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Subject: MeepleTown Reviews: BraveRats rss

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Derek Thompson
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Unless you've been living in board gaming ignorance for the past couple of years, you know of the “micro game” Love Letter by Seiji Kanai and AEG. Love Letter is a game of only sixteen cards, and has been a smash hit of the like our hobby rarely sees, thanks to its short playtime and extremely low price. Fans of the original Japanese version complained about AEG changing the art of the game to fit their Tempest universe, but now there will be Downton Abbey Love Letter, Batman Love Letter, and much, much more. In addition, Seiji Kanai is now a name that draws plenty of attention, and AEG is continuing to bring over (and change) his games. Personally, I enjoy Love Letter very little if at all, so I haven’t been too excited to see the rest of his career.

AEG is not the only company getting a piece of the Kanai pie, however. Blue Orange games has obtained another of Kanai’s sixteen-card games, this one simply called R (try Googling that…) in Japanese. Much like AEG, Blue Orange has given the game a makeover, in the form of… cartoony Celtic Rats. Well, I’ve seen stranger things. Is BraveRats any fun? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:



Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?



Components: Just how much care and love can go into a game consisting of sixteen cards? Apparently, more than I ever thought possible. This release is just perfect. First of all, the art is fun, colorful, functional, and full of whimsy. Sorry to R lovers, but I wouldn’t enjoy this game near as much without the comical artwork and rats theme. Additionally, the rulebook is overly clear about every possible situation, and there is even a 17th card showing a chart of every possible outcome (!) to a round. I couldn’t find a typo anywhere, which is somewhat sad that I have to even mention that (it’s quite common in this industry). To top things off, the tiny tin has an embossed title, with the big “R” being a hat tip to the original name, and it even has a custom plastic insert with the name of the game engraved on felt. Seriously? I shed a tear as I threw it away after sleeving the cards, which fit perfectly without the insert. All of this for $10 MSRP? This kind of careful consideration and aggressive pricing had me very seriously browsing the Blue Orange website for more games, as this is the first of theirs I’ve bought.



(Yes, I know sleeving a $10 game is ridiculous, but I have a lot of sleeves sitting around. Standard Card Game size, by the way.)



Accessibility: This is just a variant of War with special powers. Each player has an identical set of eight hands in his hand, and each player simultaneously picks one and reveals it, with the higher card winning the round (ties are “on hold” and won by whoever wins the next round). The goal of the game is to win four rounds first. That’s it. The trick of the game is that each of the eight cards has a special power which changes the rules for that round. The abilities are all quite simple, and I cannot believe just how in-depth the rulebook still managed to be about how they all interact (and there’s that chart!). I was able to easily explain the game in under 2 minutes and have never had a rules question in the times I’ve played it. One of the simplest games I’ve ever played – literally right up there with War itself. There are also six (!) variants in the rulebook, and none of them are particularly complicated either.



Depth: Let’s be clear here: the playing time on the box says five minutes, and that’s sometimes an overestimate. This game can be as quick as flipping over four cards each; the slowest it can be is flipping over eight. For that reason alone, you might think this game is random – but it isn’t. First, let’s talk about Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Mathematically, it seems that all options in RPS are equal, and the outcome is random. And it would be if it was played by two computers who randomly selected R, P, or S. However, two humans playing RPS – repeatedly – isn’t random. It’s a game of psychology. I’ve played lots of RPS while waiting in lines and have seen this human aspect come out firsthand many, many times.

Although I compared BraveRats to War early, RPS might be as good a comparison. BraveRats has more to it than that, of course – after a few cards are played, some choices have a higher mathematical EV (expected value) than others, but the psychology is where this game shines. You do not play this game against someone once. You play it three-to-five times in a row. Then the mind games emerge. I distinctly remember, in my third game of BraveRats (all against the same opponent), we ended up in a situation where the most “right” thing to do for either of us would be to play the Prince – so we both played the Princess. Cosmic Encounter gets me to those same kind of exciting head games, but it gets me to that point in 90 minutes, while BraveRats does it in 90 seconds.



Theme: This does feel like a battle – although a psychological one, instead of armies at war – so the fighting theme makes sense. Why rats? I don’t know. I do know that the artwork is fantastic and hilarious, the graphic design is impeccable, and this game sucks me in so hard. This is a game of escapism, not into a fantasy world of medieval rats, but into that mind-game-space that bluffing games like Skull & Roses and Coup also take you. Somehow, though, BraveRats gets you there on the express train.



Fun: This game is amazing. I’m sorry I doubted you, Mr. Kanai! What makes this so much more fun than Love Letter is the ability to make it about reading people – social deduction – almost right from the start. Much of the ‘deduction’ in Love Letter is random guessing early and obviousness at the end – and you’re also at the mercy of your 1-to-2-cards. In BraveRats, you’ve got the same opening eight cards, and that annoying randomness of the card draw is taken away, and you’re left only with your bluffing skills.

What really makes this game stand out for me is its tiny size and its tiny length. I have spent a lot of time in my life with nothing to do while being with someone else – on an airplane, waiting in line, between rounds in tournaments, and so on. BraveRats easily fits in your pocket and makes 15-30 minutes go by in a flash. This isn’t a filler – it’s only a mere morsel – but it’s like one tiny Reece’s cup mini. You know you’re going to sit there for a while and eat the whole bag.



BraveRats takes you to the psychological fun of other bluffing games at lightning speed, with awesome artwork and an incredible price tag. Just go buy it already.
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Brandan Parsons
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Carmel
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Thanks for the review Derek!
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Derek Thompson
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Brandaniel wrote:
Thanks for the review Derek!


Now I just need to figure out how to beat you!
 
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Steve PP
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An eloquent review for a wonderful little game,thanks for writing it!
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