I bought The Hell Game for brother M last christmas. For various reasons, it's been on the the shelf for over a year, but now it was finally time to give it a go.
M gave D, J and myself a rundown of the rules. Even the hardened veterans among us felt a bit lost and confused, so it was agreed that this would be a test run to get a feel for rules and tactics.
Demons are delt, I get Baal, Thamuz and... some other dude/dudette I can't remember... All in all, it looks like a good spread, with Baal being my big name.
The game starts, and as the first card is drawn J loses one of her demons from an unlucky dice roll...
We all agreed that this sucked for a trial run, so we let her draw a new one.
Once that was over, all lieutenants went on strike. A strike that would last through out the entire game...
Ignoring all that, I tried to form my first plan: Aggressivly recruit legions and then attack J, who had gotten the best postion from the start. Once I had assembled enough legions to consider attacking, there was a cave in and all my legions where wiped out.
So I made a random attack against M instead, just to try the combat rules. Just two legions against one, to se how it worked. It works like this:
With lieutenants on strike, you roll dice for all eternity.
God damn that was boring! Eventually M got a few lucky rolls and defeated my two legions.
Once that was over, one random demon suddenly moved between players. I lost Baal and got Uckobach. So now I had two useless demons and one fairly usefull one. To bad that Thamuz was incaped on earth due to bees or something...
Anyway, back to building my legions and attacking J.
I pump all my souls into that, and gather the most impressive host in Hell. Then there's a rebellion.
Almost every one of my legions turn neutral...
But I play a card that gives me a pile of new legions, a hellhound and a lieutenant (on strike). It cost me a dis-favour, but at least I could attack J now. 5 on 1, this should be easy.
It just meant me rolling more dice for a longer period of time. I eventually defeated her, but by now every one was bored from watching the two of us roll dice for an eternity.
So when M suddenly made a move to win, no one tried to stop him. We where just glad that it was over.
Sooooo... what to say?
Is it even possible to form a strategy in this game? It seemed as if every atempt at strategy was foiled by a random card that couldn't be avoided.
Still, we agreed that there are some possibility to this game.
The popular theory is that we made a few errors as far as the rules go, and that we where simply unlucky when it came to the cards.
Kris Van Beurden
This is exactly the same experience I have had while playing the Hell Game with my gaming group, and exactly the reason why we return to this every once in a while (a while being +/- a year ). The total randomness which means making a strategy is hopeless is what makes this the Hell Game.
Not for people who look for a perfectly grokkable and "solvable" game, but for people who want to spend some hours playing a complete random game with a demon theme, wonderful art and who do not expect there to be a winner at the end.
Played it three times, each time for more than 5 hours, and never regretted a minute of it (except maybe the time when some fiendish machine destroyed all my legions).
Oh, and what we found out is that
a) lower-statted demons are better than the high-statted who have to always go first in a round. You want to do your activity at the end. Good balance right there
b) the combat system is horrible. We're working on something to replace this by the next time we play the game. This system was like a punishment from the seventh circle ...