PuzzleNation Product Review: Vault Assault

There is no rivalry in the world of make-believe more iconic than cops versus robbers, and rarely has that classic dynamic been as frenetic and as fast-paced as it is in the dice game we’re reviewing today, Vault Assault.

The goal of the robbers is to acquire as much wealth as possible and then escape before the cops arrive. The goal of the cops is to minimize the amount the robbers acquire/get away with and capture the robbers before they can escape.

Each round, the players will portray both the cops and the robbers, allowing players opportunities to both rack up lots of ill-gotten gains and minimize the loot captured by the other players.

Each round consists of two phases: the Diamond Heist and the Vault Assault.

In the Diamond Heist phase, the cops and robbers each line up five of their dice. (The cops do so secretly, laying out an arrangement of three alarm symbols, one dye-pack symbol, and one diamond symbol in any order they choose.) The robbers lay out five wire symbols, and then choose one to flip, trying to match the one they flip to the diamond symbol the cops have secretly chosen.

Essentially, the Diamond Heist is part strategy, part luck as the robbers try to steal the diamond by cutting wires to the security system, while the cops lay dye-pack traps to ensnare the robbers. Either the cops will begin the Vault Assault with an advantage or the robbers capture a diamond tile as part of their loot.

[In this scenario, the robbers chose poorly, and triggered the alarm, meaning that the cops will start with one die already rolled when the Vault Assault starts. The robbers could have opted to flip another die in the hopes of finding the diamond, but in the end, they opted not to risk giving the cops a greater advantage.]

Once the Diamond Heist phase is concluded, the Vault Assault begins, and the game kicks into another gear.

Tenzi- or Yahtzee-style dice rolling and quick decision-making become crucial as both cops and robbers try to roll specific patterns in order to complete tasks. As the robbers roll to steal from the vault (or each other), to interfere with the cops, or to escape, the cops are trying to complete rolls in order to fuel up, arrive at the crime scene, engage the robbers, and arrest them.

Both sides roll their dice at the same time, making for an incredibly chaotic and fun play experience that simulates the kind of stress you might be under if you were really robbing a bank and trying to get out before the cops arrived. Between robbers filling their coffers (and forcing the cops to reroll their dice) while the cops confiscate some of the stolen loot while trying to arrest the bad guys, it’s a very competitive and adrenaline-inducing sequence of events.

In this scenario, the cops have two out of the four doughnut symbols up (meaning they’re halfway to completing the first task en route to arresting the robbers). But they also have two dye-packs up, and two more dye-packs would allow them to remove several Vault Tiles from the robber’s stacks, meaning the robbers would have less loot. Would you choose to keep rolling for doughnuts or to hamper the robbers with dye-packs?

On the robber side, they have three targets, meaning they’re one away from stealing a Vault Tile from another player and adding to their loot. But they also have a green hostage symbol up, which they can put aside in order to make the cops immediately reroll all of their dice. Would you choose to go for the steal or to disrupt the cops’ efforts?

In addition to all that interplay, some of the vault tiles also trigger actions that can hamper your gameplay. A handcuffs symbol, for instance, means you have to roll your dice with your wrists together until the end of the turn (as if you’re handcuffed). These little roleplay-centric details add a playful edge to the game, injecting a bit of silliness into gameplay that could otherwise turn somewhat cutthroat.

One several rounds have elapsed, the players (both cops and robbers) total up the value of the loot in their getaway cars, and the player with the highest total wins. Oh, and those Diamond Heist tiles? They’re worth $40,000 apiece!

[With Vault Tiles ranging in value from 0 to $20,000, a diamond tile could be a real game-changer for your loot total at the end of the game.]

Vault Assault is less about long-term strategy and more about being able to make good decisions in the heat of the moment. If you’re able to put your puzzly mind to work making the most of the dice rolls in front of you — both to increase your profits and hamper your opponents, whether you’re a cop or a robber at the time — then you’ll probably come out ahead.

Of course, that’s more of a one-on-one mindset. And with three-player and four-player/team rules to allow for different combinations of players, you can implement some wider strategic gameplay. In three-player games (1 cop and 2 robbers), have one robber focus on hampering the cops while the other raids the vault (and then switching, so both robbers can cash in). In four-player/team games (two cops, two robbers), one cop can focus on recovering stolen goods while the other works on arresting players. There’s plenty of fun to be had with the format.

Can you cash in, hold the cops at bay, and make your escape, or will the cops nab you and all your ill-gotten goods before you make it out the door? And in the end, will you make a better cop or a robber?

[Vault Assault, published by Inside Up Games, is available through their website, as well as certain online retailers.]


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Get the MacGuffin

[Note: I received a free copy of this product in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

There are all sorts of different card games out there. Some require you to empty your hand of cards before your opponents can. Some are about accumulating the right cards to accomplish certain tasks, reach certain totals, or match certain patterns and images.

Today’s card game is a little different, because it’s not about emptying your hand, accomplishing goals, or matching images… it’s all about outlasting your opponents.

In today’s product review, we explore the latest offering from the crew at Looney Labs: Get the MacGuffin.

At first glance, this might simply seem like a scaled-down version of Fluxx. You have action cards (which affect how you and other players play the game) and object cards (which are placed down in front of you, like the Keepers and Creepers in Fluxx).

As you might expect from the name of the game, getting the MacGuffin is a worthwhile accomplishment, but it’s not the true endgame here. It’s just one very attractive way to reach the endgame.

Between the action cards and object cards, you’re simply trying to keep cards in your hand or in play in front of you while your opponents whittle down their own meager stashes of cards. If you run of cards, you’re out of the game.

And this happens faster than you’d think. With only 23 cards in the deck — 7 object cards and 16 action cards — you could run out of cards in only a few turns. You see, each player starts with the same number of cards. But there’s a big difference between the minimum number of players (two, which means you each get 5 cards, leaving 13 cards out of play) and the maximum number of players (eleven, which means you each get 2 cards, leaving 1 card out of play).

The cards vary wildly in value. Some are very silly; play The Shrugmaster, for instance, and you simply shrug, using up a turn. Otherwise, you don’t affect the game or the other players in any way.

Compare this to a valuable card, like The MacGuffin, which can be picked up and played again over and over. As long as you have that card in play in front of you, you will always have another turn. In a game where every turn can cost you cards, The MacGuffin is a powerful card to wield.

Players familiar with Fluxx will find some of the actions and object card powers familiar, as they allow you to randomly remove cards from other players’ hands, swap cards (or hands) with other players, and even block other cards from being used.

The balance of cards and actions is impeccable. While some cards are very influential, there is always another card in the deck that can remove it, shift it, or neutralize it. (For every MacGuffin, there is not only a Backup MacGuffin, but also a Fist of Doom.)

This adds tons of replay value to a card game that at first blush might seem limited. But the level of card interaction — like the Rock, Paper, and Scissors cards pictured above — make each game an unexpected treat.

Plus it’s a hugely different game based on the number of players. With a big group, you need to be more aggressive, because you could run out of cards in a few minutes. With a smaller group — or just a pairing — you have to strategize more, protecting your valuable cards while trying to prevent your opponents from taking advantage early. Or, heaven forbid, getting the MacGuffin.

Not only that, but the art on each card is terrific. The random characters on the object cards in particular — everyone from The Merchant and The Spy to The Thief and The Assassin — hint at a larger narrative, a bigger storytelling world that the game seems to only scratch the surface of. They feel like the misfits from a particularly wacky Guy Ritchie heist movie, adding a fun element of whimsy to the often-dastardly proceedings.

Get the MacGuffin is a quick-play game that you’ll want to play over and over again.

[Get the MacGuffin is available from Looney Labs and other participating retailers, starting at just $10!]


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Slapzi

slapzi

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

One of my favorite games that we featured in our New York Toy Fair posts was the dice game Tenzi. The mix of strategy, luck, and quick reaction times made for a perfect storm of chaotic fun.

So, when I found out that the team behind Tenzi also had a card game, Slapzi, I figured it was worth a look.

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Slapzi’s concept is simple. There are two kinds of cards: picture cards and clue cards.

You are dealt five picture cards, each one bearing a picture of an object on the front and a picture of a different object on the back. Your goal is get rid of the five cards in your hand.

Each turn, a clue card is flipped over, revealing a quality of certain objects (“Not sold in a hardware store”) or a quality of certain objects’ names (“Two of the same letter together”).

You need to quickly look at your picture cards and determine which one fits the clue card. The first player to slap a picture card down over the clue card successfully gets rid of that card.

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The sheer variety of objects on the picture cards — ranging from “hammock” and “teddy bear” to “eagle” and “sandwich” — means that there are plenty of chances to match the clue cards as they come up, but only if your reflexes are fast enough.

The creators also included plenty of variant rules, including ones where you match two clue cards at the same time, ones where you avoid matching the clue cards, and even one where every clue card is in play at the same time, with all players racing to empty their hands first.

Naturally, we couldn’t resist putting a slightly puzzlier spin on the game by playing with only one side of each picture card available to players. This added a level of strategy to the game, since you had to decide which objects might prove most beneficial.

After all, if you don’t have a living creature in your hand, you could find yourself out of luck with many of the clue cards. This restrictive gameplay introduced a more tactical element than some of the other rule variants.

slapzi2

That being said, every version of the game that we tried was a lot of fun. The rush to slap cards down, the excitement as your hand dwindles, and even the occasional pause where someone tries to justify an odd choice (like “teddy bear” for “thinner than a pizza box” by arguing about teddies who have lost their stuffing) made for great moments and plenty of laughs.

If you’re looking for a quick-reaction card game for all ages with loads of variation for more strategic solvers, Slapzi is an excellent choice.

Slapzi is available on Amazon, at various online retailers like The Good Toy Group, and in stores now.


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Apps you can play in a snap!

stopwatch

Last week, I did a rundown of board games and card games you can play in under 15 minutes. Games that were travel-friendly were also highlighted, since they tend to be quick-to-play and easy-to-learn.

But when it comes to quick-play games that are travel-friendly, you can’t get much easier or more accessible than the puzzle and game apps on your phone! Whether you’re stuck in traffic, trapped at the dentist’s office, or hiding in the bathroom during a family gathering, these are always ready to play!

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Naturally, we have to start with the Penny Dell Crossword App! Not only do you have smart navigation to move you to partially filled-in entries and dozens upon dozens of the best crosswords around, but there’s the free daily puzzle for all app users! Plus, it’s available for both Android and iOS users!

farkle

For the dice game fans in the readership, Farkle is a quick-play version of Yahtzee. You roll six dice, looking for three of a kind, three pairs, and other key combinations in order to earn points. It’s an easy game to pick up whenever you wish, making it ideal for players on the move.

wordbrain

If you’re a word seek or word search enthusiast, Wordbrain might be right up your alley. This Boggle-style game is all about finding words spelled out in grids. As the grids get bigger, more words are hidden inside, and the difficulty level increases. But when it comes to quick-play games, the early rounds of Wordbrain are tough to match for sheer speed.

[The Boggle variant Ruzzle was also mentioned by several PuzzleNationers.]

7littlewords

7 Little Words is a clued puzzle where you assemble the answers from two- and three-letter chunks in the grid below. It’s a clever variation on crosswords, and it can be surprisingly challenging to cobble together the correct words when you stare at odd letter combinations like NHO or OOV.

minimetro

For a quick-play resource management game, there’s Mini Metro. It’s up to you to construct and maintain a subway line for commuters. The more you can deliver between stations efficiently, the better. It’s a bright, colorful, engaging way to test your puzzly skills.

[Other puzzly building games include Triple Town, where you combining matching items in threes to build up a neighborhood into a town, and City2048, which applies the same tile-matching as the number game 2048, but in order to build a city.]

bejeweled_007

Bejeweled Blitz also got several recommendations from members of the PuzzleNation readership. It offers the same pattern-matching that made Bejeweled and Candy Crush such big hits, but does so with only sixty seconds of gameplay. So if you’re looking for some match-3-style gaming without a big time commitment, this might be the puzzle app for you.

reallybadchess

Finally, we’ve got Really Bad Chess, a puzzly take on the classic game. The main difference? You don’t know what pieces you’re going to end up with until you start a match. It completely upends most of the strategy that goes along with traditional chess, which makes it endlessly replayable.

Honorable mentions go to QuizUp (a Trivial Pursuit-style trivia game) and Joon Pahk’s Guess My Word, as well as all the board game adaptations like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Splendor, that experienced players could play quickly, but don’t necessarily fit the bill.

Are there any favorite quick-play apps of yours that I missed? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!


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Games you can play in a snap!

stopwatch

What’s a puzzler to do when you’re in the mood to play a game, but you don’t have oodles of time available?

You simply don’t have an opening in your schedule wide enough to accommodate a multi-hour bout of Monopoly or a world-endangering round of Pandemic, but you still want a satisfying bit of gaming. Or perhaps you’re traveling and you don’t have room for all the bits and bobs that come with Escape: The Curse of the Temple or the set-up of Burgle Bros.

Well, reach for a quick-play game instead.

I define a quick-play game as any game you can set up and play in 20 minutes or less. Quick-play games can be large or small, travel-friendly or less-than-travel-friendly, but they’re all wrapped up in a pretty tight time limit.

And so, today, I’ll run through some terrific quick-play games. Some are favorites of mine, and others are suggestions from members of the PuzzleNation readership.

Let’s get cracking!


tsuro

If you’re looking for a quick, relaxing game, Tsuro might be right up your alley. A tile-placement game where up to 8 players take control of flying dragons whose paths intersect, the goal is to stay on the board the longest.

Now, you do need a bit of space to play Tsuro, so it’s not really travel-friendly, but it’s easy to learn and a very satisfying way to pass 10 or 15 minutes.

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For a more travel-amenable game that still requires a bit of space to play, you’ve got Bananagrams. The popular variation of Scrabble is perfect for airplane tray tables or intimate tables at the bar if you’re looking for a few speedy rounds of anagramming.

justdesserts loonacy

Loonacy and Just Desserts are two Looney Labs offerings that can easily slip into a backpack pocket and satisfy up to five players looking to kill 10 minutes or so.

Just Desserts is all about keeping hungry customers happy by matching symbols in your hand to treats they’d enjoy. It’s all about making the best use of the ingredients in your hand to serve treats to as many customers as possible. You’ll probably end up with a sugar craving after five or ten minutes of play.

Loonacy is a fast-reaction pattern-matching game that’s sure to get your adrenaline pumping, as you race to empty your hand of cards before your opponent can. Definitely a solid choice for spicing up a boring wait.

spaceteam

For five minutes of guaranteed puzzly chaos, there’s Spaceteam.

It’s up to you and your fellow players to work together to fix numerous malfunctions on your spaceship, and you have to share your tools to do so. But with everyone talking at once and all sorts of obstacles in your way, things get hectic very quickly. Of course, that only adds to the ridiculous fun of it all.

timeline-game

For a bit more of a thinker, give the Timeline series a shot. Combining short play times with serious replayability, Timeline is all about emptying your hand of cards by properly placing them in a timeline you and your fellow players build. Did the invention of the toothbrush come before or after the invention of the telegraph? You probably don’t know the exact dates, but having a general idea will get you pretty far.

The small metal tins make them easy to transport and stash away where needed. (I have one in my desk as I write this.)

loveletter

In terms of portability, you can’t get much smaller than Love Letter or one of its many variants. A card game all about deduction and luck, you’re trying to get your love letter into the princess’s hands before one of your rivals can. And with only 16 cards in the entire deck, every action is crucial.

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For sheer speed, it’s hard to top Falling.

The entire game only takes about 90 seconds to play, and the idea is simple: every player is plummeting from the sky, and the last player to hit the ground wins. So as the dealer keeps going round and round, adding cards to your pile and coming ever close to dropping those final few GROUND cards, it’s up to you to delay the inevitable as long as possible.

Morbid? A bit. But fun? Oh yes. And the deck is only slightly thicker than your average deck of cards.

cards

Of course, for variety of gameplay, it’s hard to beat that average deck of cards. Games like Speed, Slapjack, and other fast-reaction games can be whipped up in a snap for those who don’t have the patience or the time for Hearts, War, or Go Fish.

But as you can see, there are plenty of other options out there for some quick, puzzly fun.

Are there any favorite quick-play games of yours that I missed? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!


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