Designed by James Ernest
Reviewed by Mike Siggins
2-8 & 2-6 players
5-45 minutes & 5-15 minutes per game
Another double header on the review front. This time of a newish range of games from Cheapass Games of Seattle, a city fast becoming the hot bed of gaming. Very much like Simulations Workshop before them, Cheapass have been working out there on the frontiers of game marketing and, in the usual way of these things, have now come to the attention of a number of gamers. They already have a range of four gamekits available of which these are the first two I've obtained. Similarly again, Cheapass are committed to producing good games at a very fair price. This means gamekit style production, but in this instance no work has to be done by the purchaser beyond providing some coloured dobbers, a pencil or a die. The DTP components are well done, indeed quite attractive in the case of Dr Lucky, and are pre-cut and double-sided leaving minimal preparation. However, the cards are (self-admittedly) transparent, so beware peering rivals. The games come in paper envelopes, which are difficult to open without tearing, and represent a bargain at less than $10 each. Both titles come with short rule books which are well written, understandable and complete.
I think it will be clear from the titles alone that we are dealing with a strange, but appealing, sense of humour in Mr Ernest. When one establishes that the games are, respectively, a species of prequel to Cluedo and a chance to finish off James Bond once and for all before his inevitable miracle escape, there is clearly no shortage of odd themes originating in the Pacific Northwest. Our German friends would do well to employ him as a consultant, given some of their weaker rationales of recent years. Nevertheless, it all works as a sales pitch, the titles are catchy and the delivery method is going to get no complaints from me. But, as ever, what of the games?
Before I Kill You, Mister Bond... has the better title, but far weaker gameplay. This is a straightforward card game that, if it emerged from Germany, one might expect to find in the Amigo small box range in the 8+ category. Nothing wrong with that, but there is little here to keep a gamer interested for more than one outing. A shame, since the theme is a passable one and the mechanisms aren't at all bad, but I would suggest the game has neither been balanced nor developed sufficiently to offer much in the way of replayability. That said, it is not without merit.
There are 54 cards in the pack, comprising 18 spies, 18 lair cards and 18 doublers - cards that increase your score by toying with Bond before you kill him (which usually involves challenging him to a final game of chess...). In your turn you draw a card from the deck, play a card into your lair to increase its strength (no lair, no spies) and play a spy card into your or someone else's lair. The spy can be taken from your hand, or ripped from another player's hand - the cards are different colours to allow for easy victimization. If the spy (or a bunch of spies deployed) is bigger than the lair, the lair is destroyed. If smaller, he is captured.
Once captured, the spy can be immediately killed for points which is safe, but not too exciting. Instead, you may play doubling cards on him to increase the value (and doubtless the enjoyment) of the kill. Unfortunately, each doubling card has a matching mate that, if played by a rival, not only enables the spy to escape but he destroys the lair as well (cue traditional end of film explosions). So there is risk involved in playing a doubler until you have seen its mate played, and thereafter it is safe. Even better is to have both matched doubling cards in your hand which represent guaranteed points and this combined with a big spy can be very effective.
So basically it is a game of deciding whether to play cards, and where, and in which a lucky hand or sequence of draws can make all the difference. Since the spies vary in value from 2 to 8, with 32 needed for the win, you can see that a fortunate run can decide a game in no time. That's it, essentially. Although we played twice, one after the other, the distribution of the cards, and the limited tactics make this a game that will not be troubling the scorer in the near future. I rather liked the idea of lairs and playing others cards for them, but the simple expedient of drawing cards, laying, gambling and guessing was not really enough to keep the brain engaged. Much would have been saved if the strategy were any deeper - the answer is always distinctly clear. This leads to minimal decision making, a high luck quotient and precious little enjoyment beyond the odd giggle from a funny card. It is at least very fast. So but pretty lame on balance and not one you should add to the collection.
Kill Doctor Lucky meanwhile is one of those games that improves with more players. Since it can handle up to eight, with no play problems I have been able to identify, this alone will appeal to many large groups looking for a decent little filler. Unusually then we have to look at the lower number of players to establish a workable minimum. I would say this is probably four, though three is passable, but the more the better. So how does this one work? Well, in Cluedo (a historical connection that, I must stress, is inferred by me and not alluded to in the blurb or rules) all the players turn up after the foul deed has been committed and you have to find out who did it. In Dr Lucky, it is your job to do the deed and not get caught. The entire game thus revolves around the quest to murder J Robert Lucky, and whatever your motive may be, everyone else present has the same idea. The first one to finish off the poor chap without being detected wins. This could take as little as two minutes (yes, it happened) to upwards of twenty if he won't go quietly or some busybody is always lurking.
The game takes place on a large map of a mansion, not dissimilar in style to that frequented by Colonel Mustard and friends. This looks good, is clearly laid out, and shows all the important rooms, stairs, passages and doors, enabling you to work out sight lines and ambush locations. Dr Lucky is a daft old buffer, clearly a bit deranged, and therefore moves on a programmed route, every turn, around the thirty odd rooms visiting his guests as he goes. You have a variety of cards at your disposal to lure him off his circuitous route, or to move yourself to the same room, and if alone, and importantly unseen, you can attempt to do him in. For this you will need a weapon card, which vary from billiard cues to shoe horns via bad cream, pinking shears, monkey hands, loud noises and the more traditional revolver. Some of these are more effective in specific rooms, and logically some are more effective than others...
In your turn you may snoop, which allows you to move one room or stay put, and pick up a card - always a popular option. Alternatively, you can forego a new card and play movement cards - as many as you wish - which will whizz you around the mansion (and believe me you need to as Dr Lucky is quick) and make a murder attempt. For this to work you play a weapon card, having ensured you are not overlooked from the balcony or a neighbouring room, and the other players, in turn, have to play failure cards to equivalent value. So, let's say you try to end the good doctor's career with a civil war cannon in the Armory. This has a base value of 3, but 5 if played in said room. Your next opponent may then play a failure 1, hoping that the other two will be able to play a further 4 points between them. We ruled that this stage cannot be discussed, to add interest. If they can't play enough, you win. If they can, you have failed and the next player takes his turn.
So how does this all pan out? Obviously collecting as many cards as you can get is a good ongoing strategy. It is no good moving into position if you don't have a decent weapon, you'll find it hard to track your victim without movement cards (he moves every turn to your once) and you'll always need failure cards to prevent others winning. Even better is to have a couple of weapons so you can try to kill him on one turn, draw out most of the failure cards, and then get him next turn with something else before the others have had the chance to replenish. The other strategy is to lie in wait with a specific, deadly weapon in the appropriate room and hope that he is still alive by the time he gets to you! And you always need to keep a watch on others activity, and hand size, preferably by keeping them in line of sight, but of course if you can see them, they can see you... There is thus a light sprinkling of tactics and a need to time your effort with the rat poison, resulting in a few good laughs and no little luck in having the right cards at the right time.
Kill Dr Lucky is a good little game. It is picked up easily, rattles along and seems to have gone down well enough. Indeed, it has enjoyed more than six outings over the holiday period, which can't be bad. There were some dissenters amongst the gamers who tried it, who I think were disappointed with its simplicity, but I rather liked it. I'd agree it is not exactly taxing, though it is original, well themed and designed as far as it goes and, importantly, great fun with the right crowd - as I said, the more the better, and they'll need to get into the spirit. Its light weight is that of a late night closer, or perhaps as a warm up at a social games group, and since that seems to be broadly where Cheapass are aiming themselves, this is appropriate. It is good value, looks the part and I look forward to more releases from this new company. As ever, I'd prefer something a little heavier in the future, and there is a lurking suspicion that both games would benefit from an added dimension or deeper systems, both of which I am sure are within the remit of Mr Ernest. Whatever, this is still an encouraging start and likely to find a willing audience.
Cheapass Games are available from
2530 East Miller Street
Seattle, WA 98112
The Game Cabinet - firstname.lastname@example.org - Ken Tidwell