Posted by: gschloesser | July 14, 2011

Armory

M.E.K. Games
2 – 4 Players; 20 – 30 minutes
Designed by:  Mark Keller
Reviewed by:  Greg J. Schloesser  

 

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review also appears in Counter Magazine # 23 

Armory is designed by Mark Keller and is the first release from M.E.K. Games, Mark’s own company.  Each game comes with 2 decks of cards, but by purchasing two decks, the game can be played with up to four players. 

The theme is once again set in the fantasy realm.  Players must arm their two warriors and one archer with the appropriate types weapons and armor, protect them with guardians and then attack.  The first player to accomplish this feat emerges victorious.   

Players possess identical decks of 60 cards each.  The decks consist primarily of various weapons and armor cards, as well as thirty or so “Mystic” cards, which act as event or special power cards.  Each player places their two warriors and one archer face-up in front of them.  The remaining 57 cards are thoroughly shuffled and 7 cards drawn to form a player’s starting hand. 

I will describe play with 4 players first, and then explain the differences when playing with only 2 players a bit later.

 

The first thing a player does on his turn is choose an opponent.  That can be any of the other players.  At the conclusion of the active player’s actions, his opponent will have the opportunity to attack him.  The person selected may opt to pass along the “opponent” status to another player, who must accept it or play a “Rebound” mystic card to deny this attempt.  

After an opponent is established, the player’s turn involves taking 3 actions.  An action consists of either playing a weapon or armor card onto one of the three characters, or exchanging cards with the deck.  Warriors must contain one each of the following types of cards:  shield, spear, sword and helmet.  The archer must have a helmet, bow and quiver.  

Once a player completes his three actions, he may now come under attack by the player chosen as his opponent.  Certain mystic cards are ‘attack’ cards and usually have the effect of causing the removal of one or more previously played armament cards.  Several mystic cards can be used to counter the attacks, or a player may always surrender one armament (called a ‘sacrifice’) to nullify the effects of a mystic card. 

Once an attack is complete, all players draw back up to seven cards.  Thus, attacking or being attacked doesn’t cause a player to have a reduced hand on further turns, which could be crippling. 

Several mystic cards can be played out-of-turn.  Some have the effect of immediately ending the current turn or even usurping the turn (Duplicity).  This card is immensely powerful and can be used to prevent a player from having a turn and/or allowing a player to take two turns in a row.  

The game gets a bit complex and fiddly when considering that cards also have various classifications, such as “uncounterable” or “invincible”.  There is already quite a bit of text on most cards that these words often get lost in the clutter.  Further, it is one more thing to look for and keep in mind, which tends to bog down the game a bit. 

Once a player manages to get all of the required armaments played on a character, he can protect that character from further assaults by placing a ‘guardian’ on him.  A few of these guardians are special and also count as the final armament required for that character.  Once all three characters are protected by guardians, the player may play his special “attack” card on a subsequent turn to win the game.  One guardian actually serves as both a guardian AND an attack card on one play, so it is best to hold onto this card when it is drawn and use it at the appropriate time.

The only method allowed for in the rules by which characters who are protected by guardians can be assaulted is via a duel.  Once per game, a player may challenge another player to a duel.  The method used to resolve a duel seems, well, comical.  Each player randomly draws a card from his opponent with the high card winning.  The loser suffers the loss of two cards from his hand and the loss of a turn OR one card from a character, including a guardian.  This is a very unsatisfying combat resolution procedure. 

Herein lies the biggest potential problem with the game – the attack and guardian cards are scarce, but must be acquired and played in order to win the game.  If these cards do not surface relatively early for a player, he is doomed.  This is EXACTLY what occurred to me in one of my games, and to an opponent in another.  I actually managed to get all of my characters armed and guarded early, but could not draw EITHER of my two attack cards for the next six turns in a row.  I used all of my actions on each turn to flush my hand, but to no avail.  The attack cards simply would not surface.  My opponent in the other game suffered a very similar fate.  There is nothing I hate more in a game than having turn after turn go by without being able to do anything due to dumb luck.  Sigh. 

The other big problem with the game is the ambiguity of the rules.  This is one situation wherein brevity is NOT a virtue.  There are lots of possible ways mystic cards can be used and situations often arise as to how several cards interact with each other when played.  Sadly, the rules do not do a good job of explaining all of these situations.  There are also extremely few examples in the rules to help explain play or clarify confusing situations.  Mark (the game’s designer) has been very helpful in answering questions and providing support, but there really shouldn’t be the need for such support if the rules were properly written. 

My impressions after several playings are not that favorable.  To be sure, there are numerous different types of cards in the decks, so there is some variety in the game – but not as much as one would expect.  After several rounds, the feel of each turn begins to feel a bit too familiar.  In spite of several games under my belt, there is still some confusion on the exact effects of certain cards and how they interact.  This confusion caused our games to bog down as we were forced to regularly consult the rules and discuss the possible solutions to our dilemmas.  This is never a good sign.  

The main difference when playing with 2 players is that the opponent for an attack is automatically the other player.  There is no doubt that when playing with just two players the game flows smoother and there is a bit less confusion as to how certain cards interact Still, the game just lacks “oomph”.  The game certainly works and is not distasteful, but it just isn’t exciting to play.  Each hand feels very similar to the previous ones.  The main tactic seems to be to flush cards out of your hand quickly so that you can draw the cards you need.  There are too many cards that do the same or very similar things and the game devolves into a race to see who can draw the cards they need first. 

One of my fellow players commented that Armory has some similarities with Magic: The Gathering, but lacked the fun.  I’ve not played Magic, so I can’t comment on the similarities, but I will say his assessment of Armory lacking much fun bears merit.  His other assessment may also be true:  the game just might be popular with a younger age group, especially teen-agers.  I hope so, as it doesn’t appear that the game will hold much appear for adult gamers.

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