Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Card Game Review - Tempt
I often make cheap sport of Reiner Knizia because so many of his games are overly simplified, but I must admit that when it comes to making games, fewer rules is generally better. OK, two rules is usually a little weak, but the overall idea here is that less stuff to track makes a game easier to play. Reiner takes this principle to the highest level possible, and thus manages to ruin hundreds of otherwise mediocre or boring games and turn them into complete garbage.
I bring this up because I recently played Tempt, and it suffers from the exact opposite of the Reiner Knizia problem. It's probably a somewhat common issue among self-publishers - you're the creator of the game, so you're hesitant to chop stuff that seemed like such a good idea at the time. I mean, if you spend two months coming up with a cool new cleaner to get bloodstains out of carpet, the odds are good you're going to hang on to it even after you give up hiding bodies in your trunk.
Tempt starts off really cool. You're competing for three areas of the kingdom, represented by three stacks of cards. You'll build columns of cohorts as your armies, paying the costs for these warriors by sacrificing the limited actions you get every turn. So far, so good.
Then we add in the warrior types. Executioner warriors, for instance, can kill a minion on the other side, while fearmongers send them running for the hills. Build a column with just militia cards, and they'll be even tougher. These abilities add a ton of strategy, because while it might help you take the third column if you added the minotaur there, it could hurt you in the long run when you dilute your militia bonus and never even get to scare off one of your opponent's cohorts.
So we're still doing pretty well, not too simple, not too messy, and then we get to the chanter powers. Each card can be tempted into play as a chanter, and not sit in a column at all, and instead use the special power on the card. These special powers are fairly straight-forward, and many of them have long-term benefits that can give you one heck of an edge.
The game is starting to get a bit top-heavy now. Between tracking costs, strength, discard value, special powers and unit types, you may be approaching the upper limit of crap you can track in your head. But as long as we're here already, let's add in one more thing - temptresses. These are six cards that you'll divvy up between yourself and your opponent. Every turn you'll probably have different temptresses, because you dump one, pass five, choose one, pass four, dump one, pass two, choose one, pass one. Seem complicated? It is. It's also unnecessary - why not just shuffle and deal two to each player? And while we're at it, why are these here at all?
The temptresses provide global abilities that you can use throughout your turn, like cheaper cohorts or the option to get some of your guys back from their military formations. The problem is, the abilities aren't impressive enough to justify the additional complication. They're sort of cool, but they're also easy to overlook, because there's already too much happening.
One extra note - I really wish Small Box Games would sell enough to be able to pay artists. The art on these cards varies from boring to hilarious. For some reason I don't pretend to understand, all the pictures of the cohorts are faded back, so that they're really hard to see. Actually, I might understand it - if the art you have is this bad, you probably don't want people to see it. Which makes me wonder why you would bother in the first place - just skip the art, if this is as good as it gets.
The glut of extra options in Tempt is, in the end, what keeps it from being a really awesome game. It's still fun, but it's just too much. The temptresses are cool, and the chanter powers are cool, and the cohort types are cool, but together, they're too much. It's like having three girlfriends at the same time. It seems like a great idea, until they find out about each other and start burning your Molly Hatchet albums and crushing your beer-can pyramids.
With a little surgical slashing, Tempt could be made into a tight, tense, exciting game. All the ingredients are here for a good time - it's just that there are more ingredients than you need. I like scotch, ranch dressing and ice cream. Just not all at once.
Neat interactions of abilities
Very strategic game play with bits of long-term planning
Plan your turn, but be prepared for surprises
Unfortunate artistic decisions
Too many elements clog down an otherwise pretty cool game
Small Box Games is pretty bad-ass. I may not be in love with Tempt, but it's still worth a play. Get it here:
Posted by Matt Drake at 6:19 PM