They may have a funny name, but they’re not messing around: Bucephalus Games stormed onto the scene last year, quickly putting out a number of board game titles and having an impressive precense at both Origins and Gen Con. A quick look at their web page shows that some pretty big names are part of this new company too.
The company was kind enough to send me four of their games for review- for a new company to even have four games at launch is impressive, but they already have no less than 10 MORE games planned, showing strong ambition for a new company.
It took me a while to play through all of them, given the holiday season, finals, and of course, D&D campaigns. But here are my thoughts on: Living Labyrinth, Suicide Bomber, Toboggans of Doom, and Rorschach.
This is a simple boardgame targeted at kids. You are trying to be the first one to get across a hedge maze to an escape. The board is made up of tiles that depict the different pathways. The trick is that everyone has a hand of action cards that can change the maze by moving tiles, rotating them, flipping them over, and so on. You get to play 1 card and then move, or move and then play 2 cards.
The rules are elegant and simple, and the cards are pretty well balanced (there’s no “I win the game” action card). However, if you’re playing at all competively, the action cards give you a lot of control. As a result, the game can drag on as whenever anyone gets close to victory, the other players have easy ways to stop you, leading to a much longer game than should be for this style of game, and the frustration of being so easily stopped when you’re close to winning.
If the group is non-competetive and willing to let someone win when the game has run its course, then it will go fine. If anyone in the group really wants to win, then expect it to drag out.
In contrast to the previous game, Suicide Bomber is intended for a more mature audience. Getting past the theme of choosing people to blow themselves up in order to take out specific targets, the game also features some heavy duty strategy.
Cards are played into a grid which represent people and places. People can be equipped with bombs (face down) that blow up and take out other cards with them for points. Some cards you want to blow up, some you don’t, and some cause chain reactions which can have all kinds of consequences. Bombs take several turns to go off, however, so you’re manuvering cards to foil your opponent’s plans while working towards your own. The game is two players only, which adds to the strategy factor.
I was completely outclassed in the games I played, being defeated by someone who is a lot more strategic than myself. If two player strategy with a good balance of luck and skill is what you like, and you can get past the theme (of which there are many disclaimers on the game itself), then this is worth taking a look at.
Toboggans of Doom is a game clearly aimed at gamers. From the names of the cards in the game featuring nerdy in-jokes (like the Portable Hole attachment) to the use of a set of D&D dice, you know this one is for us.
The story is straightforward: you’re in a toboggan race… OF DOOM. Many obstacles, such as volcaneos, snowmen with chainsaws, and sasquatch block your path that you need to go over, around, or straight through. In order to do that, you purchase add-ons to your toboggan (such as rocket launchers, extendable legs, and the aforementioned portable hole) before the race.
Gameplay is divided into two phases: in the first, you roll all your dice, and use them to purchase the toboggan upgrades. The mechanism for this is pretty neat, forcing some hard choices between how to spend your individual dice in a manner reminiscent of the classic Button Men. This is done in turn, leading to a shrinking pool of upgrades to choose from. Then, each person runs down the obstacle course among hidden and revealed obstacles, deploying their upgrades to get around them.
I like the mechanisms here a lot, but unfortunately, in actual play all the players had a very tough time getting anywhere. Maybe it was just the particular set of obstacles we had, but everything we encountered was difficult to pass by (even by the end of the game with tricked-out toboggans) and lead to short runs and low scores. I’ll have to try it again to be sure, but even after re-reading the rules thoroughly and examing all the obstacles, we couldn’t figure out how anybody gets anywhere in the game.
Nope, not a movie tie-in, but a reference to the eponymous inkblots. Rorschach is a party game for 3-8 players. The rules are also quite simple: there are 5 Rorschach-style inkblots out, and a question is asked like “Which one looks the most depressed?” or “Which one would you most like to have on the beach?” Everyone picks one secretly, and then reveals. If you match anyone, you get their color. Then a new question is drawn, and repeat. The winner is the person who can match every other person at least once, AND also pick an inkblot that no one else picked for a question.
We had a blast with the game. While some of the questions are a bit risque, with a little pre-screening the game could be played with a wide variety of age groups. (We had a 9 year old in a few of our games, and she did quite well). It’s a fun party game where everyone gets to ask “what were you thinking?” and having to explain just why an abstract ink blot with be fun to cuddle with. Simple, elegant, and lots of fun to play: definitely my favorite of the games.
One important thing to note is the high quality production that all the games posesses. The tiles in Living Labyrinth and Toboggans of Doom are thick and sturdy. All the cards are of decent laminated stock with full color artwork. The boxes are slick and well put together. I have some quibbles about the layout and editing of the rulebooks, but they get the job done (and are head and shoulders above other new companies).
The advantage of having so many games released (and on the schedule) is that while some may have needed some more work, the consumers can be choosy about what type of game they want and pick the ones that work well for them. There are a few titles on the list that I’m looking forward to (especially Top Ten, a game I tried to invent years ago), and as long as they get some more playtesting in, I think they’ll produce some fine new games.