Thursday, May 22, 2014

Form over function

Over the course of playing games for this blog, we have occasionally found that some games just aren't as good as we remember them being. I believe a lot of that is due to our standards (and the standards of board games in general) being higher than they were when we were first getting started in the hobby. Some games seemed great at the time simply because we had little basis for comparison, and others have been replaced by better variations on the same theme (sorry, Crimson Skies...).

As we worked our way through the letter L, the game that I was kind of dreading revisiting was Lunch Money. I remember really liking the game and playing  it quite a bit, but I also remember that it had some issues, and I was afraid those issues would supersede whatever it was that I liked about the game.

Lunch Money works best with a full table (the box says 2-4 players, but I think it's best for 4-6), so we took advantage of a game day with some friends to try it out. I'm happy to report that, while the game's issues are still there, everyone enjoyed the game a lot more than I was expecting.

For those of you who aren't familiar, Lunch Money is a card game intended to simulate a street brawl. The game's name and ironic card images have led a lot of players to assume that it's meant to be a playground fight among children, but reading the flavor text and card titles, I believe it's supposed to be a classic street rumble with knives, chains and optional leather jackets.

The object of the game is to deal damage to the other players until they run out of their 15 life points. The game play relies heavily on card combinations: on my turn I play an attack against another player, and that player has to defend against it, if they have the right cards to do so. Some attacks can be played in combination with others to do more damage, and some defenses can be followed up with counterattacks. There is also the dreaded Humiliation card, which can be played on any player to cancel whatever they're doing and follow it up with an attack that can't be defended against.

It's fast paced and fun, but Lunch Money does have two major issues that prevent it from being a great game, and unfortunately both of those are easily corrected production issues and have nothing to do with the actual game play.

The cards are illustrated with atmospheric photography (you've never seen a little girl look so sinister) and amusing quotes. They are color-coded to indicate the difference between the card types such as basic attacks, special attacks, defenses, weapons and so on, but the colors can be murky and difficult to distinguish. A bigger issue is that many cards in the game can only be played in combination with other cards, or have other special game effects, and none of that game text is printed on the cards themselves.

This lack of practical information on the cards results in a lot of referring to the rules, which slows down what was clearly designed to be a fast game and makes it difficult to teach the game to new players. I found a terrific player reference sheet here, which helped immensely but wouldn't be needed if the publishers had thought to print a bit of helpful game text on the cards themselves.

Rating: 3 (out of 5) Lunch Money is a fast and action packed game that is a lot of fun. It would have rated higher if not for the issues with game text on the cards.

Date played: April 26, 2014

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