One of my favorite TV shows of all time is 24. I remember watching the premiere and liking the concept, though not sure if I’d keep watching. By episode six, I was completely hooked, and I never missed a single episode in the entire run of the series. I even have them all on DVD. One of my favorite aspects of the show was its real-time nature – everything was on the clock, and every second counted for something. So, it stands to reason that this would be an aspect of games that I enjoy as well. Today on the eleven, I’ll be looking at eleven different games with real-time aspects that I have played and enjoy. Without further ado, here we go.
7 Card Slugfest is a 2013 game designed by D. Brad Talton Jr. and published by Level 99 Games. This is basically a bar fight in a box. Each player has a character, and each character has a deck of (surprise surprise) seven cards. At the start of each stage (there are seven), players reveal cards from their shuffled deck, and place the card on one of the other characters in the game. Each card has a fighting value, and some have special effects. Once a player has played their seven cards, they take a drink token that either increases or decreases their stamina. Once all players have taken a drink token, you reveal cards played on each character to see if they were knocked out. If a player has dealt the tenth point of damage (plus or minus the drink token), they have knocked that character out. Players get rewards for collecting the most knock outs in a round, and each stage has its own rewards and limitations for the players. After the seventh round, the player who has collected the most points wins.
This game is pretty crazy and chaotic, but it’s fun if you allow yourself to get into the theme. You have to understand that strategy is not going to be possible, and at the same time try to give yourself the best chance to land the knock out punch. I’ve gotten mixed results from other players every time I’ve tried it, but I do like it and think it gets easier to comprehend the more you play.
Bananagrams (2006, Rena and Abe Nathanson) is basically speed Scrabble. There’s a pool of letters in the center of the table (144), and everyone starts with 11-21, depending on the number of players. On the word “Split”, everyone starts building a crossword from their letters. If you use up all of your letters, you say “Peel” and take a new letter. All other players also must take a new letter. You can always rearrange words to make room for new letters. If you don’t like a letter you have, you can say “dump” to return it to the middle in exchange for three new tiles. If there are fewer letters left in the middle than there are players and you have used all of your letters, you say “Bananagrams” and everyone stops. If you have all legal (and correctly spelled) words in your crossword, you win.
This game is not without its flaws. It’s random which tiles you can get, and it’s likely that people who are good at this type of puzzle will wipe the floor with those who are not. Also, it really is multiplayer solitaire since you are making your own puzzle without much to affect others, other than making them draw new tiles when you use yours up. I find it to be pretty fun, however. At the very least, it’s a ten minute game in a cool pouch, and is one that will not scare people away.
Brawl (1999, James Ernest) is a two-player fighting game that recently Kickstarted a reprint. Each player has a deck of cards. At the word “fight”, players reveal the top card from their deck and either play it on a base or discard it. You can also play the top card of your discard pile. Hits are played on either side of bases, and all hits on a single side must be the same color. You can also play a Block to stop a player from playing any more hits on a side, or a Clear to remove a base and all cards that have been played on it. Bases also might come out of your deck. Each character has their own special attributes as well. Each player has three Freeze cards at the bottom of their deck, and when you play a Freeze on a deck, nothing else can be played to it. When all three bases are frozen, the player who has won the most by having the most hits on their side is the winner.
This is a game I’ve only played in the digital realm, but it’s a nice fun one. With experienced players, games can be finished in under a minute. There is a training mode where players alternate play, but the real fun is in the real-time experience. I’d love to play the card game sometime – I think it would be a blast.
Escape: The Curse of the Temple (2012, Kristian Admundsen Østby) created a big splash on release as a) one of Queen’s first Kickstarter projects, and b) a fast-playing Indiana Jones style game. Players begin on three square tiles, and as a tense soundtrack player, must roll dice to attempt to explore and discover keys that will help them escape. The game lasts only ten minutes, and twice in that time, players must make it back to the start tile or lose a die for the rest of the game. Once the exit is discovered, the players only win if everyone escapes.
This game is pretty fun the first few times you play, but I feel like it wears out its welcome a bit after that. Fortunately, there are lots of expansions to increase the replayability. For what it is, which is a light stressfest, this game is good.
Galaxy Trucker (2007, Vlaada Chvátil) had to make this list, didn’t it? In this game, you are building a ship and then flying it across the galaxy to deliver sewage parts. The game lasts three rounds, and each round is broken up into a real-time building phase and a journey phase (which is not real-time). In the build phase, players are grabbing tiles from a common pool, attempting to load their ship up with cargo holds, crew cabins, guns, engines, batteries, shields, and alien life support in order to have the best chance of survival. You want to build efficiently, but also quickly as finishing position does matter. The journey phase involves flipping cards and seeing what terrible things happen to your ship.
This is one of my favorite games. I love the real-time building, and then I love the card play of the journey, which is no less stressful just because you can pause to catch your breath. This game is a hoot and a half every time. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it is for me.
Loopin’ Louie (1992, Masaru Aoki/Carol Wiseley) is a kid’s game where you are trying to prevent a crazy guy in a cropduster from buzzing your chickens. Four players sit around a mechanical arm, at the end of which is Louie in his plane. Each player has a paddle, and to the side of each paddle are three chicken discs. Louie starts flying around, and if he hits a chicken, it will be knocked into a slot and is out (probably). The last person with any chickens left is the winner.
This game is silly fun, and though it’s for kids, can still get pretty competitive and stressful. If you lose focus for just a moment, you’ll find yourself with no chickens left in a heartbeat. Of course, there are chaotic random elements involved – Louie doesn’t always bounce like he should, chickens stay up when they get hit, and sometimes they drop just because you hit your paddle slightly too hard. But it’s a fun real-time game nonetheless.
Mondo (2011, Michael Schacht) is Galaxy Trucker with animals. And a bit more sedate. A timer is set at the beginning of each round, and players grab tiles in the center of the table to build a world. Tiles are double sided, and you can use either side. Terrain types must match up. When the timer runs out, or everyone has grabbed a bonus chip to signify that they’re done, you score. Animals are worth one point, enclosed and mistake free land masses are worth two points, active volcanos lose points for you, and empty spaces lose points. After three turns, the game is over and the player with the most points wins.
This is another one I’ve only played online. I enjoyed it because it’s not quite as stressful as Galaxy Trucker, but still has that building up feel. Having double sided tiles means that you’re always picking tiles up to see if there’s something better on the other side. I think this one is a pretty friendly real-time game overall.
Space Alert (2008, Vlaada Chvátil) is probably the greatest true real-time game ever. It’s a fully cooperative game that is in two parts. In the first part, players are programming actions in order to keep their ship from blowing apart. Meanwhile, a soundtrack tells you all about the various threats and challenges you are facing. After ten minutes, the first part ends, and you see what happens. This part is like watching the tape of the event – there is absolutely nothing you can do about it anymore. People invariably end up running into each other, firing cannons into empty space, and standing around watching while their ship falls to pieces. If you reach the last turn and your ship is still intact, you win. (Note: this does not happen often)
This game is amazing. It is so tight and so difficult. I’ve actually never played past the first few training scenarios because they are that difficult. The game has a sharp learning curve, and if you don’t have people dedicated to learning it and playing it over and over, you’re never really going to get good at it. It’s a phenomenal game that I don’t get to play as often as I would like.
Space Cadets: Dice Duel (2013, Geoffrey Engelstein/Sydney Engelstein) is a spin-off of the Engelstein’s Space Cadets. In this game, two teams are squaring off on a space grid. One player is the engineer for their team, rolling dice and distributing them to the other players. The other players are responsible for maneuvering the ship, attacking the enemy, protecting the ship, and grabbing crystals. Players are rolling dice, distributing, and trying to act quickly, because the team that destroys the other team’s ship is the winner.
The first time I played this game, I was a little surprised at how fast it moved. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll get destroyed before you even know what’s happening to you. And in that sense, this is a perfect real-time game. I think it captures that real-time sense better than a lot of games – the tension is not artificially created, it’s actually there because you are trying to get things done before your opponent. It’s fun, but very stressful.
Tapple (2012, The Unknown Game Designer) is a party word game, and which will normally turn me off. This one has a gadget with most of the letters of the alphabet (all but Q-U-V-X-Y-Z). At the start of a round, you draw a card, and that card will give you a category. You then hit the red button, starting the timer. The first player comes up with a word in that category, then presses the letter matching its first letter. They hit the red button, which resets the timer, and it’s the next player’s turn. They must come up with a word starting with a new letter – you can’t use one that has been pressed already. The last person standing wins the point, and you play to a certain number.
This is not a bad game. In general, it’s more of an activity, but the real-time nature adds some fun and competition. I don’t recommend a lot of party games, but if you don’t mind one that’s a little noisy (the gadget timer is pretty loud), this is a decent choice.
Wok Star (2010, Tim Fowers) is a cooperative game set in a Chinese restaurant. In each round, players are drawing customer cards and having to fulfill orders in order to earn cash that is used to upgrade the restaurant. Orders have to be filled before a timer runs out. They have to keep track of the ingredients and spend dice to keep their stock up. In the fourth round, you have to hit a certain threshold of money, or you lose the game because you can’t pay back your investors.
This is a great game that I really enjoyed in the first edition. The second edition was still fun, though they cut it back to four rounds from the original six and fiddled around with gameplay. The third edition did not have a successful Kickstarter, but I have feeling that’s more because of Game Salute than the game itself. The game is quite fun, and I really hope it gets picked up by someone else at some point.
There’s my list. Do you like real-time games, or are they too stressful for you? Let me know, and thanks for reading!