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Subject: A GFBR Review: Well Named rss

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GeekInsight
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In Stack and Attack, currently on Kickstarter, the players represent different tribes who are all trying to gain favor from the gods. How does one gain favor? Why, by building an obelisk of stones. But it turns out the other players are trying to get the gods on their side. So you can also throw rocks at their obelisks in order to crush them and bring their hard work tumbling down. As you may surmise, Stack and Attack weighs more on the Attack side than the Stack side.

The Basics. In Stack and Attack, each player starts with a deck of cards filled with various rocks: there's one large flat rock, one large round rock, a medium rock of each type, and three small rocks of each type. The game also has a quarry deck of forty cards. A set of five are placed face up and may be purchased by players on their turns. A player draws three cards to start off his turn.

On a player's turn, they get four action points that they can use to either build their tower, buy new cards, or throw rocks at opponents. Generally, bigger rocks cost more action points to throw, build, or buy. The Quarry also has a few special action cards that can be included. Purchased rocks go to the discard. Built rocks are added to the tower. But, if a rock is thrown, a mini-battle takes place.

The thrown rock targets a specific rock in an opponents' tower. Flat rocks tend to be more defensive and round rocks are more offensive. Each rock has a defense and attack value. In defense, the rocks above the target stabilize things and add their defense values. Then, the player throws the rock and can turn over up to two more cards from his draw pile. Any attack bonuses from those rocks are also added. The defender can do likewise. If the attack is successful, both the thrown rock and the targeted rock are out of the game. Rocks on top come tumbling down into the discard pile. If unsuccessful, the defender picks up the thrown rock and adds it to his discard pile.

Building towers, though, also provides bonuses. As the tower reaches certain levels, players can gain a better draw, another action point, or other boons. At the end of a turn, players shuffle their discard back into their deck and draw a new hand. Then it's the next player's turn to buy, stack, or attack.

The game will end when a player gets their tower 15 high. Alternatively, if the Quarry deck runs out, then the game ends immediately with the highest tower winning.

The Feel. Stack and Attack is a tragic game. On the one hand, it has several innovative ideas for the tired deck-building genre. It is fresh and exciting. It has some of the most interesting deck-building mechanics I've played. On the other hand, it has some terrible balancing issues. The feel in the game is largely one of frustration, and that's especially disappointing because it's obvious the designers had something really promising.

First the good. I love that the deck builder is absolutely freed from money. Rather than have to manage a set of money, or coins, or gold, or whatever currency, Stack and Attack rids the game of that entirely. Instead, you get a flat four action points (five if you've built your tower high enough) to purchase, build, and throw. That leaves you able to tune your deck in a way that you really are unable to in other builders. No currency means it's all about the meat of the game.

Also, it's really interesting to buy a card and shuffle it back into your deck each turn. In this way, you might get that new purchase right away. Plus, it immediately changes the consistency of your deck. A defensive rock is there to help in your defense draw, or an offensive rock might help future attacks. Further, since you want to play both offense and defense, you want a few extra cards in your deck that can contribute to attack or defense.

With minimal card counting, you can get an easy sense of what's left in your deck after you've drawn. You'll know whether you have a better chance to stack or attack. And, the fact that thrown cards get out of your deck keeps your deck dynamic. At first, you might throw a few small round rocks just to get rid of them. But as the game wears on, you might want their easy attack bonus - or use them as vehicles for bigger attacks since you'll only lose the small rock and not the bonus rocks.

These traits combine to make the deck building aspect quite interesting. There are subtle ways to build your deck and to make it more aggressive or defensive. There are also needs that must be balanced between adding cards to your tower and keeping them in your deck for use.

Unfortunately, not everything is perfect. The major flaw is the way new cards are gained from the Quarry. The Quarry is a problem because as you purchase cards, they are replaced immediately. So I might buy a medium rock because that's the best there is, and suddenly a big rock comes out to replace it - or an especially awesome bonus card. So, all I did was give myself the inferior product and provide better opportunities for my opponent. When the Quarry is filled with small rocks, it can be a pain to watch it go round after round without change.

The advanced rules allow a player to wipe an unattractive offering for two action points, but that doesn't really solve the problem. In fact, it's worse. Now that I got rid of five bad cards, it's much more likely that the good cards are out and I just don't have the ability to purchase them - but the next player will on their turn.

Attacking can also be problematic if the group is extremely aggressive. In my first game, players started attacking towers that were even a single rock high. One rock! This lead to a game where we simply burned through the Quarry and the winner was the one who had built his tower highest - to a god pleasing seven stones.

And, as with make "take that" type games, there will be some negotiation, potential alliances, and king-making. If you detest these activities, then Stack and Attack will definitely annoy you. But the game is not a multi-hour affair designed to be overly strategic. It's light fun for a casual crowd and definitely settles into that role well. So the attack do not overwhelm the game. In fact, the rule allowing higher rocks to add their defense value ensures that players are incentivized to stack as much as to attack.

Problems exist, but they aren't overwhelming. If you're looking for a light casual game that's still very enjoyable, then this fits the bill nicely.

Components: NA. I received a beta copy of the game and therefore the components are not final. That said, the artwork is fun and thematic - as is a lot of the flavor text. The cards also do a great job of visually conveying the height that they add to a tower. If this is indicative of the final quality, I have no worries about a game with fantastic, sturdy bits.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 3 of 5. The Quarry implements a high and pervasive luck factor. Every purchase from the Quarry has the potential to put something good out for an opponent. Attack and defense rely on what cards happen to be left in your deck after shuffling - though players do have the ability to alter or arrange the consistency of their deck. Still strategic considerations in building, and in deciding how many defensive cards to flip keep players mostly in charge.

Mechanics: 3.5 of 5. On the one hand, there are some brilliant additions. On the other, the Quarry really detracts from them. It's hard to impress how demoralizing it is to see a Quarry filled with small rocks and maybe one Medium. So you buy the medium and boom! Large rock. Or a great special card that you are now unable to afford. So annoying.

Replayability: 3 of 5. The randomness of the Quarry and the ability to refine your deck will keep this game from playing similarly. As long as you aren't playing with overly aggressive folks (lets get our towers higher than one rock before we start attacking one another), then this is an easy one to return to. But it can be spoiled by spoilers.

Spite: 4 of 5. Stack and Attack is (depending on the group) roughly 50% attacking. A well timed rock with a little luck behind it can be absolutely devastating to an opponent. And having three opponents gang up on you can feel a little unfair - even if you do have the highest tower. So some thick skin is needed.

Overall: 3.5 of 5. Stack and Attack is enjoyable as long as you are looking for a light casual game. It has some very strong points and some of the most interesting and innovative twists on deck building I've seen. The Quarry is annoying, but doesn't overwrite the rest of the game. If you're looking for some fun "take that" action, Stack and Attack will fit nicely.

(Edited to correct rules error Oct. 5, 2013)

(A special thanks to designer Jeremy Burnham for providing a review copy of Stack and Attack)

(Originally posted, with pictures, at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot. Check out and subscribe to my Geeklist of reviews, updated Fridays)
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Jeremy VanSchalkwyk
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Raynham
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Re: A GFBR Review: More like Attack and Attack
My apologies if I am mistaken, but I think you may have a rule wrong; the total defense value in an attack includes the defense value of ALL stacked rocks above the target rock, which I don't see you make mention of. Targeting the bottom rock on someone's stack should not be a very easy shot, if the tower is large enough.

Since the balance of combat seemed to weigh heavily in your opinion of the game, I just wanted to ensure you had an accurate view of the game play.

Full disclosure: I've never actually played, just read the rules (from the game's website), and I am a backer of the kickstarter project.

Jeremy
 
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GeekInsight
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Re: A GFBR Review: More like Attack and Attack
JeremyVS wrote:
My apologies if I am mistaken, but I think you may have a rule wrong; the total defense value in an attack includes the defense value of ALL stacked rocks above the target rock, which I don't see you make mention of.


You're entirely correct. We overlooked that rule in our plays. blush

While my first game wouldn't have changed much (we played very aggressively), that rule would incentivize stacking and allow for more Stack than Attack.

I'm going to make some quick edits now and then come back around after I've played it again with the correct rules.
 
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Jeremy VanSchalkwyk
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Re: A GFBR Review: More like Attack and Attack
Great, thanks! I look forward to seeing your (updated) thoughts on the game!

Also FYI, I made the same comment over on gfbrobot.com to ensure it was seen, just so you know :-)
 
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The post is now corrected.
 
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