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June 29, 2003

Favorite Games XIV

Just one game today, but it's a doozy...

Brawl is the other game supported by the website www.beatpeopleup.com, another Cheapass Games work of stunning simplicity and amazing originality all at once. Brawl is the second of three games Cheapass Games has released that fall into the "real time cardgame" category. That is, rather than politely waiting on your next turn, players in Brawl play as fast or as slow as they like, resulting in a game that can take less than a minute. If you don't think on your feet, this isn't for you... though the various decisions in Brawl are fairly straightforward, the game situation is ever-changing and you must keep up to use your cards to their best. As play progresses, you draw cards from your deck one at a time and decide if you should play it or discard it. The top of your discard pile is also available to pick up and play. In essence, though, you get your cards in random order and either use them or toss them away. It's fast and messy, and you have to make the right choice or a valuable card goes to waste.

At its base, Brawl is a game of trying to win the majority "base cards" by having more Hit cards on your side than your opponent does. Hit cards represent blows landed in the fistfight Brawl nominally recreates, so if you can connect the most, you win. However, when playing Brawl you must "follow suit" on cards, meaning that once the color you need to play on a base is established, you have to play cards that match that color. Hit cards come in three colors, and different characters have different mixes; sometimes it's even a good strategy to play a hit on your opponent's side of the table, just to lock that base into a color their deck is short on. There are several other types of cards, including Blocks (which prevent additional hits from being added until the block is dealt with), Nulls (which make the base they are played on worth nothing toward victory), Doubles (this base scores as two for victory), Reverses (which make the base they are played on score in reverse... fewest Hits wins), and more. Most dramatic are Clears, which let you sweep a base off to the side... it no longer exists for purposes of this game, and all cards played on it are out; characters with several Clears can be very difficult to overcome (though there are Hold cards that make a base Clear-proof). At the bottom of your deck are three Freeze cards; when played, these lock a base as it is (no more cards may be played on it). Once all bases are Frozen, the game is over and you can determine the winner. One common strategy in Brawl is to observe that you're currently winning and flip through your remaining cards as fast as possible, tossing straight to the discard so you can get to your Freeze cards. Best hope your observation is still valid when you're done, though.

Brawl is an amazingly fast game, to the point that it often takes longer to clean up the cards afterwards (as the two decks will get severely intermixed) than it did to play. However, card design is elegantly done to aid in this... Each card has large art of its fighter as the back, so it's quick to identify which card belongs in which deck. Also worth note is that each card identifies on its face how many like cards are in this deck, so you will know at once what you can expect in the future (without having to consult the website or count through your opponent's deck, neither of which are possible during a 20-30 second Brawl game). There are around 15 decks in print (including one featuring Ting Ting, a character from Shadowfist and Feng Shui who is a most righteous kicker of butts), and the earlier decks describe themselves as "easy", "moderate", or "advanced" so you can tell how tricky they are in play (essentially, how dependent they are on using cards other than hits and blocks to achieve victory); the Cat Girl set is considered all "moderate", so they aren't labeled. Balance is fairly good (the website identifies which decks people consider superior and why), and variety is high.

Learning to play takes minutes, playing takes seconds. What's not to love?

Posted by ghoul at June 29, 2003 06:54 AM

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Sounds like a fun one -- I'll have to pick up a copy.

Posted by: Scott at June 30, 2003 08:05 AM

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