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In the evening, when cowboys, gold diggers, soldiers and other thirsty souls want to wet their throats with some whiskey, you only need to say one false word, and all hell breaks loose. Well, while you're there, why don't you join the others in their fun and beat the dust out of some unfriendly fellows? A delightful fighting card game for 3-6 players.
If you've ever watched some of the old 'B' Western movies from several decades ago, you will undoubtedly recall the many scenes of raucous saloons filled with wild characters. Seems like the favorite pastime in those old, dusty Western towns was drinking, poker playing and slug-fests. Sounds a lot like Bourbon Street here in New Orleans! Well, I guess if you lived in such a remote place in a time prior to the emergence of 'German' style games, there was little else to do for entertainment.
Although the old West has been a bonanza theme-wise for games, to my knowledge there hasn't been a game which utilized this 'bar-room brawl' theme. That is, until now. The small German game company Krimsus Krimskrams Kiste has released Saloon, an entertaining, fast-paced card game which does manage to somewhat capture the flavor and spirit of these wild free-for-alls. It's bloody, vicious and nasty, but it is all in good fun. Last man standing wins!
Each player represents a standard wild West character, including the crusty Gold Digger, the noble Cavalry Officer, the warrior Indian brave, the scorned Half-blood, the wily Gambler and the rough-and-tumble Cowboy. In actuality, these characters have absolutely no difference, each possessing ten hit points and no special abilities. They are present simply to add flavor.
The mechanics of the game are quite simple and, from my understanding, bear a strong resemblance to the card game Lunch Money. However, I have never played that game as the dark artwork, captions and theme just didn't sit well with me. Somehow in my totally illogical hierarchy of morals, however, a bar-room brawl is perfectly acceptable!
Each player chooses a character and begins the game with five cards, which he attempts to use to batter his opponents unconscious. The cards are illustrated with outstanding and often humorous artwork, which really helps capture the spirit of the game and time period. The cards come in a wide variety of descriptive and, yes, vicious varieties. Each are color coded to easily identify the type of card they are: Attack, Hit, Item, Defense, Help or Event.
Attack Cards: We're talking nasty here, from the gentle jab to the Mike Tysonesque roundabout. There are also kicks (which appear from the illustration to be perfectly placed to strike your opponent in the groin -- OUCH!), head-butts, item tossing and even the leaping from a table onto an unsuspecting opponent! Attack cards list the amount of damage they inflict upon the hapless victim.
Hit Cards: Hit cards can be used to supplement an attack and usually have the effect of increasing the amount of damage the target suffers or in some way rendering him unable to respond to the assault.
Item Cards: Several attack cards state that they utilize an item in order to render their damage. Items include bottles of whiskey, chairs, spittoons and even beer barrels! They are not played along, but in conjunction with an appropriate attack card.
Defense Cards: Like an honest-to-goodness brawl, you don't have to take the attacks lying down. No, if you have the proper cards, you can defend yourself. Most of these mitigate the damage caused by the attack, but some are much more effective. One deflects the assault back onto the attacker, causing the aggressor to suffer the damage! My favorite, however, is the 'Grab Someone Else' card, wherein you grab an unsuspecting opponent and use him as a human shield. This hapless soul suffers the damage that was originally intended for you!
Help Cards: Tired of seeing your best buddy picked on by that foul-mouthed Cowboy? You can use these help cards to leap to his assistance. Or, if you prefer, you can aid the attacker in his vicious assault!
Event Cards: Event cards can only be played if it is your turn to attack and you do not possess an attack card. All is not lost, however, as events often assist you by restoring lost health points (nothing lot a good shot of whiskey to cure the wounds!) or help distract an opponent (gotta love those saucy Can-Can Girls!).
No doubt about it, the cards are the game. As entertaining as they are, however, there are some problems. First and foremost to we English speakers, there is a ton of German text on the cards. There is virtually no way you could play this game smoothly and quickly with non-German speakers without pasting English translations on the cards. Otherwise, you would be constantly forced to look at the translations, which would slow the game down to a crawl. The game is clearly meant to be played at a fast and furious clip, so ignore your objections on defacing gaming cards and paste-up those translations. Good buddy Ted Cheatham has uploaded paste-ups to the Boardgame Geek site and deserves a lot of credit for the effort he put forth in preparing them. They aren't trimmed perfectly, however, so be prepared to spend quite a bit of time measuring, re-sizing and trimming them so they will fit properly.
Further, some of the instructions on the cards aren't terribly clear. We had considerable confusion in our first game regarding the timing and effects of various cards, particularly when they were used in certain combinations. After some clarifications from fellow gamers and the designer, future games flowed much more smoothly.
My final nitpick is that there simply isn't a great variety of cards. I realize the financial and physical limitations faced by Krismus, but the deck is depleted and re-shuffled numerous times during the course of a game. The result is that the same cards surface over and over again. It would have been nice to have a wider range of cards available to maintain the novelty and variety. Perhaps an expansion pack is in order?
As mentioned, game play is quite simple. The lead player plays an 'attack' card, which can be supplemented by a 'hit' card and occasionally by an item. The target of the attack has the opportunity to play a card in defense, which may nullify or mitigate the attack in some fashion. Any damage suffered is marked directly on the character card. Each player can suffer ten points of damage before being rendered unconscious. Curiously, however, the game does not provide any counters to mark the damage, so you'll have to scrounge for suitable markers. We actually use small cardboard disks which were salvaged from Doge!
Once an attack is resolved, the attacker draws two new cards from the draw pile and may exchange one of his cards in his hand for yet another fresh card. The target of his previous attack is now the new attacker and continues this cycle of wanton brutality. If a player does not possess an 'attack' card when it is his turn, he may play an Event card instead. As mentioned above, these cards usually cause some sort of event to occur, or help restore damage points. If the player does not possess a 'blue' card, he must pass one of his cards to an opponent, who then becomes the new attacker. This entire process continues until the saloon floor is littered with unconscious bodies and there is only one player left standing.
There's not a lot of deep strategy here, but there isn't supposed to be. The idea is to have a rollicking good time bashing each other into oblivion. Played in the right spirit, the game accomplishes this objective quite well. Even during my first game when we played a number of rules incorrectly, I got into character and laughed myself silly. Further games did not diminish the fun. If played with a group who failed to get into character or were looking for something more serious, the game would undoubtedly flop. However, with the right group of people, I can see this one becoming a regular 'filler'. Nothing like a good brawl between friends!