Thursday, July 19, 2012

Board Game Review: For The Win

Kickstarter has become a website for all sorts of things.  One thing that has become quite popular on Kickstarter is for people without a lot of investment capital to advertise board and card games and get them funded.  In fact, more and more game companies seem to be turning to Kickstarter to get their projects funded.  It is through Kickstarter that I found out about a little game called For The Win.

Make sense?  No?
For The Win is a tile placement game designed by Michael Eskue and published by Tasty Minstrel Games.  For all intents and purposes, it is an abstract game that has popular internet memes pasted onto it.  As one player described it, it's got the feel of a game like Chess or Go except that the pieces are zombies, pirates, aliens, ninjas, and monkeys.  In that respect, it is a bit strange.  But the important question to ask is: Is it fun?

The Box and What's Inside

For The Win!
For The Win comes in a modestly sized box.  It is the kind of game you tuck into the side pocket of your bag or, for those sporting cargo pants, into a cargo pocket.  I will admit that the ease of portability was an instant draw. In an era where games are often put in boxes that far exceed the volume needed, it is nice to know that TMG went compact with this game.  That kind of compactness practically assures that I bring this game to whatever game event I go to.

At this point, I will make the comment that people who Kickstarted the game get a number of bonus items: two extra sets of game pieces (in different colors) and a bag to keep all of it in.  Although I suspect alternate colored tiles will become available at some point in the future, the bag is probably a "collector's item" that will be unavailable to future purchasers.

There is not a whole lot inside the box, but it is enough for two players to play the game.  The contents of the For The Win game box include: a rulebook, two player aid/action tracker cards, two action tracker stones, two sets of ten game tiles (two of each type of tile), and a starting player token.

All the contents of the box, laid out.
Action card.
The tiles themselves are made from compressed urea plastic.  The character symbol is embossed and painted.  The reverse side of the tiles are painted red and feature the character symbol inside of a "X" symbol, letting you know that the tile is no longer active.  They have a nice feel to them and presented no problem in play.  The illustrations are clear and very representative.  At no point did anybody look at a tile and not immediately know what it represented.  The action cards are brightly colored, easy to read, and printed on thick card stock.  Overall, the components feel very high quality.

The only exceptions to the component quality are the action tracking stones and the starting player token.  In a world of fancy wood bits, glass beads, and such, the starting player token feels like it was stolen from your childhood copy of Sorry!  Furthermore, the action tracking stones feel like a much cheaper plastic than the rest of the game components.  However, as they are not iconic game pieces, this did not bother me much at all.  I suppose at some point in the future I may get my own starting player token to replace the misplaced Sorry warrior, but it suffices for what it is needed to do.

How Monkeys and Zombies Play Together

As for the game itself, it is very much an abstract game.  To start, each player places a Monkey tile in play orthogonally adjacent to one another.  The rules provide for a sort of "advanced" setup where the Monkeys are placed in some sort of odd diagonal arrangement, but the general principle is you start with two Monkeys touching. [Note: After writing that phrase, I wonder if perhaps it was an intentional joke by the designer that every game begins with two Monkeys touching.]

Two Monkeys touching.
The players determine a starting player (perhaps, by completing a game of Sorry!) and she takes the starting player token.  Players then take turns spending actions.  On a turn, a player can spend one or two actions.  Actions include (1) placing a tile in play not adjacent to any of your other tiles, (2) shoving one of your active tiles, (3) moving an active tile, (4) using a tile's special ability, or (5) flipping a used tile to its active side.  Each player gets five actions per round, so if a player uses up her five actions quickly, the other player will still get to use her five actions prior to the completion of the round.  At the end of the round, the starting player token passes to the other player and a new round begins.  In this regard, gameplay is relatively simple.

After a few actions have been taken.
The point of the game is to get a series of your tiles adjacent (orthogonally or diagonally) to one another that contains one of each of the five tiles that are all face up (active).  Relatively simple idea, but the restriction on tile placement means you will have to work at it.  Luckily, the tiles all have unique abilities that help make this process easier and more interesting.

Without going into great detail about what the different tiles do (as this is covered more generally on TMG's Kickstarter page), the majority of tile abilities involve repositioning a tile in play.  The Monkey and Zombie are somewhat different in that they alter the state of other tiles (the Monkey flips all tiles adjacent to it while the Zombie replaces an adjacent tile with a Zombie tile).  Working within this framework, For The Win presents a number of intriguing strategic options while still managing to maintain relatively quick gameplay.

Black Wins!  Fatality!
So, as I suggested earlier, it has some of the feel of a classic abstract game like Chess or Go but with the ridiculous Internet Meme overlay.  You have ten pieces divided into five distinct classes or types and you have to use a few basic maneuvers to outwit your opponent and line your ridiculous memes into arrangement.  For those who are not looking for a very involved theme or story, it provides some quick strategy that is involved but not too stressful.

Generally, games take about 10-15 minutes.  To that end, For The Win is the kind of game you pull out for a quick "between games" game when somebody has to run out to buy beer or you have to have a player spend 30 minutes setting up the next big board game.  It is quick, engaging, and has a lot of opportunity for really ridiculous situations (including "Two Monkeys Touching").

But How Many Players?

It is worth noting that For The Win comes with enough tiles for two players to play the game.  It works great as a two player game as that was its design.  People who Kickstarted the game have enough tiles for four players, which prompts the obvious question:  Does it work with more than two players?

Extra tiles, player cards, action tokens, and bag for Kickstarters.
Of course it does!  The rules do not address it, but my play group has found that three and four players games are actually more involved (and more engaging) than the basic two player game.  It is one thing when you are trying to asses the potential actions of another player but it is a whole different thing when you have to account for two or three other players.  Now, this does have the effect of pushing the play time upward, but that is expected.


There are a lot of things done right with this game.  It is small.  It is affordable.  It has sturdy pieces.  It can be played in a brief amount of time.  For The Win is one of those games, like Zombie Dice or Mr. Jack Pocket that should always find its way to a game night.  It can be packed away in a small pocket and it takes so little time to play that I almost feel like it would be ridiculous not to bring it to every game night I am part of.  Although it is light on theme, it does have enough silly aspects and charm such that it's more fun to talk about playing than a purely abstract game like Go, Othello (Reversi), or Chess.

I like the game and everybody I have played with seemed interested enough in it to justify my bringing along on all my board game adventures.  As it goes, I recommend it for people that like this sort of quick, interesting, abstract game with a little character.

1 comment:

  1. For people with the Kickstarter tiles that want to paint the backsides red (to match the original tiles), check out this post on BoardGameGeek.