Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Putting boring games in a chokehold with a modern Ameritrash classic

When I was just kid, I remember being completely enthralled with Hulk Hogan.  Yes, I was a little Hulkamaniac.  My best friend and I lived and breathed professional wrestling, watching it at every possible time it was on TV and playing with our toys incessantly.  My dad even took us to see live wrestling once.  Oh, the pomp and circumstance around guys like the Macho Man (all puns intended), Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Ricky Steamboat, and yes, even Hulk Hogan.  We eventually grew out of it but were drawn back in several years ago and it felt like nothing except the names had changed.  It still managed to captivate us and provide us with all the fun of our youth.  I remembered why I loved it then and the nostalgia brought the happiness flooding back.

There have been a few wrestling games to come along throughout the years with some success.  Wrasslin' is often viewed very favorably.  Raw Deal was a huge player in the CCG era, spawning tons of expansions and having actual World Championships for several years.  The newest game to enter the wrestling game genre is Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice by Backspindle Games.  Wrestling and dice? They had my attention right away!


Rules

Luchador comes with a bunch of different options to tailor your play experience to your needs.  The rulebook starts you off with the basics so you can jump right in and get playing.  From there, you get presented with the advanced rules which really add flavor to the game.  There's also options for tag-team matches, steel cage matches, and free-for-all matches.  Almost anything you could want from a wrestling game is presented in the rules.

The basic idea is that each wrestler gets 4 Mexican wrestling dice.  These dice have hits, blocks, counters, pins, and misses on their sides.  Each player rolls their 4 dice simultaneously and the results are compared.  Counters reverse hits.  Blocks cancel hits.  Misses mean nothing happens. And Hits inflict damage.  For each unblocked Hit, the player rolls a Hit die which determines the type of hit and how much damage is dealt.  If you have two or more unblocked hits, you can elect to roll the Luchador die instead giving you the possibility of extra damage.  After damage is assigned, any Pin results on the Mexican wrestling dice are applied and if your opponent's health is low enough, you may be able to pin them and win the match!  Matches are played until someone is pinned or if their health gets to 0 and they are knocked out.

The rules teach you the basic game incredibly well.  There's a bit of confusion on the advanced rules, but only because they are explained too well.  They should have been summarized a bit better with less words.  I will say that there was no question I had that couldn't be answered by looking through the rules.  Some of the answers just weren't quite as obvious as I would have hoped.  Still, this is a pretty solid rulebook that's much clearer than a lot of others.  Also, the designer and publisher are very good at answering questions at Boardgamegeek.com so should you come up with an issue, post there and you will likely get an official answer pretty quickly.

I'll dock the game .5 points for the minor confusion in the Advanced rules.  It's not major, but it's not perfect.  The optional rules and matches are a nice bonus so I'll add a little extra for that.  Final score - 4.75 points


Components

Sometimes a game just goes so far above and beyond what is called for that it becomes garish.  Sometimes it's just completely extraneous and drives up the cost of a game without adding anything useful. THIS IS NOT THAT GAME.


Seriously, you get a wrestling ring.  This bad boy is made out of nice thick cardboard and elastic cords you tie into ropes.  How is that not completely awesome looking!  Does this drive up the cost?  Sure it does.  It also adds a ton of theme and fun to an awesome game.  I can't understate how great this is for a game like this.

Want to do a cage match?  Turn it upside down!


HOW AWESOME IS THAT!!!

But hey, if you don't want to play the awesome way you can always just use the board that's got a printed ring on it.  Of course, you can't be my friend if you like that better.

As if that wasn't enough, you get a bunch of awesome cardboard stand-ups that are illustrated beautifully.  Each of the 9 characters gets its own standup and two matching cards, one for the base game and one for the advanced game.  There are also health tracker cards, the turn-order chips for the Free-for-all matches, and wood tokens for tracking your health


Lastly, what's a dice game without dice?  It's one thing to have standard six-siders, but in a game like this where all your dice have custom sides, it's important that they look awesome.  And wow, these sure do!


The dice are all nice weights and feel like good plastic.  There are 4 sets of Mexican wrestling dice so you can have 4 players in free-for-all mode or you can even run two simultaneous tag-team matches.  The black Luchador dice are actually bigger than the other dice which is a nice touch since they are so important.  The printing on these things is top-notch and it seems like it's not likely to rub off.

The only complaint I have is that the dice should have been engraved instead of printed.  It's just a pet-peeve of mine.  I can justify this here because that would have driven the price too high.  It's simple enough to fix with some clear coat spray paint if you need it. 

Despite the printing/engraving issue, this game gets a perfect score on the components.  Seriously, it doesn't get much cooler than this.  Final score - 5 points, plus some bonuses for later on.


Gameplay

Player count - The box says 2-4 players which is accurate.  I think you could stretch it to 6 or by doing 3 vs. 3 or 4 vs. 4 tag matches, but that may be boring.  Although now that I'm thinking about it, you can do a 4-on-4 Survivor Series match which isn't boring at all!  I bet they hadn't thought of that.

Ideally though, 2-4 players is where it's at.  You have enough dice for 4 players simultaneously regardless of configuration.

Game length - It varies, greatly!  Most singles matches last less than 10 minutes.  Sometimes they last less than 3 turns if the dice are feeling fiesty.  Tag matches are much longer, usually about 15 minutes.  There's a lot of variety in these matches and I personally like that. Sometimes you get in there and beat each other up, sometimes its slow and methodical.  Sometimes a wrestler will look to be almost out of it and then will stage a stunning comeback.  You just never know.  That's the beauty of dice.

Characters - Any wrestling fan knows that we get into our favorite characters and their personas as much as we do the actual wrestling. We love to cheer our favorites and boo their enemies. A lot of what makes each wrestler unique is their moveset and their in-ring personality.  Luchador! does a fantastic job of giving each of the wrestlers a unique advantage and disadvantage.  This makes each character feel very different and even perform different.

They even went as far as to write some flavor text for the Luchador dice maneuvers on each wrestler.  I like to read these out loud when they happen to add to the match narrative.  It's an awesome touch that adds depth.

They missed one golden opportunity and that was naming the Killer Combinations for each character.  It's easy enough to do that on my own, but it would have been awesome to have those be official names.

The ring - What's so special about rolling dice?  In this game, you need to roll them in the ring.  That awesome prop is more than just eye candy.  You need to roll your dice in there and any that pop out don't count!  It happens more than you think it would, especially if you roll your dice aggressively at your opponent's dice and you try to knock them out purposely.  It works fairly well albeit at the risk of your own dice.  They don't tell you that in the rulebook. I think it's one of the hidden bits of awesomeness in this box.


Strategy - If it's all just rolling dice, where's the strategy?  For starters, you can hold block dice from round to round if they are not used.  If you are getting beat down, you may want to hold those over.  The downside to this is you don't get as much attacking in.  If it keeps you alive, it may be worth turtling.

You can also hold dice from turn to turn in order to pull off your wrestler's Killer Combo.  Getting a certain dice combo means you get to roll a bunch of extra dice to inflict pain on your opponent.  Usually there are Pin dice in there which means you get to try and pin your opponent first.

Tag teams are where the most strategy comes in.  Every time you successfully tag out, your wrestler recovers one health.  Failing to make your tag-out roll leaves you stunned which can be really bad, so you need to judge when it's best to do it.  Quick, successful tags can leave your team with a lot of health putting you in a great position quickly.

The players are more important than the game - Here's where the gameplay steps out of the box and onto the players.  This game needs to be played loose and fast with an emphasis on fun.  There's a lot of awesome things happening in the game and those things are made better or worse by the people playing the game.  Play this trying to win and being a rules lawyer and you'll suck the fun right out of this one.  Play it to have fun and get into the spirit of pro wrestling and you will have a blast.  Talk trash, read the flavor text, make up your own play-by-play.  Do whatever it takes to get into the spirit of the game and watch your experience elevate from fun game to raucous hooliganism.  It takes the entire experience to the next level.

Some games are great because of brilliant mechanisms.  Others are great because they make the players part of the game.  This is definitely the latter.  To me, it's much harder to do that than it is to create some awe-inspiring new rule system. 

To me, Ameritrash is a kind of game in which the players are more important than the mechanisms in the game.  Any time the players are immersed in theme, it's Ameritrash. When you combine theme with fun mechanisms and can make the players more important than the game, you have an Ameritrash classic.  That's exactly what you have here.

Final Score - 9.8 out of 10.  -.2 points for not naming the finishing moves.  It's definitely a nit-pick, but nothing is perfect.

Overall - Luchador scores a 19.55 out of 20.  I'm willing to add .2 points as a bonus for the amazing components.  Let's call the final score 19.75 out of 20.  On the BGG scale, this is an easy 9.9 out of 10.  I'd play this bad boy anytime you asked me to.  I'll run tournaments at conventions or any game day.  I can't wait to show this to more people.  I think they'll enjoy it every bit as much as I do.


The Wrap Up

Here's the thing about Luchador:  This is not a strategy game. There's no deep decisions here.  You won't burn your brain figuring out how to beat your opponent.  This won't challenge Shanghaien or Ra: The Dice Game for my favorite strategic dice game at all.  When I want strategy, I will play those.

What Luchador brings is a ton of fun.  There's theme dripping off this thing in almost every way.  The game is tied pretty deeply into it's theme and maximizes those tie-ins to create a rich experience.  There's amazing components that add to the entire package, immersing you in the world of Luchador wrestling.  You've got a wide variety of play options to keep things fresh for a quite a while.

This is the second edition of this game.  I couldn't tell you what the first version looked like, but it had enough legs to get a second printing and this game should get even more press.  If you like fun dice games, you'll love it.  If you love pro wrestling, you'll like it even more.  This is a modern Ameritrash classic that will be played by fun-loving gamers everywhere for quite some time.  The price tag is a bit on the high side for the amount of game you get, but it's completely worth it for the immersion into the theme.

If you are looking for a top-notch wrestling game, look no further.  This is the game you want. 

Now, how about we start getting some expansions?



I did receive this game as a review copy from Backspindle Games, although I paid for shipping so it was not entirely free.

2 comments :

P.J. said...

Great review of this game. I really love it, too.

I was perusing the BGG forums on this game, saw this review and was like ... hey, I met him at ConnCon!

This game was a blast and I'm preparing to order it. Thanks for sharing and showing the game off. Definitely sold it for me! I want to run some tournaments, I think, with our game group if they go for it,

stormseeker75 said...

Hey, buddy! Thanks for dropping a nice compliment. Hit me up via email. Info at cardboardinsanity dot com. Or Follow me on Twitter: @cardboardinsane

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