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NOTE: This review was first published in Games International
This is the latest offering from the Swedish company Gigantaskop, the fun folks who brought us both Spank the Monkey and Kablamo. While I enjoy Spank the Monkey (stop it!), I found Kablamo to be way too random and chaotic. I was hoping their third offering would be up to the standards of the first.
The game involves a group of goblins who have been sentenced to work in a dungeon. Their task is to study how the elves, dwarves, humans and fairies make bombs. Seems to me they could easily learn this by attending an Al Queda summer camp, but perhaps goblins aren’t welcome there! So, they must tinker with the bombs in their dungeon to see what makes them tick. This is dangerous work, however, and many goblins end- up splattered on the dungeon walls. Eventually, the player-goblin who manages to accumulate 10 gold pieces can bribe his way out of that dangerous place and secure his freedom.
Before each turn, a new bomb is assembled. A bomb will contain several mechanism cards, which are the secrets to understanding how it operates. Players begin the game with four cards in their “bag of tricks”, and will use these during play to replace mechanism removed from the bomb, or to alter play in some fashion.
The order of play is somewhat confusing. The rules state that when a player is passed the bomb, he draws a card. That seems clear enough, but in the next section, the rules seem to contradict. After drawing a card, play enters the “Pre-Tinkering Phase”, wherein cards can be played by anyone from their bag of tricks. This will usually alter the game in strange ways, and will often cause the bomb to be passed to another player. In this case, the current player’s turn ends immediately, and the bomb is passed to the indicated player.
Here is where it gets a bit confusing. The rules state that this causes the end of the “Pre-Tinkering” phase. Does this mean that the player who was just passed the bomb can back-up one phase and draw a card, then skip back over the “Pre-Tinkering” phase, moving directly to the “Tinkering” phase? I just don’t know … but I will try to discover the answer from the designer.
Once the Tinkering phase is reached, the player holding the bomb may remove a card from the bomb and replace it with a card from his bag of tricks. The card removed is usually a mechanism card, which the player places into his hand. These cards will be worth additional victory points, provided the holder survives the explosion. If the final mechanism card is removed, the bomb becomes “armed”. More on this in a bit.
The card the player inserts into the bomb can be either a regular trick card, in which case it will have no effect on the results of the eventual explosion, or a gadget card. Gadgets do have an effect on the explosion, and can be beneficial or harmful, depending upon your point of view … or seating order. The idea here is to insert a card that is beneficial to you, and harmful to your opponents. Of course, the position of the bomb when it explodes can ultimately change the intended target of the gadget card. Such is life when playing with bombs.
Once a player has finished tinkering with a bomb, the “Post-Tinkering Phase” is reached. This works in an identical fashion as the “Pre-Tinkering” phase, with players mucking with the proceedings by playing cards from their bag of tricks. This could, of course, cause the bomb to be passed again, in which case the sequence repeats itself.
At this point, the Explosion Phase occurs. If the bomb is not armed (“secured”), or was just armed on this turn, then nothing happens. The bomb passes to the next player and the sequence is repeated. If, however, the bomb was armed on the previous turn, then it explodes. I think that is where the name of the game is derived: Badaboom! The bomb and in-force trick cards are studied to determine who is killed by its detonation. Normally, it is just the holder affected, but the gadget and trick cards may specify other targets as well. Additionally, some folks may have played trick cards to protect them from the explosion. When a player is affected by the bomb, they are killed, and receive no salary that day. However, another goblin promptly is pressed into service, so the player may continue in the game.
Survivors receive their pay (one coin), as well as an additional coin for each mechanism card they managed to save. Active trick cards may also increase one’s pay, as could secret mission cards, which a player can play from his hand at the culmination of an explosion. Well, provided, of course, he survived.
A new bomb is then constructed, active trick cards are discarded, and dead goblins empty their bag of tricks. Those players then fill their hands back to four cards, while survivors carry-on with their current cards. This entire gory process continues until one player amasses 10 gold coins, which he uses to bribe his way out of the dungeon and into a brighter, more secure future.
In any game involving loads of cards with various effects, there is a lot of text that must be read. This tends to cause such games to drag. Further, there always seems to be conflicting situations which arise due to interaction of the cards. These must be discussed, the rules consulted (usually in vain), and a group decision rendered. I tend to get frustrated with all of this unexciting activity, as it truly detracts from the proceedings, which are clearly intended to move along at a fast pace.
While these problems do exist in Badaboom, they are not as prominent as they are in other card games of this ilk. Game play is generally quick, but with a few speed bumps and slow moments as players read their cards. I’m not sure we played the sequence of play as the designer intended, but it did work. Players can manipulate the proceedings a bit, but there is no escaping that the end result is pretty much out of your control. Also, it is common for players to have their “turns” skipped, as the bomb changes hands frequently, and can cause it to bypass one or more players. This same thing can occur in other games (Family Business comes to mind), and the affected players can grow frustrated.
Badaboom is certainly not a perfect game, and it doesn’t feel as though it has the same polish or development level as games from some larger publishers. Still, it is fun to play, and there is quite a bit of laughter and groans when the bomb explodes and the resulting carnage is assessed. While a bit long to be considered a true filler, the game does fill a nice spot when folks are looking for something light between heavier games. This is one bomb I certainly don’t mind tinkering with.