Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fearsome Arena

Last night, I finally got the chance to play some boardgames after a gaming hiatus of about a month or more. The four of us (myself and my friends Kevin, Wally, and Hunter) played two games which were completely new to us: Fearsome Floors (by Friedemann Friese) and Colossal Arena (by Reiner Knizia).

What follows is my overall impression of each game...


The gist of Fearsome Floors is that each player controls a band of hapless travelers who have entered a gothic fortress that's home to a terrifying and very hungry monster named Furunkulus. You are attempting to move your group of travelers through this dungeon and escape out the exit before you're eaten by the monster and before your fellow players get their travelers to safety.

In a 4-player game, the first player to get 3 of his travelers safely out of the fortress wins the game, provided that the preset time-limit (14 turns) doesn't expire. So in essence, this is a race game with lots of suspense.

Movement is very straightforward for the travelers. They can move X number of squares horizontally/vertically when it's their turn to move. Move rates are listed on the traveler's playing pawn which is a 2-sided disc. The disc gets flipped over after moving, so a traveler's move rate increases and decreases from turn-to-turn. Travelers can hide behind stones scattered throughout the dungeon, or push them around to block or open up pathways. There are also blood pools that you can slide through to move faster.

Where the real fun lies is in the monster's movement. The slobbering Furunkulus moves towards the closest visible traveler. If he lands on your location, he eats you (gulp!). He can also squish you by pushing your pawn and the stone you're hiding behind into a wall. The monster also moves much farther than the travelers, can push mutiple objects ahead due to his immense strength, can step on magic portals to rapidly teleport to another location, and can even walk through walls and suddenly emerge into the midst of a throng of startled travelers on the opposite side of the dungeon! In short, he's a mean eating machine!

Strategically, you're not only trying to avoid having your travelers get eaten by the monster and outrace him to the exit door, but you're trying to goad old Funky into chasing down your opponents and turning them into lunchtime snacks. Sometimes this means sacrificing one of your travelers to ensure that a whole bunch of opposing travelers get eaten. Oftentimes, clever positioning will force the monster to alter his course, squishing opponents into walls, stepping on teleportation portals, or walking through walls to thwart travelers who thought they were in a safe spot. Sometimes, you have to screw over the other guy to survive!

I thoroughly enjoyed Fearsome Floors. Although the rules are on the simple side, this is a challenging mid-weight strategy game that plays in about an hour. There's lots of chaos which keeps things interesting (the dungeon floorplan is ever-changing and the hungry monster twists and turns a lot), and the light-horror theme lends itself to lots of laughs. I found myself cheering for Funky to "eat, eat, eat" whenever he rumbled towards my opponents' pieces.


The second game we played was Colossal Arena, a card game by the good Doctor himself, Reiner Knizia. In this game, mythical monsters are duking it out for supremacy in a gladiatorial arena. Eight monsters enter this grand free-for-all, but in the end, only 3 are left standing.

The fight lasts for 5 rounds. During this time, you are placing bets on the monsters who you think will make it out alive once the dust has settled. The earlier you place a bet during the monster slug-a-thon, the more risk you're taking, since there are more beasties still alive. But betting early potentially reaps big rewards. Bets placed later on in the competition are much safer, but pay out much less.

The cool part of Colossal Arena is that you have a direct hand in how the fighting turns out.

You have a hand of 8 combat cards which you may play onto the table to influence how well (or how poorly) a particular monster is faring in the fight. Each combat card identifies a monster and has a combat value of 0 to 10. During a round of combat, players are laying cards on the table, trying to allocate high valued cards to the monsters they want to win (those they've bet on) and low valued cards to those beasts who they want to suffer defeat (those of opposing players who have bet many chips on them).

There's an additional twist to all of this action. If you're the BACKER of a given monster (the person who has placed the highest bet on him), then you can use that monster's Special Power whenever you play a combat card associated with him. The special powers allow you to do all kinds of neat stuff like take cards from other players, play 2 combat cards, discard a combat card that someone has already laid on the table, draw extra combat cards, etc. Taking advantage of the unique abilities of the monsters you're backing adds a whole layer of nuanced strategy to the game that's easily overlooked when you're just learning to play the game. But to me, this variety is what truly moves Colossal Arena from a simple betting game to something great.

I'm not averse to "screw your opponent" type of games, and Colossal Arena is certainly that style of game. In order for your bets to payoff, you need to ensure that your behemoths come out on top, and that means whomping on your enemies in every way possible. This isn't a game to play with your Mother or those with tissue-thin sensitivity. Being a fantasy fan, I also love the monster slug-a-thon theme and it's successfully executed by gorgeous card art.

I highly recommend Colossal Arena. It plays fast (45-60 minutes), is highly interactive and never dull, and packs a lot of replay value for your $20 bucks. Go get it.

No comments: