- Designer: Stephen Gibson
- Publisher: Greenbrier Games
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 12+
- Time: 20-40 minutes
- Times played: 2 (free for all duel) + 1 co-op, with review copy provided by Greenbrier Games
Normally, games that arise on Kickstarter fly under my radar – mostly because I’m so busy with already published games that I simply don’t have time to really look at games that might possibly be… However, Grimslingers is one that was brought to my attention by a number of friends, and I have been following its KS page occasionally to watch its development. The game had a modest goal – likely enough to simply allow for the production costs of the game – and the successful campaign ended up raising almost seven times the goal amount. When I was contacted by Greenbrier Games to take a look at one of the production copies, I was more than interested in trying it out.
At its core, Grimslingers is a dueling card game set in an alternate Wild West, one with magical undertones. What interested me most about the game was the flexibility of the system. The game can be a 2p PvP battle, it can be played in teams, and it can even be played cooperatively. As there are essentially two different games in the box – the versus duel and then the cooperative campaign game – I will talk about them in separate sections.
Grimslinger Duels (the versus game)
In this version of the game, each player starts with one copy of each of the six basic element spells.
Each player also gets a health tracker and an energy tracker as well as target cards; you get a target card for each other player in the game. Your player area then has a health tracker – covered by a card with your Grimslinger’s picture on it, and energy tracker – covered by an Anima card, an area for a discard pile and then an area for deactivated cards (which are rotated sideways). In the center of the table, the number deck (which looks like regular playing cards) is shuffled and placed face down in a line in the center of the table.
The game itself centers around the duel. In the duel, action happens simultaneously – though there are three distinct phases to help organize the action. This form of the game can be played in a free-for-all or in teams. There are also special rules for a three player game to help prevent a kingmaker situation where two players always pick on the poor guy left out – but I haven’t played with just 3 players, so I’m not fit to comment on them.
Phase 1 – The Standoff – here, players may do a number of things. All players do as many as they like*, and then say “ready” when they are done
– draw an item card* (if you do this, this is the only thing you can do in the standoff phase)
– sacrifice HP for EP at 1:1 rate; move your counters accordingly
– use the purge or reload abilities from your anima card
– flip your anima card over to use the surge ability
– trade active cards or hand cards your teammates
Phase 2 – The Draw – now players choose a spell card or item card from their hand to play in the duel. If you play a spell card, you must also play a target card with it to show who is being targeted by the spell. If you play an item card, some of them allow you to combine with other cards, and if you have that combining card, you can play that as well. All cards are played facedown to the table. When all players have placed their cards facedown on the table, players have the chance to pass on this round. They take their cards back into their hand and they gain 2 Energy points on their energy scale card. All players remaining in the duel now reveal their cards.
Phase 3 – The Aftermath – Now we see what happens! First, you take up any previously deactivated cards into your hand. Now, you pay Energy Points equal to the cost of the spell card that you played. If you cannot afford the EP price, you must simply place your spell in the deactivated area. Now, the cards are resolved. Each spell has a resolve number in the bottom banner of the card – the lower the number, the earlier in the round is the resolution. If there is a tie on resolution number, players roll a die to see who goes first.
When you get to resolution number 9, which is the number of all of the basic spells, there is a chance that spells with be contested – that is if two players target each other with spells. Each spell has a weakness (kinda like rock/paper/scissors), and first you see if one spell automatically trumps another. If not, you will have a face-off. In the face-off, players draw cards from the number line. The goal is to get as close to 11 without busting. The initial draw is simultaneous and whichever player draws a higher number goes first. Players can draw or pass on their turn, and this continues until either both players pass in succession or one player busts. There are bonuses if you make 11 exactly and penalties if you bust. If there is a tie, both spells are discarded. If there is a winner, the winner’s spell happens and the loser’s is discarded.
Once the cards are done – you discard any used spells unless the card tells you otherwise. Any item cards used go into a common item discard pile. Target cards (for single opponents) are placed in your deactivated area. Now, you see if the duel is over (that is, only one player or one team has HP left). Otherwise start another round with a new Standoff phase.
There are a few advanced rules that can be added into the duels – these three modules can be added in piecemeal or all together – whatever you want.
Archetypes – each player can draw/choose an Archetype card. These cards give you special abilities as well as determining your starting Health Point and Energy Point levels
Signature Spells – these are more advanced spells – each player will get two of these unique spells at the start of the game. These are acquired in a drafting mechanic so that you can try to devise a strategy with your signature spells.
Items – There are 37 Item cards which can be used in duel play (do not use items with a red starburst in the upper left as these are only for the co-op version). Each of these has wide ranging and possibly game changing abilities. In fact, the rules tell you “Item cards are not recommended for highly competitive play. They add a measure of randomness to the game that can, at times, be imbalanced.” Based on this warning, we have chosen to leave these out of our dueling games.
Tall Tales – the narrative campaign game, for one or more players
Each player starts with the six basic element spells as well as the health tracker + grimslinger card, a level tracker + archetype card, and the energy tracker + anima card. There is a map card which is placed in the middle of the table. The seven creature decks are shuffled and placed on the table as well. Modifier cards may also be dealt out based on the player’s chosen level of difficulty. The level tracker is a new piece to the player area. Players will level up for doing certain things in the game, winning duels and progressing through the different parts/chapters of the story. As you move up in level, you will gain advantages as written on the Level Tracker card.
The game includes a second book, called “The Valley of Death” which is used in the campaign game. Before you start playing, the group must decide the difficulty level of the game: Easy, Normal, Hard, Impossible. The book is split up into four chapters – you can choose to play through one in a co-op game. You do not have to play them in order, though it is recommended. Also, if you play multiple chapters in a row, you can alter the difficulty level at the start of each chapter. Each chapter is further broken down in multiple parts.
As you start a chapter, it will tell you where to place the group on the map. The game will now be played over a series of turns until either the group gets through the chapter or the group has exceeded the maximum number of defeats allowed by the book/difficulty setting. Each part of the story gives the group an objective which they need to accomplish in order to move onto the next part.
Each turn is split into three phases
1 – Narrative Phase – first, see if you meet the criteria to progress to the next story part – if you do, read the appropriate part of the book for the next stage of the chapter. Now, look at the current story part and see if there are any actions that need to be resolved in this phase.
2 – Node Resolution Phase – Look at the map and see what type of node you are on (Landmark, Attack, Event, Rest). Most of the nodes will ask the group to make a decision on what action to take at that location. The group must discuss this and make a decision as a group – and then the effects of this decision will affect everyone in the group alike. Otherwise, players will have to choose individual actions that only affect themselves. Players must choose and resolve their actions one at a time.
– Landmark – refer to the back of the book to see what happens at that particular location. (Most of the interesting things happen at Landmarks, and you usually try to move from one to another as a group…)
– Attack – the die is rolled to see what they are attacked by – duels are very similar to the rules in the duel version of the game with a few alterations made so that the campaign enemy has some sort of AI to play its side of the duel.
– Event – draw the top Event card from the Event deck and then do what it says
– Rest – all players can recharge by getting 2 HP and 2 EP. They can also reorganize their hand and trade items between team members.
3- Movement – the players decide where on the map to move next
You now go back to the first phase and see whether or not you can move to the next part of the story. Otherwise, you stay where you are in the book and take another turn.
If a player reaches 0 HP, this is usually considered a defeat (though not always) – it all depends on where you are when the player reaches 0 HP. In some cases, like in a Duel, other players have the chance to try to give HP back to you before the end of the phase which would then cement your dead status. Defeat may also come from not succeeding at particular parts of the story, and if this happens, that usually triggers an immediate game end. If this doesn’t happen, the number of allowed defeats is outlined in your choice of difficulty level (made at the start of the chapter). Also based on your difficulty levels are rules about when your player is revived and with what HP and EP that they are revived with.
My thoughts on the game
We have played the duel version of the game a few times. The matches go by pretty quick, and it’s a fun brawl. The action is fairly hard to predict, and we often find ourselves using the number line to resolve the actions. There is an interesting ebb and flow to the attacks – once you’ve attacked someone, that player knows that you cannot attack him again until you get his card back – and that then opens you up to a retaliatory attack.
The basic spells work fine, and the game is spiced up a bit with the signature spells and items which give a bit of variety to the game. Without these extra bits, it feels a bit same-y from round to round. That being said, it’s nice to have the simpler setup to learn the game first.
The flavor text on the EP and HP cards are amusing the first time that you read them, and we made of point of having to read them with an appropriate spaghetti western accent in order to bring more theme into the game.
I probably wouldn’t want to play the duel version over and over, but it’s a nice short diversion at times and it’s also a good way to teach the basics of the cards/spells before you get to the cooperative game…
Speaking of the co-op game, we have also started playing with this a bit. There is only one story book included in the box that I got, but it has four chapters with a total of 20 parts. According to the rules, each chapter is meant to last about 60 to 90 minutes, so there’s a decent adventure contained in that book. Additionally, the story is meant to be replayable, though I’m sure that the element of surprise will be somewhat reduced once you’ve gone through everything once already.
The group that I played with had its hands full with even just the Normal difficulty level – with plenty of challenges presented by the story and the enemies in the scenario. The group is presented with a number of options to get from point to point on the map. Generally speaking, you’re trying to go from Landmark to Landmark – though there are certain points in the story that will cause you to vary from this pattern. We’ve only gotten through the first two chapters of the story, but we’re looking forward to completing the story in the near future.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y (co-op)
- Neutral. Dale Y (duel)
- Not for me…