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Calvin Wong
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Adrenaline is one of the biggest releases of the year but the key question is: Will Colin the Board Game Bear like it?


Stop me if you’ve heard this one: euro style games don’t pull you in. You open the box to feel like a 14th century architect, but end up pushing cubes and grappling with systems and the storytelling is sprinkled on - like that layer of powdered icing sugar they always put on pastries but you can never taste.


Why do they even bother?! (Image credit: 123RF Stock Photos)


Adrenaline by Czech Games Edition is also composed mainly of cubes and systems, but its thematic shell melts in your brain, not on the board - liquidating into the crackle of ammo pickups and the THUHKTHUKTHUKHTHUK of heavy weapons fire. Diceless, sometimes breathtaking, often cerebral, and suitable for (nearly) all ages - Adrenaline is strongly in the running for my game of the year.



Smiles

While Adrenaline’s soul is of the old 90s arena shooters, it carefully excises all the self-importance and hypermachismo - the greybrown corridors and scowling space marines are replaced with smiling robots, candy neon colors, and the funniest first page of a rulebook I’ve ever seen.


CGE rulebook writer Jason Holt strikes again.



The characters of Adrenaline draw from such wells as Unreal Tournament, Halo, Quake, and Mass Effect. 1st row: Dozer, Violet, -STRUCT-OR. 2nd row: Sprog, and my personal favorite: Banshee. She’s using her tentacle to balance her aim. If that’s not badass I dunno what is.


Gone too is the take-that aspect - getting shot in Adrenaline makes your character stronger and faster, and since you keep all your weapons, ammunition, and powerups when you die, being killed is little setback at all (in fact sometimes it sets you forward, because the spawn points are where the guns are.)

Combined with a scoring system that penalizes picking on the same player over and over, Adrenaline is carefully built to remove the frustrations of player vs player combat and lets you focus on doing what the game makes you feel best doing: Shooting people.

Strengths


The manual literally encourages you to shoot first, ask questions later.


The thumping heart of Adrenaline are the weapons - of which the game shows up with two dozen, puts them in your eager hands, tells you that shooting someone is as easy as playing the card and doing the damage (no dice!) and then asks you this question: Do you want to feel clever?

Because the first time you get hit by that sniper rifle for a whopping 3 damage you’ll realize you need to close the distance, staying inside its minimum range. Hah! See how clever I am for using my opponent’s tactics against them!

...Then your sniper wielding friend picks up a grenade launcher, and uses its ability to push you backwards to put you back in range of the rifle for a killshot, so now she gets to feel clever too.

Because Adrenaline only lets you perform two actions a turn (Move/Pick Up/Shoot + play any relevant power ups) and each weapon needs to be reloaded, the game is a careful dance of positioning yourself for huge damage combos while also making sure you have access to the ammo you need. In the more complex game modes, you also have area control aspects to worry about that affect your final score.

Thus, when you pull off a move that makes the entire table go ‘ohhh’ in equal measures impressed at your play and sympathetic for the person you just cratered, that’s a truly special moment.

Banshee (Blue) is low on health, so Violet uses her plasma gun to slide two squares into light of sight before taking her out. She then uses the Newton power up to shove Sprog (green) into the same room as Dozer (grey) and blasts three different targets with her machinegun for some sick points!


You could also line up two enemies in a row so the Cyberblade cuts through them both and you feel like a robo-ninja running along the walls.

Or rocket jump towards an enemy who’s trying to stay hidden, push them towards you with the rocket blast, then shotgun them in the face with a couple targeting scopes for a surprise killshot.

Or pull three people into the miniature black hole created by the vortex cannon, then teleport into the melee and slice them up with your electro scythe.

But all this is in service of trying to score points, so let’s look at scoring:



Because Banshee died, at the end of Violet’s turn we score her and distribute points according to who did the most damage, with extra points going to whoever drew first blood, and ties being broken by who did damage first. So this board would give:

Violet: 7
Yellow: 4
Grey: 2
Green: 1

Note the skull covering the ‘8’ track on the scoreboard - this is because Banshee had already died once before.

This scoring system is what keeps the game from being a brainless run and gun. Victory is contingent on how well you can do damage to multiple people while at the same time maximizing your damage on one person to claim majority. CGE jokes that they’ve designed an area control game where the areas you’re trying to control move around the board and have guns, and that’s absolutely, 100% true.

By smartly limiting the amount of ammo/powerups/weapons you can hold, the game effectively gates how ‘ahead’ you can be. Every game of Adrenaline I’ve played has been close. While skill and thoughtfulness always prevails over blind aggression, which is the hallmark of a good euro, even losing games feel amazing because firing your favorite weapon combos and discovering new ones in the middle of the game is just fun.



The ammo limiting system also creates a cadence of ‘SHOOT SHOOT retreatbuildupbuildup SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT buildup SHOOT runaway SHOOT’; brief bursts of high intensity punctuated by both players realizing, Elmer Fudd style, that their guns don’t work before scurrying away to reload. This sense of ebb and go go go gates the pace of the game such that moments of high intensity become truly thrilling.

Speeds



Rules Editor Paul Grogan’s video will have you playing in less time than some loading screens.


The standard deathmatch mode in Adrenaline is the simplest and fastest. You play to 8 kills, it lasts 45 minutes to an hour, and it’s a streamlined, satisfying experience which is a total breeze to teach.

This mode (especially if you use the abbreviated play-to-five-kills intro game) has the potential to be a really good introductory for those who don’t play board games. The theme is relatable and the board, miniatures, and weapons mean that the core concepts are easy to explain and understand. In fact, the 11 year old I played the game with declared deathmatch mode ‘too simple’.

(Deathmatch does have the possibility of getting more cerebral if you play it as a 2 player game where you remove the scoring and play best of _ kills wins. Add the Bot for extra thinkiness - more on that below)

The game also comes with Domination and Turret modes, which add the area control back in and crank them up to 11. Domination lets you score for doing damage to, or standing on, the spawn points - making them hot spots for conflict and blocking, since scoring a spawn point requires you to push away any competition.

With three spawn points to fight over and an incentive not to move too far from each one, Domination is a more positional experience that often saw characters running dry on ammo and relying heavily on powerups to mess with their opponents.

Turret mode gives each square of the board a gun emplacement that you can claim, doing damage to your enemies as they enter those spaces (or are pushed into those spaces by your weapons) transforming the board into a quagmire of gunfire. The significantly increased lethality means heavier emphasis on positioning, area control, and careful ammo management, since you can take ammo or take control of a turret, but not both at the same time.

Addable to each of these modes is a dummy-player style Bot that you can push around the board and use to chip down your foes. Since you can score points by killing the bot, adding it ups the complexity a half-notch but provides a far more target-rich environment for mega combos.

Smarts

Through careful development, Adrenaline has sidestepped many of the shots that might have left it dead on arrival:

The maps are small enough that you’re almost never away from the fight, and therefore constantly available as a target; the line of sight rules are instantaneously understandable with zero fiddliness; the graphic design is clear and visible from a distance; there’s no healing to muddy up scoring; you’re incentivized to kill your opponents because it a) gives you a chance at extra bonus points at the end b) low health opponents are more dangerous.

The game has been in the forge for quite a few years, and it’s now that it’s out it’s as light as carbon fiber and just as strong.



Niggles:

Red and yellow colorblindness might be an issue. One of my players had difficulty telling these cubes apart.



The iconography of the weapons is easy to grasp once you understand the grammar, but a couple read throughs of the Weapons Manual is probably in order if you’re the designated teacher.

There are ‘only’ 4 maps. While this is plenty, they do look fairly similar to each other and I hope that any expansions will provide different environments for us to play in.


Like this maybe.


If you have players who are very prone to AP, the game can crawl along, especially if there are a lot of people sitting down to play. There’s also the potential for tension between those who want to carefully craft the perfect turn (score-maximizers) vs those who just want to blast up the entire room (it’s called Adrenaline for god’s sake!)

When the game ends, it goes into what’s called Final Frenzy, where everyone gets one more turbocharged turn where your character can zip around the board and smash things. It’s meant to be a final, climactic hurrah where you can try and equalize a close game - but in practice, many of my Final Frenzies have seen no players having the ammo or positioning to actually pull off anything that could score them any points. (or maybe we just suck and need to plan better)



Adrenaline is a rich, satisfying experience that you can crank up or down to the complexity level of your choice. As a hybrid, it crosses the aisle almost perfectly - amerigamers will love the ability to pull off ludicrously powerful weapon combos to crush your enemies, eurogamers will enjoy the carefully crafted resource management and point optimization and movement puzzle.



I never felt that the game gained or lost anything major at different player counts - 3 is perhaps less exciting because there are fewer people to shoot but 5 leads to a longer game so I think the tradeoffs are fine in either direction. Maybe you’ll decide 4 players + Bot is the best, or 1v1 is the experience for you.

In terms of longevity: I’ve played the game ten times, often multiple times in a single day. I still haven’t used some of the weapons, I still need to wrap my head properly around the Domination and Turret modes, and the Bot has only come out once.

Czech Games and designer Filip Neduk have put out a whopper of a big box title. Adrenaline is the real deal - a terrifically taut thrill-ride. Play this game.


Yes, he totally loves it.


________
This review was originally posted on Ding & Dent.
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Geert Meys
Belgium
Haacht
Vlaams-Brabant
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For me and my group the game was disappointing. There was simply not enough to do. You run around, pick up ammo/weapon or shoot.

I'm missing the possibility to upgrade you bot with technologies, more special cards, just more options, more things to take into account.


 
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Calvin Wong
Malaysia
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eateasse wrote:
There was simply not enough to do. You run around, pick up ammo/weapon or shoot.

I'm missing [...]more things to take into account.


Is this for only the Deathmatch mode or the other modes also?
 
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Jason Peacock
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Anu more info on the 1 vs 1? It's 3 plus on the box but I would love to give the 2 player a try.
 
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Tomáš Sládek
Czech Republic
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JaspeLoedm wrote:
Anu more info on the 1 vs 1? It's 3 plus on the box but I would love to give the 2 player a try.


I'm assuming that's a house rule, and I worry that 1v1 it would be
1) too long/tedious
2) down to randomized draws of weapons / powerups
 
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Calvin Wong
Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur
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JaspeLoedm wrote:
Anu more info on the 1 vs 1? It's 3 plus on the box but I would love to give the 2 player a try.


It becomes rather chess-like, just like the arena shooters did at 1v1. You have to outthink your opponent.
 
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Paul Grogan
United Kingdom
Cullompton
Devon
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Check out all my instructional How to Play videos at youtube.com/GamingRulesVideos
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Thanks for linking the video, but the link isn't actually working

Also, credit for the shout out to Jason Holt for the writing of the rulebook - he did a great job.
 
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Clyde W
United States
Washington
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PaulGrogan wrote:
Thanks for linking the video, but the link isn't actually working

Also, credit for the shout out to Jason Holt for the writing of the rulebook - he did a great job.
I don't know why BGG won't fix it when people mislink the youtube url automagically, but anyway, here's the fix:

 
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