Tuesday, February 2, 2010

2.5: Simultanous action speed Games

Down to the wire, but it's here and on time.  Not much gaming this week, but I did do a little work in the loft, aka My Game Room.  See if you can guess what next week's topic is.

Also, you may have noticed that the posts include a number, for instance, this post is "2.5".  This simply means this is the 5th post of the second year of this blog, and I hope this serves as a way to keep track of each post.  I'll probably spend a little time in the near future numbering all the old posts as 1.whatever. 

Most games require that players take turns--Player A rolls the dice and moves his pieces, Player B rolls the dice and moves her pieces, Player C, Player D...  The type of games I'll talk about today are Simultaneous action speed games, sometimes simply called "Speed Games" or "Real Time" games.

These function exactly as they sound--all players act at the same time, and attempt to do so quickly.  Many may be familiar with a card game using a standard deck of cards, I learned it as "Speed;" in this game the deck of cards is dealt between two players, and players attempt to get rid of their cards by playing to a common pile, playing numbers in sequence.  This game is frenzied, fast and fun (sorry, that alliteration was unintended), and perhaps best of all it takes only a few minutes to set up and  play--this is a general trend in these types of games.

Interestingly, both games I'm covering today are by the same company, Cheapass Games. A quick note on Cheapass Games--they have an interesting concept for their games, that is, you can get dice, pawns, money, and other stuff that makes a game expensive from your other games.  As such, if you purchase one of their games, you are basically buying rules, cards and a board (printed in black and white on cardstock).  The games are  clever and quite humorous, and usually run $6 or less.  That said, they did have a line of games that were printed in color, as are the two games presented here.

Brawl was designed by James Ernest, and first published in 1999.  It is a two-player game, and each player needs a deck in order to play.  The game is currently out-of-print, but it can be purchased from Paizo; while the decks were originally around $6, they appear to be on sale for around $2.50.  There were 16 decks printed for this game, each representing a different character.  It is possible to play the same character against itself--of course each player would need a copy of that character.  There is also a 17th character available as a free download, so if you're interested, you can print two out and give it a try. 

The theme of the game is that of a street-fight, and the gameplay is simple; each deck has a combination of bases, hits, blocks, clears, and three freezes.  The game starts with two bases out, one for each player, and are the points of contest.  There can never be more than three Bases out at a time, and never less than one.  Hits come in three colors, Red, Blue and Green; each of these cards counts as one point (some characters have some Hit 2 cards, which is worth two points), and whoever has the most points on their side of each Base when the Freeze cards come up (or the owner of the base if there is a tie) wins that base--whoever has the most Bases wins.  Playing a Hit on an opponent's side is an option, and can be a strategic play--once a Hit is played on a Base, all further Hits on that side must be in the same color.  If you know that some characters have a low number of a color, you can play that color to their side.

Blocks are played on an opponent's side, and must be played on a Hit and in the Hit's color.  They do exactly what they say, preventing any further cards being played on that side.  Clears are also aptly named, they eliminate a base and everything on it from the game, but can only be played on the left or right Base; if there is a Base in the middle, it is essentially protected.  Obviously you'd want to play these on a base your opponent is winning.  Finally, the Freeze cards; these are always placed at the bottom of a deck, and once they are played nothing else can be placed on that base, and the game ends.

When the game begins, players draw the top card of their deck, and either play it or discard it; yes, it's that simple.  You can probably see that there is a bit of strategy to this game, despite the 1-2 minutes it takes to play; there are even times you may want to delay the play of a card, or simply discard cards as quickly as possible if you have a solid lead.

I should note that the game started with six decks (Brawl), then had two subsequent sets (Brawl:  Club Foglio and Brawl:  Catfight--actual cat-girls, not girls fighting), which introduced a small number of additional card types with their own powers, such as one that cancels a Block. 

Now, from a street-fight to spaceship combat with Light Speed.  Light Speed was first printed in 2003 as part of their "Hip Pocket" line (which were games designed to, you guessed it, fit in your pocket), again designed by James Ernest.  It plays 2-4 players, takes around 5 minutes to play, and costs around $5...if you can find a copy.  This game is apparently out of print as well, though I know I've seen it recently on the shelf of more than one game store, and some online stores appear have copies.

In this game each player has a deck of ten ships, numbered from 1 to 10; the #1 ship is the smallest and fastest, and the #10 is the slowest and biggest--this will make sense in a moment.  Two asteroid cards are placed at the center of the play area and six tokens placed on each asteroid.  Each player shuffles their ten ships, and when play begins players place their ships, in whatever orientation they want, onto the playing area.  When one player has placed all their ships, they call "stop," and any players that have cards left in their hand are unable to play them.

And then chaos, I mean scoring, ensues.  Each ship has white, red, or green lasers (or a combination thereof) pointing from their turrets, white and red "shield" areas on the card borders, and one to four red dots that indicate the ship's health.  The white laser does one point of damage, the red two, and the green three.  The goal of the game is to score the most points by mining (shooting) the asteroids and by destroying opponent ships.  Here's where the ship numbers come into play--remember I said the #1 ship is the fastest?  The number indicates the ship's initiative, lowest numbers going first.  Thus, all #1 ships activate at the same time, shooting their single white and red laser.  Using some type of straight edge (the rules suggest a broken rubber band, which does work quite well), trace a path from the laser to the first object it hits.  If it is an asteroid, take a token from the asteroid and place it on the ship that shot it; if it is a ship, place a token in the shooting player's color onto the now-damaged ship, unless it strikes a "shield" area, in which case nothing happens. 

And that's pretty much it--ships continue firing in their initiative order until ship ship #10 shoots.  Any ships that take damage that equals or exceeds the number of health they have are destroyed immediately, and the ship card given to the player that delivered the most damage to it.  Keep in mind that this means it  is possible to destroy a ship before it's initiative has come up; for instance, if the #6 ship (with two health) is hit by the #3 ship's red laser, it is immediately removed from the board, and never gets to shoot.  Also, any ships that are carrying asteroid tokens must survive through all ten ship activations in order to score; if they are destroyed, the tokens are simply discarded.  When all is said and done, players score a point for each asteroid token, each health point of opponent ships destroyed, and minus a point for each health of their own ships they destroyed.

The scoring is fairly quick, but the real meat of the game is in the initial fast-playing part of the game.  Since your ships will come out in a random order, you have to decide quickly where to place it, whether you want it to mine or attack another ship, and if it will act before or survive a strike from another nearby ship--all while your opponents are doing the same.  Instances of one-upmanship abound, as players repeatedly place faster and faster ships next to each other in an effort to protect their own ships, and even this can lead to problems as ships are destroyed in scoring, and you find your lasers striking your own ships.

For whatever reason I find myself drawn to Speed games and Dexterity games.  Perhaps it's my fast reflexes, quick wit, steady hand, and glinting-white smile.  Maybe not.  Despite my own enjoyment, I do see some disadvantages to Speed games--the speed aspect somewhat limits the potential players.  Players who can't act quickly, or who have difficulty making quick assessments of the table, may not enjoy or simply be unable to play this type of game.  Playing with, say, your 80 year old grandmother, may not be possible--but that's your grandmother.  Mine was able to outrun the orderlies when the laundry truck opened the front gate.  But that's another story.

That's it for this week; I know the holiday season is over, but don't forget to support your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS).  If you do have an FLGS, that is a thing to cherish; don't forget that they need to pay the bills, too. 

Along those lines, I recently picked up a copy of the new Tyranid Codex for Warhammer 40k.  I won't talk about it, but let's just say that it involves playing with hundreds of little plastic figures--not dolls.

Images borrowed from Boardgamegeek.com.


  1. Are there any games of this style (Brawl was pretty popular at parties with non-gamers) that you'd recommend and aren't out-of-print?

  2. Despite being out of print, Brawl is still available at Paizo, and at a great price ($2.50 a deck). They also have FightBall, which is along the same lines and, guess what, published by Cheapass.

    You might also look for a game called Frenzy that was published by Fantasy Flight. When I've found it it was super-inexpensive, something like $3 for all four decks.