You know, it must be a bit weird being Donald X. Vaccarino. The guy’s first published game was the stuff that designers can only dream of: basically starting an entirely new genre, winning the Spiel des Jahres and having one of the most successful games of all time under his belt. However, while Dominion is still massive, it casts something of a shadow over pretty much everything else he’s put out since. I can’t help but think something like Nefarious would’ve been more successful if it’d been by someone else, you know?
His latest release, this time from Indie Boards and Cards, is called Gauntlet of Fools. Again, while it’s nothing groundbreaking it’s certainly disposable fun, especially when you have a larger group sitting around your table. Gameplay is split into two separate sections and can be best described as quick and dirty, with players vying for the best hero in the first instance, then sending them to their doom against a never ending series of monsters in a dungeon. The characters will die, that’s assured, but whichever of them has the most gold at the end of the game is the winner.
The first part of the game is the bit I find the most entertaining. A combination of Class and Weapon cards are put out on the table, one for each player, and what follows can only be described as an anti-auction. You take a character you like the look of and may add ‘boasts’ to it if you wish. These boasts will knock down your hero’s abilities; stuff like Not Having Breakfast will mean you begin the round with a wound, while others will see you throwing less combat dice or having a lowered defence stat. You’re allowed to steal a character from another player, but in that case you must add a boast. Once every player has a character before them, it’s time to move onto part two of the game – adventuring!
This part is basically a dicefest. An encounter card is drawn, most of which are monsters that you will face. Players attack simultaneously, rolling the amount of dice shown on their weapon card. If this total is equal to or higher than the monster’s defence stat, it’s ‘beaten’ and you collect your gold as a reward; fail to beat the number and… well, nothing happens, really. The monster then fights back – or in other words, you compare its attack stat to your defence and possibly lose a wound. Get to four wounds and you’re out of the game (maybe – there are certain cards that may extend your life). And it’s here where it kind of falls down a bit.
The first section where you’re all clamouring to get the character you want is great gaming – lots of interaction between players, plenty of stitching up other people when you try and work out which one they’re really after then loading them up with negatives… then realising they didn’t actually want it after all and you’re stuck with utter crap. That bit’s fun! Then the adventuring bit begins and everything turns solitaire; it’s still entertaining enough as you’re chucking loads of dice around, but there’s not really that much meat to this second section of the game. Sure, there’s a bit of decision in there where you need to decide when it’s the optimal time to use your ability tokens that you start with, but really there’s not much else to do.
Gauntlet of Fools might feel a bit schizophrenic, but it’s perfect filler material. Doesn’t require much in the way of thought, plays quickly, good for up to six people… but I can’t help but feel that it’s not going to do as well as it could. I’m sure that many will pick it up on the strength of Vaccarino’s name alone but then they’ll realise that it’s essentially a piece of disposable fluff. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but there are plenty of folks already whining over on BGG that it’s not what they expected.
Go into it dreaming of the huge amount of possibilities you get from a decent Dominion collection and you’ll be sorely disappointed. However, if you’re looking for a game that will pass a short while between heavier efforts, Gauntlet of Fools will see you right.
Gauntlet of Fools by Donald X. Vaccarino is available now through Indie Boards and Cards. Between two and six can play, and games will take half an hour at the very most. If you fancy your own copy, get in touch with the folks at Gameslore and they’ll do their best to order one up for you!