Sunday, November 4, 2012

Abstract Game Review - Serpent Stone

I know, you're all amazed. You're saying, 'holy crap, it's a game review! At this game review website! What will they think of next? Cheese on a cheese sandwich? Is there no end to the insanity?'

Saturday afternoon, after I got out of my web design class (which, by machinations of devils and bureaucrats, consumes Saturday mornings for three months running), I got to play a game I have not reviewed yet. It's called Serpent Stone, and it was with a considerable amount of delight that I am able to say I enjoyed it. Delight because now that I don't have time to plow through giant mountains of games every week, it really sucks to play crappy games.

Serpent Stone is not a huge game. It doesn't come with plastic miniatures, cardboard money tokens or anything else super fancy. You've got a deck of cards and a vinyl play mat that won't lay flat. The goal is to take your opponent's power stone, which is a cool gamer word for 'the goal spot.'

You play Serpent Stone by building a trail of warriors from your home to your opponent's goal spot, or as I previously established, 'power stone.' It's an abstract recreation of an Aztec game that may or may not have existed, though if I were placing bets, I would not put money on the actual game being historically accurate. For one thing, I doubt the Aztecs had playing cards. Though I can't say for sure - it is possible that the Spanish learned of the technology of playing cards when they paid visits to Central America, and brought the game to Europe, where drunken Englishmen turned it into Cribbage.

You'll build this train of warriors across the table, and your opponents will build his own, and ultimately you run into each other. When that happens, you have to attack the other guy (which will take his dudes out of the game completely) or capture them, brainwash them, and turn them over to your own side. This is an important part of the game, and when you get the right hand of attack and capture cards, it's a good idea to hold onto them until you're ready to make the most of them.

The coolest element of the game, however, is the sacrifice. This is where you don't take a turn at all, and just store up for a bad-ass double turn next time. If you're feeling seriously frosty, you can even do it twice, and that third turn is going to be a doozy. Since you can lose the game by running out of cards in your hand, and this sacrifice maneuver will totally do that to you, it's a risky move - but do it right, and you'll rock the pants off your opponent. Do it wrong and you totally lose. Like I said, it's risky.

It doesn't seem like there's a lot to this little two-player abstract, but when you look at the result and see a fun, exciting, challenging game, you might think Reiner Knizia made it and they took his name off because there wasn't enough math and nobody would believe he did it. He didn't make this one - it was another guy completely - and that's probably just as well. This game is actually fun. And has no math.

Serpent Stone is smart, easy to learn, and fun to play. You can finish in 15 minutes, which is enough time to play it again. Maybe a couple more times. I played a prototype (though I'm not sure why, since it's actually a published game), so I don't know if you will also get a crappy vinyl play mat that won't lay flat, but the lousy mat is the only bad thing I have to say about the game. The art is fun and the design is excellent. If you're looking for a good two-player abstract, you really ought to give this one a shot.

If you want to know more about Serpent Stone, like when it might be available for preorder or something, you can check out the game's blog at:

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like you can buy this game right now. The Kickstarter is over, and Game Salute doesn't seem to be carrying it yet.


Tensider said...

^ checks his kickstarter history.

Hey, I backed this! Way to go, Previous Me!

(It really is good to know that a game I took a risk on will pay off in actual fun. With kickstarter, that's not always the case)

dangermoose said...

I very much appreciate your review, Drake! Glad you had a chance to play. Just a couple of things to mention-

Serpent Stones is not yet published as the Kickstarter campaign just ended in August. (Thanks for backing us, Tensider!) Our pre-release kick-off is scheduled for December 21st (the Mayan Calendar's end of the world) with the production run available in January.

The game is based on a 600-year-old recently rediscovered board game called Itzcoatl (meaning Obsidian Serpent.) The board game was played on an adobe slab with diamond-shaped impressions in it where obsidian arrowheads, used as game pieces would be placed. The staggered shapes of the arrows formed a snake pattern across the game field, thus the name Itzcoatl (and yes, I also doubt the Aztecs had playing cards too.) The recent discovery of the game did not include instructions, so the original game mechanic of Itzcoatl is probably lost to antiquity. We made some basic assumptions (and took a few liberties) in designing the game mechanic for Serpent Stones. (For the story behind the game, check out The Story of Itzcoatl)

Lastly, the game will come on a high-quality game cloth which folds up nicely. The vinyl mat that wouldn't lay flat was a prototype.

Robert Harrington
Dangermoose Entertainment

(and no, I'm definitely no Reiner Knizia, but I'm truly honored by your comparison.