Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cowboys or Aliens?


Revolver is kind of a strange game, but perhaps a little bit less so if you know how it started out.

It's a two-player card game set in the wild west, with each player using a separate deck. One player is the fearsome Colty gang, who have just robbed the bank at Repentance Springs and must now escape to the Mexican border, pursued by Colonel MacReady and his horde of lawmen and bounty hunters. It seems like a pretty straightforward plot for a western, but once you set up the game and start playing, you begin to notice a few peculiarities.

The game begins with four location cards in the center of the table. The outlaw player has spend a certain number of rounds at each location, fighting off lawmen before moving on to the next location in the line. If the outlaw player makes it to the fourth and final location with at least one or two of his characters intact, he wins.

The outlaw player starts with 16 character cards in play, each representing a distinct member of the Colty Gang. Some of them have particular game text and/or a negative effect if that character dies, but many of them appear to be nothing but cannon fodder. The cards in the outlaw player's deck represent weapons and actions, most of which contribute firepower to the battle raging at whatever location is active.

The lawman player doesn't start with any characters in play, and in fact only has a few unique characters, with most of his deck made up of generic deputies, scouts and hired guns, who directly contribute firepower to the current battle (unlike the outlaw characters, who must play weapon cards).

At the end of each round, if the lawman player has more firepower in play than the outlaw player, one of the outlaw characters is killed and taken out of play. Each round that the lawmen fail to kill at least one of the outlaws, the outlaw player gets to remove a token from the "Mexican Border" card that is off to the side, and can win the game early by removing all the tokens from this card.

The game has a weird flow to it that doesn't make a lot of sense unless you are aware that it was originally an unlicensed, fan-produced game based on the second movie in the Alien series. It was re-themed as a western game when the designer decided he wanted to publish the game without paying for the Aliens license.

Now it all makes sense. The 16 outlaws are the human Colonial Marines, along with Ripley, Newt and Burke, being picked off one by one as they move through the different areas of the doomed colony, trying to escape from hordes of nameless, faceless Aliens, who have been replaced with nameless, faceless deputies and bounty hunters.

I must admit that I haven't played the Aliens version of this game, but it's obvious that the structure of the game is based solidly on the film, and it's easy to look at the Revolver characters and guess their Aliens counterparts. I suspect that this is a case where the game play suits the theme too well, to the point that changing the theme diminishes the game. All the game elements make sense when married to the Aliens story, and I can see the Aliens version doing a decent job of putting you in the action of the movie and making you care about characters you're familiar with.

Unfortunately, Revolver doesn't do a particularly good job of telling its own story, so you're left with ill-fitting game mechanics and a game about characters and situations you aren't given any reason to care about.

Rating: 2 (out of 5) The game play doesn't fit the theme, and doesn't hold up particularly well on its own.

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