So! First thing to mention: I hadn’t heard anything about this game at all, even though I actually BELIEVED that I had heard about it a long time ago. When I demoed this game at Dragon*Con 2014, I did so assuming it was a different game, another dice game themed around Bravest Warriors whose publisher’s name starts with a C… in fact, it wasn’t until I started thinking about writing this review that it really hit home that there were two completely different Bravest Warriors dice games. Kudos to the publisher on sneaking a game to market without anyone having heard about it at all! Anyway, this one is definitely on the lighter side of things, but if you’re not opposed to a little mostly-mindless dice chucking and luck pushing every now and then, it might be something you’d enjoy.
Encounters! (which I guess is the actual name of the game? awkward…) is a mostly straightforward push-your-luck style dice game. Think Farkel, Pass the Pigs, or Yacht/Yahtzee. Like many games in this genre, players’ turns consist of rolling and rerolling dice until the player either willingly gives up, scoring their points, or fails to meet some condition, losing all the points they’ve rolled so hard to attain. In Encounters! this failure condition manifests itself as an “encounter!” card, blindly flipped up AFTER the player chooses to keep going, but before the dice are rolled. Each encounter is essentially just a target number they have to match precisely using their dice. If they are able to match the number on the encounter, they can score a point, or they can face another encounter using only their unused dice. What’s more, some of the encounters are quite difficult to match with a dice roll, like the 13s, 2s (which have to be beaten twice) and 1s. When a player either backs out and scores their points, or fails, their turn is over.
A couple of simple twists keep this game from being the actual most minimal push-your-luck game ever. First of all, players can spend their points to buy item cards, single-use dice manipulators that can change dice to wilds, manipulate the values on dice, and so forth. These add a welcome layer of puzzle-solving and dice-manipulation to the game.
Secondly, if a player manages to use up all of their dice (through spectacular luck or the clever use of items) they get to essentially restart their turn, keeping all the encounters they already defeated and scoring 2 points per new encounter they flip out. Should they get rid of all their dice again, each new encounter will be worth 3 points, and so on. This provides an interesting step-curve of tension… should you play it safe, or try and push for that big break?
Secondly, when players DO fail (often), everyone else at the table quite heroically scrambles to assist them, using items to turn a failure into a success in exchange for half the points. In Munchkin-esque fashion, whoever solves the puzzle first can slam their cards down on the table, and their offer of help CANNOT be refused. This keeps everyone attentive on everyone else’s turn, trying to quickly figure out how to use their items to solve the current predicament.
Alternatively, the next player can choose to “Coattail” the previous one, picking up where they left off. If the previous player had used 3 dice to beat 2 encounters, the next player can choose to just continue from that point. That means that as you push your luck, you have to consider whether or not the next player will ride your success to victory and play a bit more conservatively.
Encounters! is EXTREMELY light, make no mistake about that. As a push-your-luck filler game, I’d place it as being slightly more complex (rules-wise) than games like Can’t Stop or Incan Gold, but I don’t think the added complexity makes it much more fun. I also think that I feel more “in control” in a game like Incan Gold because I can try and puzzle out my chances before making my decision to continue, whereas in this game the decision to flip another encounter is usually based on gut instinct. The added layer of randomness (blindly flip a card, THEN roll dice to see if you can match it) takes out a lot of the possibility for calculation and managing risk; this makes the game quicker but also less substantial.
The items are very cool, but expensive to buy, so you won’t tend to see a whole lot of them. I think dice manipulation of this kind is very interesting, I just wish the game gave me more opportunities to do it. The few times where you get the option to subtract 1 from a dice turning it into a 2, use another card to make all 2s wild, and then use the two wilds you now have to get rid of all your dice… those plays feel very good. However, they’re just not very common. The game suggests starting with an item in hand for beginner players… I’d suggest just ALWAYS doing that. The game’s much more interesting with the options presented by the items.
The players also have individual powers… which I’m not convinced are really well-balanced. The game isn’t long enough to worry about it too awful much, but it doesn’t always feel great to have someone like Catbug scoring double points when your own power hasn’t shown its usefulness yet this game. All of the powers are at least somewhat useful in the right situations, though.
The theme of the show only sort of comes through. Some powers, like Wallow’s “throw a blanket over it!”-like power, and Catbug’s dimension hopping, make a lot of sense thematically, but the encounter cards are mostly just random stuff from the show (with the “9000% Sexier Beth” card being… a little frightening) and the items have very little in the way of theme either, aside from the Gas Powered Stick which is just perfect. You see, it never runs out of gas.
I had fun with this game, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s enough of a fan of the show to appreciate the references. If you’re not a fan or don’t care about the show, I’d definitely try before you buy… I don’t mind the high luck-factor and mild take-that elements in this game, but I know a lot of people who do (or would, if I ever asked them to play this.) As a dice-chucking push-your-luck game it does just about what it’s supposed to do, and it’s simple enough to be played with kids and families without much trouble. It manages not to last too long, and can even give you the occasional tough choice about when and how to use items. I was a bit disappointed at first because I was expecting something with heavier theme and a bit more depth, but as a quick-playing dice game with a pasted-on but (in my opinion) likable theme, it does very well.
Although, the game doesn’t include any way of keeping score. So, that’s -5 points or something, right?