for it's quality of components. My major complaint is that the box, in all it's shiny goodness, with all it's wee bits of arcane magick and the promise of eternal power, does not contain the Summoner's Stones, which has hampered my ability to summon any actual Goblins or Dwarves. Dissapointing, so I had to dock a point.

As far as the gameplay goes, the tempo is fast paced, never dull, and was very easy to understand...for my daughter. Apparently her skill as a master summoner exceeds even my own remarkable power as she broke me like a cheap-ass lawn chair not once, but twice consecutively.

The main idea is to use magic (cards that you've spent earlier or captured cards) to summon creatures to walls (that you place initially and may add to later, Crom willing) and to use these summoned creatures to slay the opposing summoner. It's all very easy to understand, at least to those of the 7-9 age bracket.

I give the gameplay a solid 9 rating of 10, and that's only because my daughter kicked my ass. Had I won ONE of the games we played, this might have gone all the way.

So, as I close this thesis on my newfound game, know that until you too have a copy, I will always be better than you. Good luck with that!

What I liked:
*Fast gameplay and quick-reading rulebook make this a super gateway game
*The art is absolutely brilliant
*The value-to-price ratio is better than 1:1 - a ton of game for the money
*Replayability value is ridiculously high
*A multitude of expansions are planned and will be available within months

What I detested:
*That craptastic folded paper playmat is NOT a turn on
*I suck at the game and can't seem to beat my 8 year old

This fast-playing card/miniatures-sans-miniatures game will redefine how you look at card games. It's half Heroscape, half Battlegrounds Fantasy and all kick-ass. Anyone who doesn't have this in their collection is totally missing out.

4.5/5 Stars

Rush N' Crush - Bringing Road Rage To A Table Near You

I've long been a fan of many of Alderac Entertainment Group's games, such as Tomb, The Adventurers, and Infinite City. This is not a bias, this is simply recognition of excellence in a very crowded market. I am delighted to announce that AEG has come through again with Rush N' Crush, and that it is an outstanding combt racing game.

This game was revealed at GenCon in August of 2009, and I was one of the lucky ones to snatch it up right then and there. My group of GenCon companions all played a copy that night and were instantly hooked on the simple mechanics, the ease of play, and the sheer Deathrace action. The art is the standard AEG fare, meaning excellent, the bits are of great quality, and the game itself is well balanced, fun, and quick to learn. In short, it has never been so much fun to drive at reckless speeds and saw through friends' tires, sending them careening off into a wall to their fiery death.

The game's components consist of ten double-sided track segments that fit together to create a multitude of track configurations and lengths and six cars in three colors, which allows for team play. There's also enough dice, markers, and tokens in the box to equip a full outfit of six players. The final, and most interesting components in the box are the six "dashboards" that depict the futuristic cars and their pilot. The weapons configuration is on the remvovable pilot section and the vehicle stats are on the dashboard itself, so you truly get to build your car with everything that you want bolted onto it. This mechanic is very well balanced, and because there's six dashboards and six pilots available, all with unique attributes, there's a tremendous number of options for you to select. All in all, you definately get your money's worth for this game, and the replayability inherent in the design will ensure that this masterpiece hits your gaming table whenever you get the itch to bust out the car-mounted flamethrower and burst your friends and family into white-hot flames.

The concept of the game itself has been around for dozens of years; Drive fast, shoot, ram, or otherwise trample your opponents, and be the first to make it to the finish. Rush N' Crush has polished this quite well by using simple, understandable rules. You start the game with a full complement of structure, heat, braking, turbo, and handling points and as the game progresses you'll slowly diminish these reserves through being attacked, entering turns at too high a speed, or a number of other things. The good news is that the ammunition supply is neverending, so you can deluge your opponents with as much fire as you want without reservation. The weapons available to the pilots is enough to make B.A. Baracus crack a grim smile: flamethrowers, machineguns, side-mounted circular saws, mines, and rams. Each has its own method of execution, and I do mean execution, and thus most cars have a 360 degree range of pure unadultered carnage.

One of the most interesting new mechanics here, I believe, is that you can be destroyed not only by simply being beaten down to a flaming hulk of scrap metal by enemies, you can overheat, which will result in your vehicle's subsequent and rapid detonation. Although Rush N' Crush does have a huge combat component, it is a phenomenal racing game at it's core, and the overheating aspect forces you to make tough choices. You can "put the pedal to the metal", forcing you to potentially take heat damage and coast on later turns, or you can take it slow and steady and stay with the pack, leaving you vulnerable to weapons and ramming.

The inclusion of collision and innovative lane-change rules as well as ample walls and blockades on the track are another factor to deal with. Essentially, the faster you are travelling, the less potential lane changes you have available to you on that turn. Thus, if you're cruising along at a high velocity and need to make a few lane changes to avoid obstacles, chances are that you may not make it and will impale yourself on a barrier. You do have a set amount of "free lane changes" in your reserve at the beginning of the game, but there is no "pit stop" and thus when you're out, you either need to get incredibly lucky around curves or just slow down. To add insult to injury, if you are destroyed, the remains of your vehicle and driver remain on the track as obstacles for opponents to avoid.

Last, but not least, the co-op team component is outstanding, adding a whole new layer of awesome sauce to the game's recipe. Pairing up with friends allows you to choose which car is the "Rusher" which is focused on speed, and which is the "Crusher" that acts as a tank to damage opponents' ability to keep up with your partner. A menu of in-game strategies evolve as the game unfolds, allowing you to do things like pin an opponent behind you so your ally can blast him to pieces with their forward-mounted cannons, or you can pin them in between your racers and run them into a track obstacle, causing rapid deceleration and an ensuing explosion while you high-five your buddy across the table. The team aspect is well balanced, and I have yet to find the "kingmaking" configuration that can win every game, solo or otherwise.

I have owned this game for almost a year now, and I still play it! That alone should be high praise as I have a huge collection of games, two gaming groups that I play with every week, and a wife who loves to game it up as well, and they STILL want me to bring this game to the table. For some reason, charring my friends and family never seems to get old!

Things I liked:
*Fast paced gameplay makes this a real treat for larger groups
*Tremendously fun team play truly adds to the experience
*Outstanding art gives a grimy, gritty feel to this bloodsport
*Great mechanics and the inclusion of a Beginner and Expert rulebook make the game surprisingly approachable
*At the MSRP price point you get a sensational value for the dollar
*Replayability value is off the charts

Things I detested:
*The vehicles are very small and hard to get a grasp on
*A pit stop track segment would've been nice to have

If you like racing games and you like blowing stuff up, this is the game for you. Great for 3-6 players, and fast playing so nobody sits around waiting for their turn.

4.5/5 Stars