down the drain!
I won this game Real Cheap Like (tm) in an online auction. It has taken me a while to get around to it, but yesterday me and my girlfriend sat down and tried it out.
I won't go into the mechanics of the game, as they have been described in other reviews. Instead I'll concentrate on our experience during our first and second games ever.
We first assembled the pieces. Quickly found out two pieces were missing. No wonder it was cheap. =( A bit disgruntled we decided to play with two pieces less for each side and removed two similar pieces from my side. "Look, these two have stars instead of numbers too - I'll put them aside." None of us had played the game before and to tell the truth we weren't overly enthusiastic.
The game board's art looked cheap and uninspiring. The game pieces felt sturdy enough, but it was a bit fiddly to mix them around on the table without turning them over by accident. First reaction to the stickers was "Oh look, generic stock fantasy images." and the next was "Why are the backgrounds metallic?". We quickly found it was hard to tell the colours apart. For instance, green and gold look pretty much the same from certain angles and the silver and purple pieces sometimes use the same colours in the illustrations. All a bit confusing for a newbie.
We went through the rules while setting up the whole thing and while they were a bit unclear at times, it worked fine and we were soon set up and ready to go. The first turn went to Marie and she was completely stumped. "So uh... What do I do now?". After a few agonizing minutes of cross referencing the front line pieces with the reference sheets, she decided to draw first blood. We had no idea if any of the surrounding pieces affected the two pieces in battle. None of us have played vanilla Stratego either so it was a bit of a trial and error run our first game.
It wasn't long until we started developing some basic tactics though, and the fact that the pieces were randomly placed during setup heightened one of the enjoyable factors - you have to make the best of the situation. We both agreed after a while that this was probably the main charm of the game. You had little to no control over the board layout and playing pieces, so instead you had to make the best out of every situation that arose. Sometimes you got shafted, sometimes you got lucky. Another good thing, especially according to my girlfriend, was the complete lack of dice and peripherals. You have the game board and the reference sheets and that's it.
Our biggest gripe during our first play through was the constant reference card flipping and turning and shuffling. Also, it was a bit hard to tell the pieces apart. The metallic foil stickers really doesn't add anything but trouble reading the pieces. These are more or less minor quirks though.
When we played our second game, we were actually quite enthusiastic and we quickly got into the action. We house ruled the amount of pieces you can switch after setup, instead of two we did three. This allows you not only to put your HQ in safety, but you can put that 10 strength piece and a defensive magic in better positions too. A few rules questions had been cleared up and all in all it was a quick and enjoyable game. We stuck with the same army, but shuffled the game board around a bit. This made a huge difference in play experience and I must say this is another benefit of the game. With just the basic set the combinations are limited ofcourse, but I think it's a contributing factor to the life span of the game. Especially if you play more than one game in a row. We also found that the referencing was less strenous during the second game.
Our final verdict after playing was "What a nice find!". We enjoyed both games, even Marie who lost both. I would never pay full price, but if you can find it for a bargain I'd say get it. It was perfect for a sunday afternoon with a storm outside. I can defenitely see it getting more play time and it would be fun to have all the pieces to play with. That probably won't happen unless I get a really good offer somewhere, but I'm thinking about doing proxies for all game pieces in the basic set. After all, I already have all the stats for them on my reference sheets.
+ Quick and easy to play
+ Modular game board means bigger versatility
+ The possibility to expand and customize the armies
+ Quick setup
+ No dice and other bits, just the playing pieces and the board
+ Randomized chaos is fun in my book
+ Hilarious translations in the Swedish edition =)
- Having to check reference sheets constantly
- A bit too basic to be engaging in the long run
- Probably loses the fun when armies are optimized
- Hard to tell pieces apart
- Probably too random for most