W. Eric Martin
This review first appeared on FunandBoardgames.com.
It's the rare game that lasts less time than it takes to describe how to play, but if you started playing Brawl when this page was downloading, you'd be sorting the cards and getting set for game two by now.
Brawl, as the name suggests, is all about confrontation. Each player has his or her own Brawl deck—which comes complete and is not collectible—and that deck represents a particular character with a unique fighting style. During the game, players try to control three "bases" by throwing hits, blocking punches, pushing counterattacks, and more. A base is simply a card in the deck that depicts your character; bases are the fighting ground where the action happens.
The crux of the fighting mechanism are hits. Hits come in three different colors, and once you start playing a particular color of hit on one side of the base, you have to keep playing that color on that base. Your opponent can usually stop the pummeling only by playing a matching-color Block, but some decks also contain cards like "Reverse," that make the player who throws fewer hits win the base, and "Clear," which removes the base from play. Other cards include:
• Press—which lets you ignore a block and keep hitting.
• Hit-2—which counts as two strikes.
• Double—to double the value of a base from one point to two.
• Null—to drop a base's value to zero points.
• Base—to replace bases cleared during play.
Some characters have balanced attacks with hits in all colors, while others specialize in clearing away bases that they're losing or throwing doubleplusgood punches. The character of each deck will drive your strategy while playing the game—or at least it could after the fifth or sixth game. (You'd have finished that many by now.) With sixteen character decks in print, more than a hundred different duels are possible, each with their own peculiar set of interactions.
And while Brawl is primarily a two-player game, in theory any number of players can duke it out. Each player needs his or her own deck, and the players sit in a circle, fighting only against the players to the immediate left and right. Whoever scores the most points wins; ties result in playoffs, bringing the circle of players smaller and smaller until one person stands on top of the heap.
The thrill of the game is that you play as quickly as possible, holding the deck in one hand while playing cards with the other hand onto bases or a single discard pile. The final three cards of each deck are Freezes that prevent any more play on a base, so you're racing to win two out of three bases, then freeze your victory before it's stolen away. And if you don't win, simply shuffle the cards and take another sixty seconds to play again.
Anyone eager to serve up some smackdown can find Brawl decks online at Time Well Spent , Cardhaus , Funagain , or from James Ernest himself . All of these links lead to a particular deck or set of decks. Use the search functions on these sites to find more Brawl decks, which are now out of print and disappearing faster than you can punch a monkey.
I played this for the first time recently expecting the game to be shallow and short-lived. After playing about a dozen games, let me say:
I was WRONG. Very wrong.
This game is amazing! A snap to learn, our games took two minutes of real time or less, and yet there were strategic and tactical decisions aplenty. The game actually has a shocking amount of depth (starting with the cards added in the Club Foglio expansion, anyhow) and is the best real-time card or board game I have ever played by a HUGE margin.
I reccommend getting your hands on this one if you can, especially Club Foglio onward: you won't regret it!