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Subject: Multiple Player Review: Shazamm! rss

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Choubi Gogs
France
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My avatar is from the chilren's game Monster Mash
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(photo by Traulen)

Previously entitled: "You shall not pass!"

Disclaimer

Ok, just so you know where I come from and how the review will go. I'll start by an introduction so you know how I came to know the game and what my expectations of it were, then a little summary of how the game plays and what it looks like, you can skip that part if you're already familiar with it and the rules as I won't go much into detail here. I'll finish by my own opinion and my rating of the game. After that, I'll summarize what my playing group feels about the game.

About me, I started playing and fell in love with heavy games (Serenissima and Caylus). I began to play lighter games later like Odin's Ravens and Kahuna. I like mostly all types of games though I like when these are tense. I also usually don't like heavily luck-dependent games.
My favourites are Through The Ages, Race For The Galaxy, Imperial, Caylus, Dungeon Twister, Monster Mash.
Games I didn't like: Pillars of the Earth, Mykerinos, Caylus Magna Carta, Aton.


Introduction

Back when I didn't have many short 2 player games, I came accross Shazamm! thanks to trictrac (french main gaming website) as the game is a lot more famous in the french community than it is on the geek.

I bought it not long after RFTG and at the same time than Dungeon Twister. I was really looking forward to this game, specially the bluff aspect of it since me and my friends were all big poker fans. I was however a bit concerned that the game would turn out to be a fancy rock-paper-scissors variant. Let's see what my take on that is after 10 plays, shall we?


What is the game about

Shazamm! puts two players in the role of sorcerers that happen to want to cross the same bridge at the same time. Since both sorcerers are too full of themselves to let the other pass, they battle it out.

Basically, both players meet in the center and hurl a ball of flame towards the other. This has the effect of creating a big wall of fire between both players.


An epic duel
(photo by puckhead)

Gameplay is really simple. Each turn, both players secretly choose an amount of mana. The player that has bid the higher amount of mana pushes the fire wall one step closer to the opponent. It's as easy as that!

Of course, players have a fixed manapool so bidding too much at the beginning might put you in a difficult spot later on. If at one point, one player doesn't have anymore mana, the wall will go in his direction by the amount remaining the other player and the round is finished.

When the wall reaches one of the players, the round is finished too. What happens next is that both players replace their pawns so they are again 2 spaces away from the wall. Also, the bridge starts crumbling down, beginning at the extremities. This means that at one point, one of the sorcerers will fall down from the bridge. Once this happens, the game is over and the remaining player wins and can cross the bridge (of course the bridge will have almost entirely disappeared by now so I don't really know exactly how the sorcerer will cross but hey... At least you won!).


The bridge is collapsing and green sorcerer is close from falling down!
(photo by Toynan)

Is that it? Obviously not! Players also have 14 different spells plus one "bluff" spell that players can use throughout the game. These spells can be played anytime at the same time that players bid. One of these spells for example allows you to gain some more mana. Another one helps you get the wall back in the middle (if it was dangerously close to you for example!).


Three spells
(photo by EndersGame)

That's about it this time, easy isn't it?


Random Musings

With such simple rules, Shazamm! is a great experience and rather deep one too!

Each players has to bid very efficiently in order to win. At first I was afraid that mostly this would all come down to a rock-paper-scissors match but it appears that the bidding is actually very fierce and that when I play, I actually try to second-guess my opponent, and not just randomly but really looking at the plateau, you are able to know how bad is your position and there actually are some good inputs to base your strategy on (except of course for the first bid of the game).

You have to balance several things in this game. First your board position, you don't want the wall coming too close to you. But in order to do so, you'll have to outbid your opponent and this in turn means you'll have less mana and will risk getting played, so you have to balance your board position with the amount of mana that you keep.

Moreover, cards can really disrupt things. For example one of the cards above is the "winner lose" card. This one means that the lowest bid wins the turn! Of course, if played at the right time, this can have disastrous effects on the other player. But once you've played it, the other player knows it won't come back so he knows he can bid high without fearing this card... You on the other hand will need to bid high too in order to keep up... If the other guy still hasn't played the card, you are in fact exposing yourself to a very nasty play...

Anyway, I think this game has some very nice thinking and difficult decisions to make and really rewards experience. As I said, by reading the rules, the game might look like a fancy rock-paper-scissors variant but when you actually play the game, you realize there is a lot more to it than it appears. If you don't believe me, just check this quiz by o-cedar and you'll see that there is a lot going on in this game! (ps: don't forget to thumb the quiz!).

I rated the game an 8 as the game is very challenging, plays rather fast (though some games have lasted more than 45 minutes ), it is also very fun with lots of "take-that" and "screw-you" moments (the winner-lose is always one of these moments, whether because it has been played to devastating effect or because the spell backfired totally...).


What my game group thinks

Laurène
Laurène is my girlfriend and was initiated to gaming by me, her first hit was Race For The Galaxy, she loves card games like Dominion, Lost Cities, Court of The Medici, as well as real brain burners like Caylus, Dungeon Twister, Through The Ages and Imperial. She also likes Galaxy Trucker, Princes of Florence and Agricola.
Laurène really likes the game, even though she usually doesn't like it when a game features too much "take-that" or "screw-you" action (that's one of the reasons she doesn't enjoy Vinci for example). However, getting screwed here is actually fun and she can't help but try to outsmart me (which she manages to do on more than one occasion!).

Bassem
Bassem came to gaming through me, he played Caylus and this is to this day his favourite game, he really wants brain-burning games with absolutely NO luck. Now, he is a bit more open and has started to enjoy games like Shazamm! though his preference still go to heavier games. He is a very competitive player (he's the only one with me capable of getting angry over a game). To him, games are a kind of sport. He's in it for the competition.
Bassem immediately fell in love with the game. I suspect this has to do with his poker-background. he just loves to be able to bluff and moreover, there is no luck here! Sure he can get screwed, but that won't be because of a bad beat!


Thanks to Traulen, puckhead, Toynan and EndersGame for the photos

I've created a geeklist for those interested in following my reviews here
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Alex Martinez
United States
Irving
Texas
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Re: You shall not pass!
Nice review. I think Shazamm is an excellent game. I don't think of it as a "screwage" type game because while it's true you do mess with your opponent, the game is direct and fast. There's no betrayal here or false diplomacy. It's just a steely battle of wills, and a very cool one at that.

A great light game with excellent depth to it. Everyone I've played with, both gamers and non-gamers, have enjoyed it.
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Cédric Junillon
France
Lausanne (Switzerland) or Lyon (France)
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Re: You shall not pass!
Excellent review, straight to the point ! Thanks for the link to the quiz...
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