I’ve been requested by authortao to review Brawl, a card game that came out a number of years ago. Requests are always appreciated and honored, so here we go!
Brawl is a very fast moving card game put out by Cheapass Games way back in 1999. Each player uses a single deck of cards, each deck being a named character. So you might play Chris, or Gina, or Hale, etc. It actually has a lot in common with Smash Up; the game starts out with bases in the middle and the object is to fight for and win them, using “hit” cards instead of minions. There are also other cards such as block (no hits can be played after a block), press (nullifies a block), clear (removes a whole base and everything on it), and others. But the basic strategy is to rack up as many hits as you can on your side of the bases. Each player has three “freeze” cards at the bottom of his deck; once every base has a freeze on it the game is over and whoever has scored the most bases wins.
So it sounds a bit like Smash Up but there are two very big differences:
1) Brawl takes place in real-time, meaning you don’t take turns, you play cards as quickly (or slowly) as you want. Most of the time you’ll be steaming through your deck quickly but sometimes you need to slow down for strategy reasons.
2) Consequently, a game of Brawl is much shorter than a game of Smash Up…just a minute or two!
So that’s just a wee-bit of a different experience than old Smash Up. It’s more like Smash Up meets Nertz or Speed. And since there are a 15 different characters/decks to choose from (tao and I have picked up the whole set between us, which I have been entrusted with keeping) you can mix things up constantly. And changing characters makes a big difference; some of them play very straightforward, with lots of big hits and not much tricky stuff, while others are much more strategic and need a little more finesse and thinking to play well. Most of the characters have a skill rating such as easy, moderate, or advanced along with a quick description of that character’s strengths and weaknesses so you know right away how tricky it will be to play a certain character, which is nice. The straightforward guys and gals tended to be pretty effective, but I’m much more of a wizard-type than a fighter-type so I usually went for the trickier guys.
Another bit of strategy is that there are three colors of hits and blocks, and colors can’t be mixed on a base. Some characters specialize in only 1 or 2 colors, while others have a bit of all 3. Knowing the various strengths and weaknesses of the various characters is very helpful; e.g. if you know someone is weak to red you can play a red hit on their side of the base (even though you normally play hits on your own side) to hose them over.
The speed and chaos of the game makes it really appealing. Cards are flying everywhere, even off the table sometimes. We also had a few three or even four player games, which are pretty fun. Basically you play a two player game with both your neighbors simultaneously, so there’s really a lot to keep track of, but games are still just a minute or two! We did create one house rule though; when someone played a clear, meaning an entire base and all the cards on it were to be removed from the table, whoever played it would yell “Stop!” and we would stop playing so the cards could be removed. It’s just too big of a disadvantage for the person who has to take the time to clear the base otherwise.
We played the heck out of this game for a while back in the day but eventually it ended up in the bottom of the games bin, unused but not forgotten. It’s a fun, short, easy to set up game that still has a nice bit of strategy and variety to it. And the fact that it’s real-time makes it different than most card games. I definitely wouldn’t mind playing it again. Who knows, maybe it will have a revival and I’ll be throwing cards all about the dining room with abandon again!
Thanks for reading and thanks to authortao for the request!