Game Review: Frag – A Board Game Based on a FPS Deathmatch. Wait… What?

A game of Deathmatch in Quake, Halo or any number of other First-Person-Shooter video games is where players play against each other; the winner has the most kills. It’s gloriously wanton and carefree – shooting everything that moves within your field of vision. Twitch-gaming at its best.

Now take that concept and unplug. It’s no longer a computer or console game – it’s on a table, with cardboard and plastic pieces, and dice. Lots of dice.

Wait. What?

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Welcome to Frag – Gold Edition, by Steve Jackson Games. “Frag is a computer game without the computer,” according to the introduction in the light, 4 page rule booklet. Clearly, we are not talking about deep strategy, here. It’s a gutsy, go for the glory type of game and if you die, well – wait to respawn and have at it again.

As for the strategy vs. luck involved in winning, I present this evidence: The game comes with 18(!) 6-sided dice. And consider this amazing fact – 18 dice will not always be enough! Couple that with 118 randomly drawn game cards, and well. It is guts over strategy. That will put the “serious” gamers off, and this is less like Chess and more like Risk. Or Uno – except you kill the other players.

For a game of this type to work, it has to play fast and Frag does as long as no one takes things too seriously. The brief rules are clear and well-written, but leave MUCH unsaid about specific situations, and require a degree of game-savvy and ability among the players to decide on “house rules” for circumstances that are not covered in the instructions. I chose to look at that as just another intriguing aspect of the game. If you (or your gaming group, or even one person in your gaming group) *MUST* have officially documented and complete rules, give Frag – Gold Edition a miss. For those who can lighten up and address ambiguous situations as they arise without it bringing the game to a complete standstill, read on.

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Each player has 3 stats: Health, Speed and Accuracy. You get 7 points to divide this among the attributes, as long as each stat gets at least 1 point and not more than 4.

There are also 3 different cards in the game: Weapons, Gadgets and Specials. Each player starts with 1 of each, and has opportunity throughout the game to draw more. These cards add a lot of flavor to the game and are often humorous.

The Special cards are fun and emulate online gaming experiences. The “No Carrier” card means a player is immediately dropped from the game and has to respawn. The “Lag” card causes a player to miss their turn. “Extra Ram” card allows the player to have 1 extra card in their hand, and so on. This is in keeping with the theme and holds up very well.

A player’s game turn consists of 3 phases:

  1. Check for Respawn
  2. Roll for Movement
  3. Movement, which consists of multiple possible actions:
    1. Move\jump
    2. Pick-Ups (attempt to grab an item on an adjacent square)
    3. Attack

These phases are straight-forward and resolved with dice roles, sometimes modified by the effects of a played card. After a player finishes his turn, it goes to the next player who does the same. The game is over once a player has scored 3 frags.

Basic math skills are needed – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are frequently used, but the equations are not difficult. I’d say they were a good learning tool for kids to learn math, but the subject matter might be too violent to consider it a family game.

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The game components are great. The board is double-sided and made of thick chipboard, as are the die-cut counters for pick-ups and bullets. The cards are good stock and have rounded corners and the art is interesting and well-themed. The player boards where stats are maintained are dry-erase and reusable. 1 dry-erase pen is included (additional dry-erase pens recommended) The rules are brief and to the point. And it includes 18 d6 dice, which will be enough for most rolls, but you may have to do 2 separate rolls on occasions where more dice are required. The game needs a lot of dice.

I bought the game on Amazon for less than $15, shipped; a bargain, and I don’t know how long that will continue. For those looking for a fast-paced low-strategy game that finishes in an hour or less, Frag fits that bill very well.  This one won’t gather dust on my shelves.

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Review of the PC Game, The Novelist

I’ve been playing the PC game, The Novelist on and off for a couple of weeks.

You play as a formless entity, possessing the house that Dan Kaplan and his wife and son move into. Dan is a writer and is dealing with a bad case of writer’s block. His marriage has seen better times and his son is having trouble with bullies in school.  All of them hope this move is a new beginning, but each brings their own baggage along to insure that does not happen.

As the player,  you lurk around the house, reading notes, diaries and even the memories of Kaplan family.  In this way, story lines evolve and you eventually are placed in the situation where you must decide what Dan will do and what will be left undone.

Will you work on your novel? The deadline is looming and it’s nowhere close to ready. Will you spend quality time with your wife, or your son? Both are feeling neglected. Ultimately, you have to prioritize what things Dan will do and what he won’t do, and be prepared to live with the consequences.

Clearly, this is not a conventional game. No matter what decisions you make, someone will be disappointed.  That is the intriguing hook, a life lesson and also the game’s downfall. It’s like real life – making compromises and setting precedence of a thing or a person over another.  Repeatedly. 

Unlike games that are an escape and allow the player to play as incredible, super-powered heroes having fantastic adventures, The Novelist opts to show you the third-party perspective of what real life looks like, including the disappointments.  Especially the disappointments.

 

The Novelist trailer

 

While I dig the writer theme,  sensible presentation and smooth, arty graphics,  the game served as a constant reminder that I was playing a game where a primary goal was for a game character to write, rather than writing, myself.  It’s a PC game about the difficulty of balancing writing, career and family.  As if I needed a game to experience that.

As an interesting concept, it works. As a fun game, it fails.

Your mileage may vary.