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Subject: Preliminary review from GenCon rss

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Rob Herman
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I had the opportunity to play a prototype of Gauntlet of Fools at GenCon. Ordinarily I would try to play a game a few more times before reviewing it; but since the game is still being Kickstarted, I will do my best to describe it from my single play impression.

I was interested in Gauntlet of Fools because it's designed by Donald X. of Dominion fame--which is my favorite game. It was pitched to me by a friend who had seen the video as "Munchkin that knows when to end", which doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, but I had confidence and deep curiosity. To get this out of the way,

Gauntlet of Fools is very unlike Munchkin.

When describing Gauntlet of Fools, the game that comes to mind above all others is Galaxy Trucker. As in Galaxy Trucker, Gauntlet of Fools takes place in two stages. First is a "preparation" phase, where most of the strategy lies, and second is a "gauntlet of hazards" phase, where the players experience a series of dangers and opportunities in parallel. It is also like Galaxy Trucker in that the best part is watching everything go wrong during the gauntlet--and best of all, it's pretty much guaranteed to.

Preparation

A number of characters are dealt out from the Character deck, and each one gets a weapon from the Weapon deck. Not only are the characters and weapons of wildly differing powers, but some will combo better or worse with each other.

Players take turns selecting characters. The trick--the heart of the game, I think--is that you are allowed to take someone else's character if you "boast" more than they do. Boasts are various handicaps that you volunteer for your character to suffer, like "Hopping on One Foot" (defense penalty), "With a Hangover" (severe offense and defense penalties until you kill your first monster), "Without Breakfast" (start with a wound), etc. You can voluntarily make additional boasts when you take a character to make it more unattractive to steal.

Once all players have a character and some have boasts, each takes their tokens--most characters and weapons seem to have tokens which represent limited-use special abilities. Then they enter the gauntlet.

Gauntlet

In the gauntlet, players meet one card after another from the Encounter deck until they are all dead. All players must face each encounter separately--unless we had a very unusual game, the player interaction is minimal from here on out. To attack a monster, you roll dice (granted by your weapon) and try to meet its defense--if it is, you take its gold. To defend, you hope your defense is better than its attack--if it's not, you'll take one or more wounds. Some monsters grant penalties (curses, etc.) and others grant non-gold bonuses (extra actions, extra attack dice, etc.) if you beat them.

The monsters are tuned to deal more damage than the characters can cope with. You will use up your limited-use character and weapon powers, and eventually take enough wounds to die. Unlike Galaxy Trucker, there is no hope of limping across the finish line and definitely no hope that you will actually come out smelling like roses. Just like real life, whoever dies with the most gold coins wins.

Game Experience
The best part of Galaxy Trucker is watching meteors hit your opponents' ships and ruin their plans. The second best part is watching helplessly as your own ship falls apart due to bad luck (surely, never mistakes!). That's why all the expansions make that game harder. Likewise, in Gauntlet of Fools, the best part of the fun is in watching your opponents botch their attack rolls, take wounds from monsters they can't handle, and die horribly. And they get to watch you do it, too! By contrast to Galaxy Trucker, the preparation phase is minimal--the boasting is an interesting mechanic and allows for some fun, silly roleplay, but it's over fairly quickly.

Gauntlet of Fools will probably draw a lot of comparisons to Munchkin because of the similar theme (fantasy dungeon crawl) and, in a way, the fun source (watching horrible things happen to everyone) but the games are really very different. Gauntlet of Fools is paced in a much more appropriate way and lacks the chaotic take-that aspect that permeates Munchkin. The game will go to the player with the most skill and luck (emphasis on the luck), not the second player to threaten to win, and a 6-player game should still take the time of a filler game, not multiple hours.

I speculate that very few games will benefit from the addition of an adult beverage or two as well as Gauntlet of Fools.

Components

Since I played a prototype, I clearly cannot speak to the construction quality of the components. The illustrations were attractive and done in a "straight" style, as opposed to the cartoonish style of Galaxy Trucker or Munchkin. I thought this was an unusual choice, given the over-the-top and a bit fatalistic nature of the game, but they look good.

Verdict

After my day at the convention, I went back to the hotel and immediately signed up for the Kickstarter. Gauntlet of Fools is fun, quick, and lighthearted and will be a good match for my group when we're in the mood to kill things and laugh for a while. It fulfills its design goals admirably: lighthearted fun with a bit of gallows humor; enough room for skill to make you feel good if you win, but not so much that we will expect to see gauntletoffoolsstrategy.com get a lot of traction. If you strongly prefer a more controlled, strategic game or you are really craving the direct take-that hostility of a game like Munchkin, it might be less your speed.
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Harald Korneliussen
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I wonder about the tactics in the Gauntlet phase.

The rules posted on the Kickstarter page don't give full card descriptions, but they do give rules clarifications, so we can infer a lot. It seems to me there can be quite a bit of room for tactical cleverness - encounters that give options, resource expenditure decisions, and there is at least one card that depends on what other players have done (the Necromancer's power of copying dead heroes). Especially in the two player variant where players have two heroes and pick one for each encounter, it does seem decisions in the Gauntlet can make a big difference, too.

People used to say that Dominion hands played themselves in the beginning. Not many say that today... I'm optimistic about this game's potential.
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The Compulsive Completist
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As a Dominion fan and a Galaxy Truckers hater I am still on the fence. soblue
 
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Rob Herman
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vintermann wrote:
I wonder about the tactics in the Gauntlet phase.

The rules posted on the Kickstarter page don't give full card descriptions, but they do give rules clarifications, so we can infer a lot. It seems to me there can be quite a bit of room for tactical cleverness - encounters that give options, resource expenditure decisions, and there is at least one card that depends on what other players have done (the Necromancer's power of copying dead heroes). Especially in the two player variant where players have two heroes and pick one for each encounter, it does seem decisions in the Gauntlet can make a big difference, too.

People used to say that Dominion hands played themselves in the beginning. Not many say that today... I'm optimistic about this game's potential.


I think there is definitely room for cleverness, and experience will improve your tactical gauntlet play. For both encounters that give options and resource expenditures, knowing what is likely come out of the deck next will help you make a better decision. However: you will still sometimes roll a total of 8 on 4d6 and fail to kill the monster, you know? Or one of the three monsters in the deck you really didn't want to see is the one that comes next. For those of us who don't have an icy acceptance of probability and risk, laughing at yourself when you make all the decisions and are screwed by luck anyway is going to be super important.

I am also optimistic about the game's potential, but I didn't want to overpromise it, and more so than Dominion, terrible luck might trump your strategy. You know how Dominion players hate drawing $2 + a potion on a Familiar board? That sort of thing can happen literally every time you fight a monster.
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Harald Korneliussen
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But Dominion has a bit of a runaway effect, early bad luck comes back to bite you (especially with the 2+p familiar scenario). Aren't encounters a good deal more independent, so that luck evens out? Barring a few effects such as a hangover, of course...
 
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Rob Herman
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Hockey Mask wrote:
As a Dominion fan and a Galaxy Truckers hater I am still on the fence. soblue


Why don't you like Galaxy Trucker? If you don't care for the real-time tile grabbing, that's entirely absent. On the other hand, if you really hate it when a big meteor hits the one vulnerable spot and ruins your plans, Gauntlet of Fools might frustrate you for the same reason.
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Erik Rodriguez
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The first time I looked at this game on kickstarter the artwork didn't grab me and I said "meh". Then I read the rulebook and instantly pledged (even added $7 for rush delivery). This seems like an awesome filler game for groups like mine that love to smack talk. All of these review(s) and videos are getting me more and more excited for this game.
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The Compulsive Completist
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Sitnaltax wrote:
Hockey Mask wrote:
As a Dominion fan and a Galaxy Truckers hater I am still on the fence. soblue


Why don't you like Galaxy Trucker? If you don't care for the real-time tile grabbing, that's entirely absent. On the other hand, if you really hate it when a big meteor hits the one vulnerable spot and ruins your plans, Gauntlet of Fools might frustrate you for the same reason.


The "ruined plans" was the best thing in Galaxy Truckers so this might have a chance. I really didn't like the real-time building.
 
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Rob Herman
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vintermann wrote:
But Dominion has a bit of a runaway effect, early bad luck comes back to bite you (especially with the 2+p familiar scenario). Aren't encounters a good deal more independent, so that luck evens out? Barring a few effects such as a hangover, of course...


This is a good point, and unfortunately I didn't play the game enough to really give a good answer. Certainly there are some "snowball" effects, like the Unicorn that gives you an attack bonus if you beat it, and the Bag of Loot weapon that becomes more powerful as you gain treasure. But unlike Dominion, early turns aren't devoted entirely to improving your outlook.

My best guess is that a single game will be over too quickly for the luck to feel like it evens out, but I could definitely be wrong.
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H-H Boudje
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Any idea about the scaling with different number of players?
 
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Clyde W
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The box size is the same as Resistance second edition?
 
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Rob Herman
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Boudje wrote:
Any idea about the scaling with different number of players?


From 3-6 players, since you basically play in parallel, the game doesn't change in any way and should scale fine. If you are willing to share dice and maybe use pennies for tokens I bet you could squeeze 7 or 8 in without trouble if they arrive just as you finish setting up or whatever.

The 2-player game has a twist where you pick two characters and choose one of them to meet each encounter. My guess is that that's to add a little more depth to the character selection (which is otherwise very thin with only two players) and a little more meat to the game, to keep both players in it longer... and for twice as much schadenfreude as two characters per player die.
 
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Rob Herman
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clydeiii wrote:
The box size is the same as Resistance second edition?


I'm not sure--I didn't look that closely--but you can see it in the Kickstarter video.
 
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Travis Worthington
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2010 Releases ........................................ The Resistance, Haggis & Triumvirate ..................................... Now accepting submissions for 2011 releases ........................................ www.IndieBoardsandCards.com
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First i should say thank you here, your review has done a great job of capturing the feel I get from playing. Its always good to see that others see the same thing in a game that I've published.

Sitnaltax wrote:
Boudje wrote:
Any idea about the scaling with different number of players?


From 3-6 players, since you basically play in parallel, the game doesn't change in any way and should scale fine. If you are willing to share dice and maybe use pennies for tokens I bet you could squeeze 7 or 8 in without trouble if they arrive just as you finish setting up or whatever.

The 2-player game has a twist where you pick two characters and choose one of them to meet each encounter. My guess is that that's to add a little more depth to the character selection (which is otherwise very thin with only two players) and a little more meat to the game, to keep both players in it longer... and for twice as much schadenfreude as two characters per player die.


The game comes with enough dice and tokens to play with 6.

The box is bigger than The Resistance, the dimensions are on the game page. The box will be full, 200 tokens, 30 dice and 90 cards take a lot of space.

I haven't tried it, but I think that the two player rules could easily be extended to handle three or four experienced players looking for a more strategic game. As you have correctly surmised, selecting two heroes adds another level of depth to the boasting phase - you need to evaluate how your heroes will interact as you have more choices in the gauntlet phase.
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H-H Boudje
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Thank you very much for your answer. Considering what you said, it seems that there is nothing less in a 2 player experience?
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Travis Worthington
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Boudje wrote:
Thank you very much for your answer. Considering what you said, it seems that there is nothing less in a 2 player experience?


The two player game works very well. There is a little more going on at once, so more of a learning curve for the first game but nothing that a pair of gamers couldn't handle.
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H-H Boudje
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Thank you, we will see that in a couple of month then.
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Thanks for the review. I'm definitely intrigued, but even though Dominion is one of my favorites, I felt that Kingdom Builder and Infiltration were very meh.

This one's a wait-and-see for me.
 
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David Oldster
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So the Kickstarter perk is three cards?
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