Posted by: gschloesser | March 17, 2014

Stack & Attack

Design by:  Jeremy Burnham
Published by:  Egra Games
2 – 4 Players, 30 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

Stack and Attack

The Christian Bible contains the story of the Tower of Babel, wherein the people living in Shinar attempted to construct a tower to the heavens in order to get closer to God.  God was offended by this attempt to reach the same level of greatness as he, so he caused the tower to crumble.

Apparently these were not the first people to attempt such a feat.  According to the story presented in Stack & Attack, ancient neanderthals aspired to achieve the same goal.  This time, however, it is not God who is offended.  Rather, neighboring tribes are the agents of destruction, tossing rocks and boulders at opponents’ towers in an effort to cause them to tumble.

Each player begins the game with a player mat and a handful of cards depicting rocks — small, medium or large in either a flat or round shape.  The object is to successfully stack these rocks to reach the desired height of 15 “arms.”  Neighboring tribes are competing to be the first to accomplish this task, and do not hesitate to toss rocks at your tower in an effort to thwart your progress.

A player normally has four action points to spend on his turn.  These points can be used to stack rocks, purchase rocks and effects, and/or throw rocks at opponents’ towers.  Each rock requires a number of action points to stack, with larger rocks requiring more points.  The cards are placed upon the player mat, giving a nice graphic depiction of the tower as it grows.  Players can quickly see the height and composition of each player’s tower.  This aspect of the game is well conceived, designed and implemented.

There are restrictions on the placement of the rocks.  Large rocks can be stacked no higher than level 5, while medium rocks can be placed no higher than level 12.  Small rocks may be placed  in any location, but they are less stable and are easy targets for one’s opponents.  Flat rocks provide more stability and are less vulnerable to attacks.

When specific heights are reached the player will gain new abilities and advantages, including a larger hand limit, an additional action point each turn and the ability to retain a card from round-to-round.  These abilities can be lost, however, if a player’s tower is reduced below these levels.

Players will need to acquire new rocks and effects.  They can do thisStack2 by purchasing these cards from those available in the drafting row located next  to the deck, which is called the “quarry” in game parlance.  Initially there are five cards available, but this supply can increase as the game progresses.  Players must spend action points equal to the cost of the card in order to acquire it.  Purchased cards are placed into a player’s hand.

Towers are rarely allowed to reach dizzying heights without coming under attack from one’s opponents.  The attack process is a bit confusing and has some restrictions.  The attacker chooses a rock from his hand and targets a specific rock in an opponent’s tower. Care must be exercised as there are restrictions as to which rock can be targeted when tossing a large or medium rock.  Once this is done, the attack follows this procedure:

1)  The attacking player announces his “attack draw,” which can be zero, one or two cards.

2)  The defending player does the same, choosing zero-to-two cards.

3)  Both players reveal the stated number of cards and each calculates their attack or defense value.  The attack value consists of the strength of the tossed rock added to the value of the revealed cards.  The defense value is calculated in the same manner, but also includes the value of ALL rocks located above the targeted rock.  Thus, targeting a rock near the bottom of a player’s tower make the task quite difficult.  Players may play special cards to alter the strength or outcome of an attack.  Of course, they must have these cards in their hands at the time.

Stack3If an attack is successful, the targeted rock and all rocks above it are removed from the opponent’s tower.  The tossed and targeted rocks are placed in the quarry discard pile, but the defender does get to keep all other rocks that collapsed.  An unsuccessful attack allows the defender to keep the tossed rock and his tower remains intact.

At first glance it may seem ludicrous for the defender to choose to reveal less than two cards when attempting to ward-off an attack.  However, if he feels he may be the likely victim of further attacks from other opponents before his turn arrives, he may wish to conserve some cards so he can face those assaults.  Or, he may know which cards are remaining in his draw pile and may want to have those cards available for his upcoming turn.

The game continues in this fashion until one player reaches the heavens by constructing a tower with the height of 15 arms or higher.  That player immediately becomes the envy of all neighboring tribes and wins the game. This usually takes about 30 minutes or so to accomplish.

Stack & Attack is light fun, but is nothing terribly serious or challenging.  It falls into the category of “take that!” games, wherein players play cards to slap or hinder their opponents.  This often poses a player with a familiar dilemma:  play cards to construct his own tower, or use valuable actions and cards in an attempt to hinder the progress of an opponent.  “Passing the buck” is a common tactic, but this is only effective if another opponent decides to launch an attack.  If all players play selfishly, it is easy for one player to quickly claim the victory.

The attack procedure is a bit different, and it is fairly easy to gang-up on a player by launching successive attacks.  This can be frustrating, but it is the nature of the game.  Those with thin skins – or shaky towers – should take heed!

The game does have some nice design features, particularly the way the cards stack to depict the growing towers, making it easy to see the exact height of each tower.  Game play is generally swift.  There is some confusion with the attack process, particularly in determining which rocks can be targeted.   The game’s biggest downfall, however, is that it is just average.  There is nothing terribly exciting or clever to entice dedicated gamers.  It appears much better suited for light, family fare, provided children are not too young as to be upset by the attack nature of the proceedings.  Families with children who are accustomed to such games may find this tower building exercise to be far more successful than the outcome in the Biblical story.

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