Time for another guest review, this time from Jonathan Leech. I’ve got a lot of time for a little UK company called Surprised Stare Games (as my review of Paperclip Railways shows) – they’re responsible for some great games with interesting ideas. They also produced a little card game called Fzzzt! in 2009 which our guest writer seems to enjoy. Over to Jonathan.
You may have noticed that card games have increased in popularity recently and that an explosion of deck-building games, resource management games, hand management games and set collecting games occurred following the phenomenon that was Dominion. Many of these games use cards in innovative ways and there is a tremendous amount of variety available, even amongst games which appear very similar at first glance.
Sitting between all the big show-off card games with millions of expansions and a zillion cards lurks a rather more modest single deck game that has slipped quietly by, almost under the radar. It contains only 56 cards, a card sized rulebook of only 16 tiny pages and a whole lot of game. So instead of boxes and boxes of cards that take up more room than a Fantasy Flight tombstone you have a deck of cards you can shove in your pocket and carry round to your mates without a forklift and a pallet. This is a godsend for me since I don’t yet have an HGV licence or, come to think of it, a forklift.
The low-flying stealth game in question is Fzzzt! by Surprised Stare which crams auctions, hand management, set collection and deck building into one small box. Because of this, while the rules are fairly simple, it’s the type of game that you really need to play through once before you truly understand how the mechanics work together and stand a chance of building up a decent score.
Set up is quick and simple with each player being dealt an identical hand of four cards. These cards all have a zap value, the currency of the game, which you will use to try and buy other cards in the auction rounds. In the first round there are eight cards up for auction so you’re not going to be able to win them all. There are two types of card you will be bidding for: the most common cards, Robots, will increase your currency on the next round. The other type, Production Units, are immediately played down in front of you and will give you bonus points at the end of the game if you can collect sets which match their component requirements and squirrel them away.
Like all good games it’s a question of balancing your requirements. You need to win Robots to increase your bidding power but you also want Production Units as they can give you big points at the end. The Production Units also need Robot cards to be placed under them to produce these points but that then takes those cards out of your available bidding pool, decreasing your potential power for the next round. There are lots of tricky decisions to be made which makes for an interesting tussle over your limited resources.
The auction mechanic provides its own dilemmas of when to bid and when to pass or bluff. As mentioned, at the beginning of an auction round eight cards are dealt face down in a row and then the first card is turned up. In the bottom right of the card is the conveyor belt speed number – either 1, 2, 3, 4 or 8. This number shows how many of the cards are visible to the players so a 1 means only that first card can be seen whereas an 8 means all the cards are turned face up. This can mean you’re bidding on a card but have no idea whether the following ones are really what you should be waiting for. On the other hand, sometimes you can see the whole line and may well be hoping to win a specific card – but so might the other players.
As you win Robot cards they go into your personal discard pile along with the cards you bid with – losers get their bidding cards back. When the eight auctions are completed and the round is over you take your hand and discards then decide which cards to keep and which to put into any Production Units that you may have. You can place one card under a Production Unit per turn so this is a chance to fine tune your small deck and start to gather sets. Ideally you’ll be keeping the higher power cards and weeding out the lower value ones to increase your chance of drawing a strong hand to bid with in the next round. Once you’re finished, you shuffle your deck and then deal yourself a hand for the next auction round sticking to the maximum hand size of six. The conveyor belt is restocked and the auction goes round again until the end of the fifth round when final scores need to be worked out.
Players add up the basic scores on each of their cards and then do a final allocation of cards to their Production Units to try and maximise bonus points. If you have a Production Unit with no complete sets then it counts as a negative so that’s a situation to try to avoid. The highest score is, of course, the winner.
Phew, simple… sort of. In truth, it is straightforward once you’ve gone through it, although even when you understand how the mechanics work together it’s not always an easy ride. I always struggle with auction games as I never really know the value of things and it’s easy to overbid and blow all your resources too early. Alternatively, I often underbid and miss out on an item that could be just what is needed. This is made even harder since you don’t always know what is coming up for auction next. When you’ve bid heavy on a card and won only to see the next one flip up and realise that you want that even more is tough for you but delightful for your opponents.
If you like card games with a bit of depth in a short playing time I’d recommend you have a good look at Fzzzt!
Surprised Stare are a UK based company that have been designing and producing games since 2000 when they released Coppertwaddle. Fzzzt! was launched at the UK Games Expo in 2009 where it won the award for Best New Card Game and after the initial limited release it was picked up by Gryphon Games – this edition is available for around £10 online. The company’s site can be found at www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk – you can read more about the company, the surprising history behind Coppertwaddle and even buy their games.