Ca$h ’n Gun$
Because don’t we all just want to point guns at our friends and pull the trigger? Of course we do! Ca$h n’ Gun$ takes place in the aftermath of a major bank robbery, and you and your partners in crime have all met back up at your secret warehouse to divvy up the goods. It seems, however, that no one can agree on what exactly constitutes their fair share. You expended a lot of ammo in the getaway, but you know you’re still packing enough heat to walk away rich. Of course, it seems like the rest of these jokers have the same idea…
At the start of Ca$h n’ Gun$, each player picks a crook, a foam pistol, and a deck of eight bullet cards. Five are blanks (Click), two are bullets (Bang!), and one is a special sneak attack (Bang! Bang! Bang!). The money is spread out face-down in the center of the table and, each round, five banknotes are turned face up for you to fight over. Each player then selects one of their bullet cards (each card is only used once) and, on the count of three, everyone points their gun at one of the other dirty, stinking rats at the table. On a second three-count, anyone who wants to wuss out can lay down in surrender. Then, the remaining players reveal their cards—first the Bang! Bang! Bang! cards (they got the jump on everyone else), then anyone who played a Bang! (and didn’t just get shot).
Anyone who gets hit takes a Wound token (three Wounds and you’re out of the game), anyone who backed down takes a Shame token (worth negative $5000), and all players that are still standing get to divide up the loot for the round.
Ca$h n’ Gun$ is a game that every newcomer feels ridiculous playing for about two minutes before falling completely in love. The early rounds are always quiet, with everyone trying to keep a mental balance sheet of who has used which cards, until around Round 3 or 4, when the trash talk begins to fly and you realize that winning is just as much about getting inside someone else’s head and making them believe that you’ve got a bullet pointed at their eyeball, no matter what the math in their head is telling them.
It includes variants that grant players special powers or make someone an undercover cop (if you really want to get into that Tarantino vibe). I’ve even seen session reports online where people replace the foam guns with squirt guns or cap guns—it’s that kind of game. This is a perfect filler after a heavy session of something like Power Grid or Puerto Rico. Shoot your buddies, make some money, and satisfy that inner longing for a Mexican Standoff. And, seriously: you get foam guns! How awesome is that?
$29.95, 4-6 Players
Designed by David Ausloos
Published by Stronghold Games
The year is 2220 and Earth has lost contact with the mining colony of Recon-6, located on a small planet at the edge of known space. A scout team was sent out to investigate. They never returned. A squad of marines was sent next and transmitted small bits of intel before they, too, disappeared without a trace. Now it’s down to you: a highly trained group of mercenaries known as the Extermination Squad.
Upon arrival at Recon-6, you are told what little is known: the colony has been overrun with parasites and the only way to curb the infestation is to work together to find the Hive, deep in the bowels of the station, and burn it out of existence. However, there’s evidence of something else down there, too: rumors of a virus that can spread at a touch and will turn you against your friends. Feeling prepared but uncertain, you, your teammates, and your telepathically-linked android partners descend towards the colony dubbed Panic Station.
On the way down, a blast of interference fries your ship’s navigation—it spirals, spins, and crash lands on the planet. Everyone is thrown from the wreck. You awaken, unharmed but missing most of your equipment. After regrouping with everyone else, you inventory what’s left. The verdict: not much. There’s nothing left to do, however, besides press on and get the job done. No one’s coming back for you otherwise.
So begins Panic Station, a paranoia-driven co-op game from David Ausloos. Each player controls two pawns on the board: a human and an android (to whom you are biologically and telepathically linked). Each human has a flamethrower, which you’ll need to destroy the Hive, and each Android has a firearm, which you’ll need to fend off threats. Along with the other players, you will explore the station one room at a time; gathering equipment, destroying parasites, and searching for the Hive.
Soon after the game begins, however, one of you will receive a Host card and become infected with the parasite virus. Once infected, you will secretly work against the other players and try to infect them as well. Infected players can only win if you can infect everyone else or can stop them from finding the Hive and torching it.
Each time you enter a room that contains another player, you have two options: exchange a card with that player or attack that player. Attacking is tempting when you’re unsure of someone’s loyalty, but ammo is scarce and the map is small—you’ll be running into each other a LOT. If you exchange cards, you run the risk of receiving an Infection card, which means you, too, are now secretly working for the parasites. The only way to stop from being infected is to pass off a Gas Can card to the other player during the exchange, which are the very cards that the human players need to hold onto in order to win.
It’s a mechanic that does a great job creating tension, fear, and mistrust, both for the player (“I’m pretty sure Bob was on my side the last time I saw him, but I know he crossed paths with Dave in the other room a few turns ago…”) and for the Infector, as you will almost certainly be called out to everyone else at the table if you screw up your infection attempt.
In the name of preserving secrecy, there are a couple of wonky rules that take some getting used to, but I think those are outweighed by cool mechanics like the Heat Scan, which will tell you how many people at the table are infected, but not who. I’ve had few gaming experiences as satisfying as watching someone’s eyes go wide when they discover they are the only person at the table who’s still a human being.
Fiddly rules aside, Panic Station offers a unique experience that plays relatively quickly (about 45 minutes). If you’re looking for an unsettlingly good time, I can’t recommend this game highly enough.
Fortune and Glory: The Cliffhanger Game
$99.95, 1-8 Players
Ages 12 and Up
Designed by Jason C. Hill
Published by Flying Frog Games
Okay, I’m going to start this off with a disclaimer: Fortune and Glory costs $100.00. If you have the choice of watching Raiders of the Lost Ark or buying Fortune and Glory for $100.00, please please PLEASE just go watch Raiders. I’m about to give this game a hearty recommendation, but I just can’t tell anyone that it’s worth spending that much money for. I dig it, but I don’t one-hundred-dollars dig it.
With that said: man, I have a good time playing this game. Fortune and Glory is an epic game about treasure hunting in the 1930’s and has all the accouterments to really make you feel it. It comes in a massive box, is played on a huge tri-fold board, and comes with 165 sculpted miniatures. It is, simply put, a beautiful board game. It even has a soundtrack CD!
Each player assumes the role of a 30’s hero or heroine, like Sharon Hunter, Daring Photographer; Doctor Zhukov, Master of Science; Jake Zane, Flying Ace; and Jacques Moreau, Tomb Robber. The characters have their own Home cities, unique special abilities, and different skill ratings in Combat, Agility, Cunning, and Lore. The board is populated by Artifacts waiting to be discovered, which are generated by drawing two cards: one from the Artifact deck (which tells you the worth of the item and contains nouns like “The Armor”, “The Crown” and “The Amulet”) and one from the Adventure deck (which tells you how dangerous the object will be to retrieve and contains adjectives like “Of Darkness”, “Of Hades”, and “Of the Cursed Eye”). The combination of cards creates something that not only sounds cool, but changes from game to game, depending on what gets drawn.
Once the board is set, players race from location to location and brave the Dangers that await them by drawing cards from the Danger deck. The double-sided cards in the Danger deck are the main game mechanic of Fortune and Glory. The “Danger” side presents an obstacle to overcome, which usually involves rolling dice equal to one of your Skills (i.e. an Ancient Puzzle makes you rely on your Lore rating). If you succeed, you earn Glory and push onto the next Danger. If you fail, you flip the card over to it’s “Cliffhanger” side, which contains one last chance to save yourself (i.e. “Walls Closing In”, where you can try to roll based on your Lore again or try a different solution using your Cunning). In true cliffhanger fashion, however, you won’t be allowed resolve this new peril immediately—once you’ve read the card, you’re forced to sit on your hands and wait until your next episode… er, game turn before you can find out how things turned out.
As you accumulate Glory (the game’s currency) and Fortune (the game’s victory points), you will also find yourself acquiring sidekicks, buying new gear, dodging Mafioso enforcers, and trading blows with Nazi stormtroopers who get dropped off by the War Zeppelin that patrols the board. Add all that to Dangers like car chases, kidnappings, jungle treks, and nightclub rendezvous with mysterious femme fatales and it makes for hours of grand, pulpy fun.
I feel the need to make one more disclaimer, though: Fortune and Glory has also been a very divisive game since it’s release. It is NOT a game of calculated strategy and decision making, and it is NOT a game for anyone who likes to outthink and outplay an opponent. Nearly everything in Fortune and Glory is dictated by a random die roll or card draw—you take the first couple of steps and then just sort of ride the wave. If hefty games like Twilight Struggle and Age of Steam are your style, then I implore you to save your hard-earned money. But if you and your friends enjoy getting swept up in a theme and weaving stories about racing Nazi agents while traveling through the Heart of deepest, darkest Africa, then this is a game you will treasure.
$19.95, 1 Player
Ages 12 and Up
Designed by Friedmann Friese
Published by Rio Grande Games
Unlike the other games on this list, Friday is not a game you play with others. Friday is a solo game, which takes about 25 minutes and is a perfect way it kill some time while waiting for the pizza delivery guy to show up.
In Friday, you play a happy-go-lucky native of a remote tropical island, whose idyllic life is turned upside down when a bedraggled shipwreck survivor named Robinson shows up at your front door. He’s well-meaning, but he’s scrawny and stupid and clearly about three minutes away from getting himself killed. Being the nice guy you are, you take it upon yourself to try and teach Robinson how to adapt to island life.
The game is played with 22 life counters and three decks of cards: the Hazard deck, the Robinson deck, and the Aging deck. The Hazard deck contains cards that are two-sided, showing the dangers Robinson will face on one side (exploring the jungle, wild animals, cannibals, etc) and the valuable skills he can learn on the other. The Robinson deck contains numbered cards that represent all the skills Robinson currently possesses—it starts out quite pathetic, but can be strengthened over time. The Aging deck contains ten very negative cards that will be slowly added into the Robinson deck the longer you take to get him off the island.
It’s a clever twist on the Deck-Building game, which has been all the rage in boardgaming for the past three or four years but is pretty much unknown outside the hobby. In a deckbuilder, each player starts out with the same small, relatively weak deck of cards and must use the resources those cards provide to purchase new cards from a selection in the middle of the table. Any new cards you buy are added to your discard pile, so when you reshuffle, they become available to use. As the game progresses, you slowly construct a deck that fits your play style, trying to keep it versatile enough to be consistently useful but not let it get so bloated that your really good cards go missing for long periods of time.
A typical turn in Friday takes that basic mechanic and puts a spin on it: first, you draw two of the two-sided Hazards and decide which one Robinson should attempt. Each Hazard tells you how many cards Robinson will draw, what skill he will gain if he defeats it, and what Target number those cards need to add up to in order for him to win. You then draw the appropriate number of Robinson cards and see what happens.
If Robinson reaches the Target number, he beats the Hazard and flips the card to it’s reward side. The reward is added to the Robinson deck discard pile, so the next time his deck is shuffled he will have the new card available to use.
If Robinson doesn’t reach the target number of the Hazard, he can either sacrifice a life counter to draw an extra card (you can do this as often as you like to try and pass) or he can accept the loss and take damage.
At the start of the game, Robinson will fail often and take damage constantly, because his deck is mostly full of 0’s (“weak”) and -1’s (“distracted”). It’s okay— failure in Friday is not always a bad thing. He’ll lose life points when he loses a challenge, but you’ll also get the opportunity to remove the bad cards from his deck. Slowly but surely, as you strip the Robinson deck of the “weak” and “distracted” cards, he’ll lose less often and you’ll begin adding in reward cards from conquered Hazards. You must be careful, though: Robinson will die if you let him fail too often, but spending lots of cards to ensure victory all the time will eventually force you to add in Aging cards (which are harder to get rid of and can really screw up your plans).
If Robinson can survive through the Hazard deck three times (it gets harder each time as the Target number to beat Hazards increases after each reshuffle), he’ll need to face two pirate ships that come to the island. If his deck can defeat the two pirate ships, Robinson sails home for good and you win!
For those who like deckbuilders already, Friday is an interesting take on a mechanic that’s maybe starting to get a little stale. Those who haven’t are probably better off starting elsewhere, but will still probably find that this game has a lot to offer. Make no mistake, though– Friday is no light, jokey filler. This sucker is TOUGH. I’ve played it about half a dozen times just on the “Easy” setting and haven’t actually beaten it yet. The “real” game (as the rules call it) looks nothing short of frightening. However, as I become more clever in my planning and learn how to better balance the risk and reward, I can feel my strategy get a little bit tighter each game and can see Robinson edging a little closer to victory. I have no doubt that I will win eventually and some day get to see my stupid little shipwrecked friend sail back to civilization. I don’t know when that day will be exactly, but I know the feeling of accomplishment will be worth my $19.95.
Pictures courtesy of Repos Productions, Stronghold Games, Flying Frog Games, Rio Grande Games, and http://www.boardgamegeek.com