November 25, 2016 /
Designer: Filip Neduk
Publisher: Czech Games Edition
Category: First (Third?) Person Shooter?
Player Count: 3-5
BoardGameGeek Rating: 7.5 (361 votes)
Two words you hear tossed around in board gaming are “Eurogame” and “Ameritrash.” Generally speaking, “Eurogame” refers to games that focus on clever mechanisms, at the expense of theme. On the other hand, “Ameritrash” games have long rulebooks, lots of in-game text, and a heavy emphasis on the theme—usually fighting monsters, or a world war, or otherwise killing things.
Czech Games Edition has always been known for pushing boundaries. They did one of the first real-time cooperative games (Space Alert), one of the first games with app integration (Alchemists), and a party game successful precisely because it is so thought-provoking (Codenames). Here, we see them at it again, with an “Ameritrash” game guided by “Eurogame” mechanisms. In Adrenaline, players run around an arena and shoot each other as in video games like Halo or Doom. They do this by collecting resource cubes (ammo) and playing cards in a very “Euro” style—damage is sort of an area control mechanism, and there’s no dice. Can such a hybrid work? Let’s find out!
The game is obviously violent, as players run around, grab weapons, and shoot each other. However, the game is presented comically and there’s no gore.
When you open up Adrenaline‘s huge box and riffle through the components, there are definitely some things that stand out. First, you’ll see the game does a great job using vibrant colors on the boards and miniatures. They look fun, but still fit the FPS style without being dark or serious. Second, you’ll probably be overwhelmed by the hieroglyphics on the weapons cards. Those are the game’s biggest strength and biggest struggle.
In true FPS fashion, this game is all about running, grabbing stuff, and shooting things. Each square is either a spawn-point full of weapons, or an area with a crate full of ammo and power-ups. Taking a turn is simple: you have two actions, and three options for those actions: move a lot, move and grab stuff, or shoot. As you get shot, your adrenaline kicks in and you get some better actions (move, move grab; move, shoot). Grabbing weapons requires you pay resource cubes in three colors (ammo), as does reloading them (a free end-of-turn action). Shooting is as simple as playing the card face-up on the table.
These rules are slick and straightforward, as is scoring. Each player is essentially an “area” that other players vie for control over. Whoever deals the most damage gets the most points, and so on down the line. Players can earn bonus points for first blood, double kills, kill shots, and overkill—the kill shots themselves are also scored majority-style at game’s end. Players can also give “marks” that will amplify later hits, and power-ups allow for extra damage, tag backs, and teleports. It’s all familiar ground to FPS veterans, so much so that the rules can easily be remembered simply because they are intuitive. (It also helps that the limit of holding anything—cubes, cards of each type—is always three.)
The weapons cards, though, are the real meat of the game. They’re also where the intuition can break down. Each weapon attacks other players in a unique way, and each is chock full of iconography. After four games, I can say that I can quickly glance at a weapon and understand what it does, but getting to that point with the iconography was not easy. The gist was never difficult, but the nuances were (same square? same room? line of sight needed? etc.) Some of the iconography is really just art, when it appears only on a single card—and while that’s a nice thematic touch, it’s not necessarily helpful. I did find, however, that FPS veterans had a slightly easier time with the icons. But our first few games definitely involved the weapons manual being passed around constantly. Once you have an experienced player in the mix, however, that will cut things down considerably.
My plays were with several different groups, modes, and player counts. I’ve found that this game is not very good with three players, but wonderful with four or five. There’s no adjustment for player count other than possibly using a bot, which I would rather not do. I would have preferred to see adjusted scoring for fewer players. Quite often, with three people, one player would be set to get eight points and one would expect seven. That’s not enough of a difference to justify finishing a player off, and the game becomes rather boring when it disincentivizes kill shots. For the same reason, I did not find the variant modes very fun, primarily because they eliminated the kill shot track. However, I suppose you could house-rule that kill shots are still relevant and use both types of scoring.
I also find that the rulebook is very correct to suggest you only play to five kills in your first game, with no final frenzy. In fact, we stuck with five kills for our first several games. Until everyone has the game down, eight kills is too long for what this game offers. And it’s still a satisfying experience if you play simply to five or six kills with a final frenzy.
I’ve begun with my nitpicks for some reason, but let me be clear: this game is awesome. Once you’re over the learning curve, this game plays very smoothly and quickly. Turns are lightning fast, just running and shooting people. And once you understand the weapons, they turn from confusing to cool. I remember killing a player who did not think he was in danger by shotgunning his face, so that I could project him into another room that would make my second weapon active. Those kind of maneuvers, straight from the FPS playbook, make the game incredibly fun and exciting. And for me, someone who prefers thought-play that does not involve kinesthetic play, I enjoy this far more than the twitchy activity of actually playing an FPS.
Adrenaline is innovative in its merging of concepts, and even in its simplicity. It’s incredibly intuitive, fast-playing and clever, and has a very high coolness factor. It’s also ripe for expansions—I look forward to new weapons and variable player powers. While your first few games require some investment, it’s well worth it. Adrenaline is a strong contender for game of the year.
Thank you to Czech Games Edition for providing a review copy of Adrenaline.
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