PuzzleNation Product Review: Deluxe Pairs and BRAWL

[Note: I received free copies of these games in exchange for fair, unbiased reviews. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

Today, we’re looking at two card games that demand very different approaches to player strategy. The first requires you to patiently and craftily outlast your fellow players, while the other focuses on outmaneuvering your opponent as quickly as possible.

Today, we’re reviewing Deluxe Pairs by Hip Pocket Games and BRAWL by Cheapass Games.

The goal of Pairs is to avoid getting points, and you get points when you draw matching pairs of cards throughout the game.

It’s a bit like Blackjack, except the deck is designed to favor some cards over others. You see, a Pairs deck has one 1 card, two 2 cards, three 3 cards, and so on, all the way up to ten 10 cards. So not only is drawing a 10 dangerous because of its high point value, but it carries the additional risk of being more likely to come up in a deck than, say, a 2 or a 3.

As the dealer works his way around the table, you have the option to either fold or take a card. If you fold, you accept the lowest value card in play, and add those points to your total. If you take a card and end up with a pair, you end up with the value of that paired hand in your total.

The total score to avoid depends on the number of players, but the first person to reach or exceed that score loses, ending the game. So, essentially, this is less a game about winning and more a game about lasting longer than everyone else.

Deluxe Pairs expands on this idea by including a Companion Book with over 30 additional rulesets and variations. Originally, some of these variations were tied to Pairs decks of a specific theme (Deadfall was originally created for a wild west-themed deck, for instance).

But the revamped version of the Fruit Deck — the original Pairs deck — allows you to play all sorts of variations without needing those specialty decks.

BRAWL is about playing out combat in real time between two characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Each character’s deck is made up of hits, clears, blocks, bases, presses, and freezes. Your goal is to score as many hits as possible on your opponent by the time the match is over.

A match starts with each player placing one base card on the table. These represent combat encounters, so you need to play your hits, blocks, and other cards on the base cards for them to work. If you can’t play them, you must place them in your discard pile instead.

Hits and blocks are color-coded, so you have three different kinds: blue, green, and red. Once you’ve played one color on a base, you can only play further hits and blocks of the same color on that base. For instance, if there are only two bases up, and you’ve played a red hit on one and a blue hit on the other, then any green hit cards must be discarded until a third base is played.

Since your deck is shuffled, you won’t know what card you have to play until you draw it, making for a hectic game that mixes strategy with luck and speed. The faster you can react and take advantage of the cards as they come up, the more likely you are to outmaneuver your opponent and score hits.

Once the freeze cards at the bottom of the deck come up, the match is over, and you count up the number of hits on each base. Whoever has more hits wins the base, and whoever wins the most bases wins the game.

Similar to Slapjack and other quick-reaction card games, but with greater options and depth of play, BRAWL is frenetic, but fun. And with six player decks to choose from, experimenting to see which decks work against other decks makes for some serious replay value.

For starting players, I highly recommend using the Bennett and Chris decks in training mode, since they’re more balanced and forgiving for newer players, and the turn-based nature of training mode helps build confidence and experience in spotting opportunities for using your cards.

As you grow more familiar with the game’s mechanics, you can experiment with the nuances of the other characters, as well as introducing additional speed AND additional players in tournament mode.

I thoroughly enjoyed both of these games. They were very different play experiences, obviously, but both forced me to think tactically while remaining quick on my feet. Both games would be welcome additions to any puzzler’s social game collection.

Deluxe Pairs is available here from Hip Pocket Games and the six BRAWL character decks are available here from Cheapass Games. And both of these games are featured in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

Next week, we’ll be reviewing another game from the Cheapass Games library: Dr. Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted.

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