This used to be a beautiful place... used to. Ever since the evil corporations moved in with their factories and started dumping toxic chemicals and pollutants all over the place, things have gone downhill very rapidly. A cry for help has been sent out and there are rumors of an elite group of rebels who are taking up arms and fighting back. They are called the Cross Hares and now is your time to show them that you deserve to be a member of their club. This is your chance to show the corporations that you’re sick of it and that you won’t take it lying down. This is your chance to make a difference. This is your chance to fight.
Cross Hares: Testing Grounds, designed by Jesse Labbe, is a roll and move trail game reticent of those childhood games of yore. It mixes elements of games like Sorry, Fireball Island, Candy Land, etc. to create an experience that is thrilling, unique, and grown up. Players take turns rolling the dice, moving their characters, and going on adventures. Their goal: make it to the end and be the first to destroy the factory. The Cross Hares are a selective bunch and only one of you will be judged worthy to join their numbers. Will you be the one that catches their eye?
Now, before I get too much further into this review, I’d like to take a moment to thank the people over at 1A Games for providing my gaming group with a review copy of this game. Dana Lombardy and Jesse Labbe have been incredibly helpful and have been quick about answering all of my questions. Their input, however, has not influenced my opinion or this review in any way. Rest assured that if this game is terrible, I will tell you so.
Let me begin by saying that this is one of the best put together beta review copies of a game that I have ever received. The cards were printed on Avery card sheets. Instead of having to hack away at them with scissors for several hours, all I had to do was punch them out. Each of the printed pieces was mounted on foam core and the characters even came with their own little plastic stands. The adventure cards and character cards were printed on heavy, sturdy paper stock. The game board is also printed on high quality paper and came to me rolled up in a tube (it’s quite large). The rulebook is very detailed, well written, and well-illustrated. It is spiral bound and has stood up to quite a bit of abuse. Aside from several typographical and grammatical errors, this game is pretty well put together and it is obvious that Jesse has spent a great deal of time making sure that the game not only plays well, but looks great to boot.
Each player selects a character to play and takes the appropriate character sheet and places it in front of them. Then the players roll the dice to see who goes first. The game board has four starting zones and, beginning with the player who is going first, each player will place their character standup doll onto the starting zone of their choice.
After the players have selected their starting zones, each deck of cards is shuffled and placed onto its corresponding zone on the game board. The top card of the Event deck is turned face up. Then the item and specialty markers are set someplace that is within easy reach of all players. Once this is done, the players are ready to start playing.
Cross Hares isn’t a particularly difficult game to learn how to play. It’s a simple roll and move type of game mechanic. The active player will pick up the green movement die and roll it. If it comes up with a number, they will move that number of spaces forward on the game board. If the movement die comes up with a ‘?’ though, the player will then roll the research die.
The research die is one of the primary ways that a player can obtain item and specialty markers that can be used to unlock features on the character cards (we’ll get to this later). There are several symbols on the research die that could possibly come up. There is a symbol that allows you to add an item marker to your character sheet, one that allows you to add a specialty marker to your character card, one that causes you to discard the current event card and replace it with the next event card in the deck, and one that allows you to go on an adventure. So, let’s go through these one at a time.
ITEM MARKERS AND ITEMS
On each character card there is a collection of items and equipment. This equipment is used to give you a slight edge during the course of the game play. For instance, the backpack allows you to hold extra cards in your hand and the rope will allow you to avoid the negative effects of certain cards and events. There are other items that do other things, but they all benefit you in some way or another. However, in order to use one of these items, you must have first placed an item marker on top of it. Items offer permanent effects. Once you’ve put a marker onto the item, you will receive that effect as long as the marker remains there.
Specialties are similar to items. A specialty will give you some type of extra effect that will help you get out of various scrapes or improve your character in some way. The major difference is that specialties offer one time effects. To signify that you are using one of your character’s specialties, you remove the specialty marker from it and place it back into the general supply.
Specialties vary in their degrees of usefulness. Most of them will typically add a bonus to your attack or movement rolls or allow you to reroll a die during movement or combat. Some specialties, however, allow you to deploy items to the game board. For instance, one of the characters has a zombie token that you can control. Instead of moving your character, you can opt to move the zombie instead and anyone that encounters this zombie is forced to fight it. There’s always the chance that they will win the battle, but there’s also a pretty good chance that they will lose and have to suffer the negative consequences of doing so.
MOVEMENT AND SPECIAL SPACES
Okay, you’ve rolled the dice and you begin moving. As you’re moving, there are several various spaces that you might encounter. Depending on which space you land upon, you might have to engage in combat with an enemy or you might have the opportunity to add a card to your hand for use later or you might even trigger an event that forces everyone to take part. Not knowing where you’re going to land and not knowing what you’re going to encounter next is half the fun of this game.
As you’re moving, there are several different types of spaces that you can land on. They are:
- An item space (take an item marker and add it to your character card)
- A specialty space (take a specialty marker and add it to your character card)
- An event triggering space (look at the face up event card and do whatever it says)
- A research space (roll the research die)
- A Stronghold space (adding cards to your hand)
- A Testing Grounds space (usually some kind of combat or trial)
There are several different types of events that you might encounter. Some may require you to face off against an enemy face to face while others might require every player to get involved. Some events have positive outcomes and some are outright negative outcomes. The negative outcomes in this game typically come in the form of lost turns or having to move backwards along the game board. The positive outcomes typically come in the form of the exact opposite. Because of the research die, you never know which event card you’re going to wind up facing and that helps to keep things fresh and exciting.
Stronghold cards come in many different flavors, but they will typically fall into one of these categories:
- Screw your opponent somehow
- Avoid getting screwed (either by opponents or other cards such as events or training grounds)
- Trade a card for some kind of benefit (like extra turns or extra movement)
A player may never hold more than 4 Stronghold cards at a time. If they are ever tasked with drawing cards that would push them over this limit, they must first choose a card to discard before adding the next card to their hand and looking at it.
Much of the combat in the game will happen here in the Testing Grounds although the Testing Grounds cards are not limited to combat only. Some Testing Grounds cards might award you with free stuff. Some might make you lose a turn unless you’ve got a Stronghold card or the right equipment to avoid the card’s effect, but by and large, most of the Training Grounds cards require you to combat something in one form or another.
Combat is easy, too. Each enemy you encounter has a defense rating. In order to defeat the enemy, you just have to roll higher than the enemy’s defense rating using the red combat die. For instance, if the enemy’s defense rating is a 3, then you must roll a 4, 5, or a 6 to defeat it. There are cards and equipment that can be used to add to whatever you roll and, depending on how yucky the punishment is for failing the combat, you’re probably going to want to use them if you’ve got them.
And that’s about it. There’s really not much more to this game. You’ll move forward. You’ll move backwards. You’ll screw your opponents when you get the chance and, hopefully, you won’t be the one getting screwed. This games takes all of the elements of those games we played in our youth and it adds an extra layer of adulthood on top to create something familiar yet new and unique at the same time.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about Cross Hares going into it. The concept seemed so simple that I didn’t honestly think that the game could hold my attention. But, this game is surprisingly fun (for a while). You’d think that eliminating all of the heavy decision making out of the game would somehow make it too easy, but it turns out to be quite the opposite. If anything, all of the moving forwards and backwards makes the game more difficult than it really needs to be.
And that brings me to my only negative comment about this game. It’s pretty fun at first. The art is fantastic and things move along at a pretty fast clip, but after a while, you get so bogged down with gaining a lot of ground and then losing it all over again, that it feels like it’s taking you forever to actually get anywhere. By the time my group of people were two thirds of the way around the map, we’d already been at it for almost three hours and we were just ready for it to be over. I’m not sure how this could be fixed short of drawing up a shorter map. Maybe the players could roll two dice for movement. Maybe that would help. All I know is that Cross Hares stopped being fun after a while simply due to the sheer amount of screwage that goes on.
There's a lot going on in this game. Jesse Labbe's done a very good job of taking me back to my childhood. He's definitely achieved what he set out to do with this game. He's crafted a game that looks great and plays pretty good, too. Something just needs to be done to make it move a bit faster, though, and then it'd be just about perfect.
Hey reviewer guy!
I wanted to thank you for taking the time to play and enjoy Testing Ground.
I can tell you that the rules that were sent to you are not only a very early version but they have been updated at least two different times. So I have to give you major props for doing as well as you did with what you had.
The last reviewer (using the exact same rules as you) had no idea when to play cards, what the object was or what he was doing in General...my first reaction was...he doesn't know how to read. You have confirmed it
You never know what your gonna get when reading a review like this. I was pleased with yours. Yes, even the last parts where it becomes a little negative.
As the creator I am being bombarded with what I should and should not have done. So the issue of the game being too long was an issue that was recently addressed. Testing Ground was demo played dozens of times a day in comic shops and game stores for months. The number 1 comment I received was, "is there anyway to make it longer?" So what's a guy to do? haha.
Just when I think a character is too strong, he can't seem to win a game. Just when I think an enemy is too weak, he can't seem to be beat.
All in all, I think we got most of the "goofs" out in the new rules. And I hope that if you play the game later, you will find it more enjoyable...until than, I thank you for your time and kind words.
I can't wait until March!!!