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Subject: Stack & Attack - A Detailed Review rss

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This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.

Image Courtesy of egragame

Summary

Game Type – Deck Building Card Game
Play Time: 10-30 Minutes
Number of Players: 3-4 (Best with 4)
Mechanics – Deck Building, Action Point System, Hand Management
Difficulty – Pick-Up and Play (Can be learned in about 10 minutes)
Components – Very Good
Release - 2013

Designer – Jeremy Burnham (First Title)

Overview & Theme

It's the middle of the stone age and life has never been tougher for your Neanderthal tribe. It rains at the worst possible moments, food is scarce and anything with legs is generally trying to kill you.

Thankfully your peanut brain is working overtime and the tribe has found a saviour. So you look to the heavens and the gods that reside there who control the wind, sun and earth.

By building a tower to the sky you are sure you can appease the gods...only trouble is other tribes have a similar idea. The race is on!

Stack & Attack comes to us from small publisher Egra Games and this is their first self-published title. It looks to offer a few twists to the Deck Building genre and I like to shine the light on small companies from time to time.

Let's see if this game can stack up or if these designers have rocks in their head! Oh boy...shake

PS - Stack & Attack is yet to be fully released and will be Kickstarted sometime in the northern Summer of 2013.

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The Components

I don't usually comment on game components when a game isn't in full release, but the components I received in my Beta version of the game were very good. Consider my comments to be the base level of quality with the potential for a slight improvement upon full production.

d10-1 Playing Board – The game comes with 4 player boards to represent each player's stack of rocks or tower. Effectively each board is made up of a series of rows upon which Rock Cards can be played. Each board is labelled with a tower's height (from 1-15) and several heights remind players of the height rule for stacking rocks and the 3 bonuses that can be earned.

The boards are close to 30 centimeters long and feature pretty good thickness. Each board uses a single fold in the middle to help them fit into the box.


Image Courtesy of JeremyBurnham


d10-2 Rock Cards – There are two types of cards featured in the game, with the main one being Rock Cards. The game features 6 rock types in all and each card features some stats at the bottom.

The cards feature rounded corners and although not as thick as some games on the market I was pretty happy with the quality on offer.

Each Rock Card also features some flavour text, which adds to the theme and are humorous on some occasions.



Images Courtesy of JeremyBurnham


d10-3 Effect Cards – The Effect Cards are kind of like 'event cards' in many a game. They offer a power of sorts and in some cases break the rules of the game in some way.

There are 5 types of Effect Cards with two of each making for a total of 10 cards. The artwork is well done and in keeping with the theme and light weight of the game. The use of a grey solid background at the top of the cards helps to differentiate them from the Rock Cards.



Images Courtesy of JeremyBurnham


d10-4 Rules – The rules to the game do a pretty good of outlining everything although I had one or two queries before posting this up.

I fully suspect that the rules will get one final update before the game becomes widely available.

I have to admit that I've seen some fairly dodgy components to games in my time, especially from first time game designers and titles that are self-published.

Of course cost is always a factor for a small player in the industry but I'm happy to report that Egra Games have done an excellent job here and should be proud of how the game looks.


Image Courtesy of egragame


The Set-Up

Like many a deck builder, the players begin the game with a like set of starting cards in their deck.

So each player receives 3 small flat rocks, 3 small round rocks and 1 of each of the following; medium flat rock, medium round rock, big flat rock and big round rock.

Thus each player starts with a 10 card deck. Players then draw 3 cards to form their starting hand and each player places their board above their draw deck.

Finally the quarry is constructed. The quarry draw deck is shuffled and 5 cards are set out face-up to represent what is on offer. This is very much like other games such as Ascension or Legendary: Marvel, in which a common pool of cards are available for purchase.


Image Courtesy of JeremyBurnham

The Play

Play uses a turn based approach based upon action points. Each player starts the game with a total of 4 action points to use in their turn. Action Points cannot be saved up or carried over from turn to turn.

With these points the players can do any of the following –

d10-1 Spend Action Points – In this phase of a turn the players can do one of three things. They can; Stack Rocks, Purchase Rocks and Effect Cards from the Quarry or Throw Rocks.

They can do any of these options multiple times provided they do not spend more than 4 Action Points in a single turn.

mb Stack Rocks – This action allows a player to add a rock to their board (scoring track), from their hand. All a player needs do is to pay the action cost of the rock listed on the chosen card.

Multiple rocks can be stacked in a single turn if they have the action points required.

mb Purchase Rocks and/or Effects - This allows a player to buy any cards in the Quarry (central row of cards).

Again the action point cost listed on a card(s) must be paid to acquire a card.

All purchased cards are added to a player's discard pile, ready to be available on the next deck shuffle.

As each card is purchased a new card is immediately drawn from the Quarry Deck to replace it.

mb Throw a Rock - A player also has the option to throw a rock from their hand at another player's tower in the hope of knocking part of it down.

Again the action point cost of the card must be paid in order to take this action. This (attacking) is a little more involved so I will cover this a little further down after I've covered the basics. (See point 6)

d10-2 Ending a Turn – A player's turn will come to an end when they have spent all their action points or do not wish to do anything else with any leftover points, which can sometimes be the case.

To end a player's turn they must discard any leftover cards in their hand and then redraw another 3 cards from their draw deck.

Naturally a reshuffle will be required if there are not enough cards in a player's draw pile to replenish their hand to its maximum size and this is how newly acquired cards get into one's draw deck.

Turn over simple as that and fairly standard for a deck builder.

d10-3 Stacking Restrictions – Now there are a couple of restrictions and bonuses pertaining to a player's stack of rocks or tower.

Big Rocks - Big Rocks can only be added to a stack if it is currently at a height of 6 or lower.

Medium Rocks -
Medium Rocks can only be added to a stack if it is currently at a height of 11 or lower.

Small Rocks -
Small Rocks have no restriction at all and can be built at any height. Of course they are crucial as a player cannot reach the max height of 15 without Small Rocks.

d10-4 Stacking Bonuses – Each player's tower of rocks can also bestow them bonuses as they get closer to appeasing the gods.

Once a height of 4 is reached a player can draw +1 cards per turn, making for a 4 card draw each turn. Of course cards in hand and cycling though to more powerful cards are what deck builders are all about so this is mighty handy.

Once a height of 8 is reached a player earns a +1 action point, making for a total of 5 per turn. Action points of course allow a player to do more so this is most helpful also.

Once a height of 11 is reached a player gains the benefit of being able to keep 1 card in their hand from one turn to the next. This is fantastic as a given turn may see a player with not enough actions to do all that they want and be forced to throw away a card they would have loved to stack, throw or perhaps keep if it is an Effect Card.

These benefits are made available as soon as the required height is reached and can be used on the current turn.

d10-5 Winning the Game – If any player has reached a height of 15 hands they are declared the winner at the end of the round and they gain Rock-Star status among the cave dwellers. Sorry, couldn't help myself.

The other way to win is to simply have the tallest stack of rocks when the Quarry Draw Deck is exhausted (the last card is added to the Quarry).

d10-6 Throwing Rocks in Detail - Ok this is really quite simple so let's get to it.

First the attacker must declare who they are attacking and select a rock from their hand to throw. Provided they have the action points available the attack is a go.

They must then declare which rock in their target's stack they wish to aim for. There is one restriction here though and it is the same as the one above for stacking. A player cannot throw a Big Rock at a target above 7 height or a Medium Rock above a height of 12.

Once a target is selected the attacking player reveals their rock to be thrown.

Both players then declare how many cards they will draw from their draw deck to assist in their attack or defence. A player can call for 0, 1 or 2 cards. The attacker must declare first.

Once each player has drawn their cards it is time to calculate attack and defense strengths.

The attacker's strength is equal to the attack value of the thrown rock + the attack values of any drawn cards.

The defenders defence strength is equal to the defence of the targeted rock + the defence rating of all rocks above it in their tower + the defence values of any drawn cards.

The attacking player is successful if their attack is equal to or greater than the defence total, so attacking is given the slight edge in this game.

d10-7 Results of Battle – If the attack is successful then the thrown rock and the targeted rock are both removed to the Quarry discard pile. All rocks above the targeted rock are put into the defender's discard pile and they shake their head at the thought of having to build their tower up again and no doubt plot some form of revenge. angry

If the attack is unsuccessful then the attacker's thrown rock is placed into the defender's discard pile (which is great thematically as it equates to a tribe having a rock thrown at them and simply picking it up for their on ends). I love that and of course it has implications on how players can manipulate their deck and the decks of others.

Deliberate failed attack anyone to put some crud into another player's deck? cool

All cards that were drawn to boost attack or defence are simply placed in their owner's discard pile.

The Appeal of Stack & Attack - What's it got Going for It?!

Image Courtesy of JeremyBurnham

Let's be honest, the deck building genre is becoming rather crowded these days and there are already many established franchises to choose from. Thankfully Stack & Attack has a number of things to like -

d10-1 Great Integration of Theme and Play - Unlike some games, you do actually feel like you are trying to build the tallest stack of rocks as quickly as possible. The way that rocks must be stacked makes total sense (generally speaking the biggest at the bottom) and when attacking a stack, the weight on top of the rock you target adds to the defense. Round rocks have a greater attack value as they are easier to throw, whilst flat rocks have a better defense value as they are more stable. It all adds to the theme of the game nicely.

The Effect Cards also add to the theme of the game nicely. It makes perfect sense for the Catapult to allow a rock to be thrown at any height as it would give greater strength to the attack. The Boomerock is also well named as it allows the thrown rock to be kept by the attacker rather than lost from one's deck.

I could go on to cite many other examples but I'll let you discover them for yourself.

d10-2 Deck Management - All deck building games have an element of deck management, but here it is a little unique and more challenging in my opinion.

In games like Ascension you will often have a theme in the deck that you are building, but there are also a number of cards that are picked up for their VP value or some other benefit.

Stack and Attack is much tighter than that and greater thought needs to be given to what is purchased.

The main point to note is the fact that an exhausted or depleted draw deck cannot be reshuffled until the end of your own turn! That means a player will be totally vulnerable to attack should they exhaust their deck or have only 1 card left in it.

It really makes a player think carefully about the need to purchase cards and even the +1 Draw Card bonus can have consequences that need to be managed. Drawing defence cards against one attack can exhaust a player's deck and make them vulnerable to another attack.

Other considerations include attacking. Attacking will result in a thrown rock being lost on most occasions, thus altering the nature of a player's deck.

Effect Cards can be very powerful but they always return to a player's discard pile. Purchase too many of these and a player may find they are not drawing many rock cards each turn or have less chance of drawing bonus attack or defence rocks.

The considerations and implications for deck management are considerable and in my opinion allows the game to accurately claim that it is unique within the genre.

d10-3 Player Interaction - Another feather in the game's cap is the fact that it promotes player interaction as opposed to some other deck builder's where the only interaction comes in the form of taking a card before an opponent gets the chance to.

d10-4 Hand Management - I've listed this separate to the above deck building point because here it is a little different again. Unlike other games of the genre where generally a player can play most cards from their hand in a turn, the limited action points will usually see only 1-2 cards played in a given turn and the rest discarded. This can make for some tough decisions.

Once the +1 Hold bonus is earned a player has even more to consider in regards to what card could be vital next turn and which ones need to be back in the deck for potential defence and attack draws.

d10-5 Quick with Little Downtime - Stack & Attack is also designed to be as quick as possible. Games tend to be shorter than Ascension and Dominion and despite the considerations of players, each player's turn does not tend to go for much more than 60 seconds.

It is easy to play 2 games of Stack & Attack in one hour and possibly 3 depending on the group playing and how aggressive the game becomes.

d10-6 The Quarry - One aspect of the game I really like is the 40 card Quarry Deck. Most games in this genre tend to throw at least 80 cards at the players and sometimes upwards of 100-150.

In a deck builder this can be problematic as the players can be confronted with a raft of cards that just have no value for them and invariably luck of the draw and timing becoming factors.

What Stack & Attack manages to do with its 40 card deck is to ensure that almost every card available in the Quarry each turn can be of value to the players, which means they can make meaningful decisions each turn and generally know they are improving their position with each card purchase.

It's a subtle point but one I think is worth making.

Oh and yeah...40 cards means it is pretty quick to mix up the cards ready for a new game. I'm looking at you Race for the Galaxy and Ascension with your damned hundreds of cards that require involved deck shuffling techniques.

Anything to Dislike?

Image Courtesy of JeremyBurnham

d10-1 Do I Need it? - Given that the deck building genre is not new, many a gamer may well ask, 'Do I need another?'

It's a fair question and for many I suspect the answer will be no.

For those on the fence...well this is a little different in my opinion. The odds of expansions is very low, the game plays quite differently to others in the genre and it is quick.

For the likely price point I think it is worth a look for fans of the genre or someone looking to get a deck builder but doesn't want something too big and cumbersome or with the risk of 84 expansions...zombie

d10-2 Aggressive Nature - One element that must be mentioned is the aggressive nature of the game. Ok sure, players cannot spend the entire time attacking their enemies as they need to build their own tower. But they can directly attack others and for anyone who likes to simply build their deck and out combo the opposition in safety may find the conflict of the game to be too direct.

This can also lead to...

d10-3 The 3-Player Factor - One factor the game can suffer from is the 3-player syndrome. This exists in most games where direct attacks can be made. Essentially attacking someone else may make them weaker, but it still leaves the other player intact and it cost you your turn to do it.

The player that wasn't attacked is then free to attack the player that just attacked or go on their merry way. What results is a situation where the players don't want to leave themselves open to attack or would prefer to hold off in the hope that the other player will make the attack. This is potentially heightened in Stack & Attack too because of the nature of deck management and not wanting to end a turn with your draw deck exhausted.

The other negative of the 3-player syndrome is that it can lead to the potential for Kingmaking. There is nothing worse than being the 3rd wheel when 2 players are on the cusp of victory. There is no point taking actions other than attack if you cannot win yourself. You have to attack one of them in the hope that the other cannot clinch the victory. But which one? And if the other one wins then you have helped crown them king?! This is generally not a good feeling for anyone.

For that reason I think the game plays best with 4.

2-Player Variant

The designers have also posted up some 2-player variant rules on the Geek that may well make it into the final Kickstarter offering.

They make use of 1 or 2 dummy players in Lorff and Fregg (1 is regarded as the easy mode whilst having both is the difficult mode).

The dummy players draw a card from the Quarry deck on their turn. If they draw an Effect Card they simply re-draw. If they draw a flat rock they add it to their stack. But if they draw a round rock then they will attack the player with the highest tower and draw cards to boost their attack.

It's not bad and worth a look if you only have 2-players but for me the game is still best at 3-4, with 4-players being the best option.

The Final Word

Stack & Attack is a pretty good first title from Egra Games and they have plans for several other designs in the near future (although I am unaware of them at this point).

The game fits within a popular genre but successfully manages to add some new tricks and considerations that the players must adapt to in order to do well.

The components and artwork are pretty well done and the theme shines through the mechanics.

The light card game market is pretty crowded and it can be hard to stand out but I think Stack & Attack is definitely worth a look for those prepared to seek it out.

Jeremy the designer has informed me that the game will be Kickstarted sometime in the Northern Summer of 2013, so look out for it if you would like to pick up a copy.

Till next we meet may your stack be the greatest and impervious to attack!!!

NB - I did receive a beta version of the game to assist me with the writing of this review. This has in no way influenced my opinion or perception of the game.

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Dean Glencross
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This is one of the games I picked up in the Bordercon raffle this weekend.
I've only played it once, but so far I agree with everything you've said about it.

There was only one rule we were confused about, which is when you shuffle. The way we read it, you shuffle every turn (and the FAQ says this is right), which we weren't sure about but seemed to play fairly well.
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Lortarg wrote:
This is one of the games I picked up in the Bordercon raffle this weekend.
I've only played it once, but so far I agree with everything you've said about it.

There was only one rule we were confused about, which is when you shuffle. The way we read it, you shuffle every turn (and the FAQ says this is right), which we weren't sure about but seemed to play fairly well.


Cheers Dean for the comments.

I haven't played it for a little while so I need to ask about the shuffling thing.

Does this mean that players shuffle their deck after every turn...even if their deck isn't exhausted?

If so that's interesting.
 
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Dean Glencross
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That's what we read in the rules and the FAQ here says that's how it is supposed to work.
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