Gauntlet of Fools (Game Review)

Gauntlet of Fools box cover

Gauntlet of Fools

Though I love the theme, most dungeon-crawling games are disappointing. The setting seems to invite not only randomness, but “screw you” cards that swing the game uncontrollably and special events that interact with each other in game-breaking ways. Given that, it’s a relief to say that Gauntlet of Fools is a fun game. Of course, there’s still a heavy amount of chance, but it feels appropriate to the theme without any of the pitfalls typical to dungeon-crawlers. That doesn’t mean it’s completely satisfying, though; Among other things, this is designed to be a 15-minute filler, so it won’t scratch that itch for an involved evening of monster-slaying.

The game is straightforward: Players each choose a Hero, and then they fight monsters from a deck of Encounters. Eventually, everyone will die, and whoever ends with the most gold wins! The key of the game, and the only real player interaction, is during the initial selection. Each Hero is paired with a random Weapon, and may receive additional “Boasts” that weaken it further. The Boasts are basically a thematic auction: If you want to use a Hero someone else has already claimed, you can announce “I can have the Barbarian run the gauntlet Blindfolded!” (That means that you’ll earn less gold each time you kill a monster and dodge their attack.) To take the Hero back from you, another player would have to add another Boast, such as Hungover (a serious attack and defense penalty that lasts until the Hero manages to kill their first monster). The first Encounter is revealed only once everyone feels that their opponents’ Heros have been weakened too much to be worth stealing.

The Armorer can improve his defense as he kills monsters, and he’ll need that with his penalty for Hopping on One Leg! The Bow has two ability tokens that let him dodge monsters, which will be perfect when his defense is low at the start.

The fun of Gauntlet of Fools comes from Donald X. Vaccarino’s design approach. The basic system for encounters is very simple, but it allows for a wide variety of ways for the Heros, Weapons, Boasts, and Encounters to interact with each other. It’s quick, clever, and manages to feel reasonably different from game to game. The dice rolls and shuffled deck of cards may do a lot to drive the game, but it also feels like you’re experiencing unique twists each time due to the simple yet varied ways cards can interact. (“The Giant Spider poisoned everyone, but my Priest’s healing ability made all the difference.” “I never should have said my Avenger could run the gauntlet without breakfast! He died first, and his ability only works after others have died.”)

There are a wide variety of monsters. The Armorer is hoping for easy opponents like the Gopher, so he can raise his defense quickly. But the Slime Monster, which reduces the number of dice the Hero’s Weapon has, could keep the Armorer from ever getting the kills he needs.

That randomness still makes it feel arbitrary sometimes. There are real strategic choices in deciding what combination of Hero and Boasts will work best, and it will take a few games to figure this out. However, the “right” choice for a game won’t become apparent until the top cards in the Encounter deck are revealed. The Priest may be the best choice if a Spider is about to poison everyone, but you won’t find that out until after the auction is done. This works, but because it only aims to be a quick and silly game. The theme and art are fun, and the game unfolds without any of the painful events that derail other dungeon-crawlers. Make your choices, play up the theme of Boasting, and then take a few minutes to see who guessed right.

Grade: B

  1. November 26th, 2012

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