Gaming Bits: Board and Card Game Reviews

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Gaming Bits: Backstab Review

Jonathan Nelson
United States
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Backstab is a game by Dave Stawar, published by U.S. Games System. It is for 2-4 players. In this game, players will encounter hideous monsters and horrible traps in lots of different areas that they will then have to battle to gain valuable coins. Of course, they'll have to watch out as the other players can backstab them at any time forcing them to battle it out. The player that can withstand all the horrors and are able to collect the most coins will be declared the winner.

To begin, the action cards are shuffled together and 5 cards are dealt out to each player. The remaining action cards are placed face down on the table. Players are also given a 5¢ coin. The remaining coins are placed in a pile where everyone can reach them. Players receive 3 bacstab tokens which are placed in front of them with the black side up. The encounter cards are shuffled and 5 cards are pulled from the top of the deck and placed face down into a row in the center of the play area. The remaining encounter cards are set aside. The trump cards are shuffled and placed face down next to the encounter card row. The zone cards are shuffled and placed face down near the action deck. The top card is drawn and placed face up next to the first encounter card in the row. Play now begins.

The game is played in a series of rounds. Each round the players will face off against 5 different encounters. Each round begins with the first encounter card being flipped over. A card from the trump deck is then drawn and placed on top of the encounter card, partially covering it. These 2 cards provide the number value and suit identity of the encounter. Players then must match or beat the value of the card. This is done by checking the zone card to see which suits are stronger and which are weaker. Each player places their chosen card face down in front of them on the table. Once everyone has placed a card, the cards are revealed. If a player was able to meet or beat the encounter, they are able to draw a new action card and receive 1¢ from the bank. If a player loses the encounter they do not get to draw a new action card or gain money from the bank. Instead, they must face the next encounter with only 4 cards. This continues until the last encounter card has been resolved. Once this happens a new round begins.

To begin a new round, 5 new encounter cards are placed face down in a row just like before. A new zone card is drawn to replace the old one which is placed in the discard pile. Players with less than 5 cards are allowed to draw up to 5 new action cards. Players must then exchange any of their 1¢ coins with the equal value of 5¢ and 10¢ coins if possible. Used backstab tokens are flipped back over to their black side. Discarded cards are separated into the appropriate discard piles. With this done, the next round can begin.

Of course, I haven't mentioned the backstab tokens yet or how to use them. Backstabbing is much like facing an encounter, only against an opponent instead. It starts when a player decides that they want to attack another opponent, flipping over one of their backstab tokens to the red side. This can be done at any time even before an encounter is flipped over. Just like facing an encounter, players check the zone card for ranking. Players then choose a card from their hand and place it face down in front of them. Once both players have done this, the cards are revealed. The winner is decided. Repel cards are defensive and always win a backstab while dragon cards win against everything else. If 2 dragons are played and neither player win. The winner is then allowed to draw a new action card and take a 1¢ coin from the losing player. The losing player gets nothing.

There are a couple of special cards that need to be explained. Zone change cards are special action cards that can be played in a backstab or during an encounter. In both cases, the player plays the card face down. When the player reveals their card, they are then allowed to draw a new action card and replace the current zone card with a new one. The player then checks the new zone card and plays a new action card from their hand based on this new knowledge. Wins and losses are decided just like normal. Steal cards and trap cards are special encounter cards. Steal cards make each player to take an action card randomly from the player on their left or right depending on which card is revealed. The trap cards make each player roll the trap die. If the coin steal sign is revealed, they steal a 1¢ coin from another player. Zone change replaces the current zone card with a new one. Backstab makes the player backstab an opponent, unless they have no cards in their hand. In this case, the player must give 1¢ to the bank.

The game continues until a player has collected 25¢ worth of coins or more. The round must be played out till all 5 encounter cards have been resolved. If at the end of the round a player still has 25¢ or more, the game ends. Players add up their coins and the person with the highest coin value is the winner.

This game comes with a whole bunch of cards, some cardboard tokens and coins, as well as a special die. The cards are all really well designed and the artwork is really fun. The art itself reminds me of the Adventure Time TV series in the way that it looks. I really like all the different zone cards and how each one is different. The tokens are all thick cardboard and use really bright colors. It would have been nice if the coins had been made to look like actual coins or something of that nature instead of just having 1¢, 5¢ or 10¢ written on them. Still, it gets the job done and isn't that big of a deal. The trap die is really neat even though it appears to be screen printed instead of being engraved. I really like the unusual look to the game. The design is really unique and unusual. I like the oddness of it all. It's really cool.
8 out of 10

The rulebook is in black and white on a multi-folded sheet. There are lots of pictures and examples including setting up the game. Everything is easily understandable even though some of the concepts are broken up into different sections. The rules seem to bounce around quite a bit but it's nothing that will cause a lot of problem. This is mostly because the rules are so short and simple. If this was a bigger or more difficult game there could have been some real problems. As it is, I found the concepts to be simple enough that I didn't have much trouble with it. There does seem to be some mild humor in some of the examples which felt kind of odd as the rest of the rules didn't give me that feeling. I wasn't exactly thrilled with the look or layout of the rules but they get the job done. As it is, once you've read it, you shouldn't have much use for them afterwards except as a refresher or for set up.
6 out of 10

The game is very simple and rather fun that plays a lot like a trick taking game. Each round the zone will determine which suit is more powerful than the others. As the encounters are revealed, you'll have to be aware of what you can do with what you have and hope to save what could be your better cards for the next encounter. Of course, another player can always switch up the zone and completely mess up your well thought out plans. If that wasn't bad enough, the other players can backstab you to try and take your money and possibly cause you to lose a card if you don't win. The game can be quite cutthroat at times. Thankfully a player can only backstab 3 times a round. Of course that can still mess you up quite a bit if you have a bad hand. Luck does seem to play a fairly decent part of this game, both through the cards and the die roll for the traps. Even with all the chaos, the game is a pretty good little filler style card game. It plays around 30-45 minutes. I enjoy the weird humor and chaos of the game fairly well.
8 out of 10

Backstab is a light card game of trick taking with a bit of a take that feel, sprinkled with some hand management. The game doesn't take that long. Most sessions last around 45 minutes tops. The artwork is really unique and odd but still humorous and fun. It reminds me a lot of TV's Adventure Time. There's not really much of a theme to it, even though it seems to have wanted there to be one. I see what they were trying to do. I wish that the money tokens had actually looked like money instead of just round circles with a number on them. I also wish that the die had been engraved instead of screen printed as I fully expect the ink to rub off after lots of use. As for the game, it is really simple and doesn't take much to learn. The rulebook is a bit off and seems to jump around quite a bit from concept to concept. Thankfully the game is simple enough that it doesn't cause any problems. For a trick taking game, it's pretty solid though a bit chaotic with the use of the backstab mechanic. Luck plays a fairly large part in the game through the luck of the draw and dice rolls. Even though a lot of my thoughts seem negative, the game is quite fun. Yes, there are some things that could have been done better but for what it is, it's not bad. This is one that I'd recommend trying out first unless you really like trick taking games. In that case, I'd recommend it. In any event, it's definitely fun and worth playing. I enjoyed it.
8 out of 10

For more information about this and other great games, please check out U.S. Games System at their site.
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