List Price: $79.00
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(Worth 6,320 Funagain Points!)
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The HellGame is a boardgame of intrigue and power-struggle among the daemons of Hell. The players each assume the role of a Triumvirate of daemons thirsty for power and influence and the winner is the first player to claim control of one of Hell's circles and have his claim recognized as just by Lucifer Morningstar, Ruler of Hell.
To be honest, I was a bit disappointed with the contents of the box considering its price tag but that aside, the cards are well thought out and the game mechanics work well. (Visit www.thehellgame.com for more rule updates.)
It takes a bit of playtesting to get the gist of the rules and it's tempting to play a 'grow big armies and trash the enemy' sort of game but with a bit of knowledge of the arcana cards a player can soon outwit a good opponent.
Many random and annoying events and creatures can put the best strategy down in this game but this element really adds to the fun.
Overall, I like this game for its sheer 'freedom to do anything' element it has. The makers have written rules to cover most things you would want to do and made it moderately easy to understand. My only real critisism is that the board is made of paper and may not last forever but if a 2nd edition comes out with a proper board then I'll definately buy it and keep the one I have for nostalgic reasons.
After a few plays, it became obvious that the game revolves around the draw of the Arcana cards (cards that allow your demons to cast spells). While they make it a fun and exciting game, they also make it risky to put too much faith in a solid, long-term development strategy.
In fact, I don't think that is what the designers intended here.
What can go wrong:
Your territory can be overrun by rampaging Hellhounds
Your territory can be overrun by Uriel the Avenging Angel
Your territory can be overrun by Lilith as the Virgin
Your territory can be overrun by any or all of your competitors
Someone can cast an arcana card that causes you to completely re-evaluate your strategy
Your demons can be killed or incapacitated, limiting your actions
You may end up with so many disfavors that you are not able to gain any new territory
A Hell card may be drawn that completely changes the game, disrupting your strategy
Since there are 109 completely different Arcana cards (no 2 are alike) the skill in playing comes from understanding what these cards allow you to do, and how you can use it to win.
Gameplay is overall not very complicated. The rules are very well written, and there are some rules that get very detailed and conditional, adding complication and frustration, but overall I think that an experienced gamer can handle it OK, though I would definitely NOT call this an entry-level game. It follows the basic strategic game flow of A) Determine weather (draw Hell cards that affect conditions in Hell) B) Collect Income (in Souls) C) Buy Stuff (Summoning Legions, Lieutenants and Hellhounds) D) Take Actions (each of your 3 demons can take an action (move units, cast spell, get money, etc.) E) Move uncontrolled forces F) Combat G) Claim new territories (more territories = more income) E) Check for victory and clean up... then repeat until someone controls all 5 areas (called Sectios) of one ring of Hell. The strategic goal is straight-forward, complete your ring while simultaneously stopping everyone else from completing theirs. This is broken down into force-allocation strategy and Arcana card-use tactics.
It seems that victory came to the player who got the right Arcana card at the right time. The cards have effects that range from a minor effect only during combat to completely changing the board around, so it makes it difficult to plan. You can hold 5 cards at a time, and you can get normally 3 new cards, with the option to purchase more, per turn, so the 'saving cards' strategy is not attractive since everyone can essentially completely replace all of their cards easily each turn. Perhaps after many, many sessions strategies will emerge, but in the 3 games I have played so far, the winner came from out of nowhere to win, and the person who looked like they would wrap it up was quickly hammered with negative events.
The components are, in fact, rather chincy, EXCEPT for the cards. The cards look very attractive and as you would well expect are dark and comedic. Each of the Hell cards (45) and the Arcana cards (109) has a short blurb on it that adds an artistic flavor to the game (there are also 45 Sectio cards and 21 Demon cards with demon abilities/stats for a whopping total of 220 cards!). While most people in my group were strictly interested in the 'game effects' part of each card, I thought the little stories and cheesy one-liners were fun to read while other players were strategizing. Many of these 'blurbs' are quotes from Dante's Inferno or from Milton's Paradise Lost interspersed with modernesque snippets that gives the game an ageless quality of sorts.
It's a Fun game like Nuclear War or Carcassone
It's more complicated than most Fun games
It is very entertaining to play, and I think it is more fun to simply play this game than to get too serious about winning.
The components are thin cardboard and paper, but the cards are well done (but still - paper cards)
The rules are well written, but there are several complicated details.
The game is interesting enough just to examine, and there are not many games like this.
This game will have limited appeal in the 'German Game' crowd for many reasons, but if you are into the subject matter (and I'm not, particularly) it should be very entertaining.