Board Game Review: Adrenaline – Euro Style Ameritrash Madness

adrenaline-game

In a dystopian future, the masses are entertained only by bloodshed. Three to five competitors enter the arena where it is kill and be killed. But Adrenaline swaps out the standard roll-dice-and-kill-dudes system so common in these games. Instead, you have a euro-style system of gaining ammo and then shooting it into the bodies of your enemies using, what else, colored cubes. But do those ideas mesh well?

The Basics. Each player gets their own board to keep track of wounds. Each also starts with a single weapon and a few colored cubes. Then its game on.

On a turn, a player can perform two actions. The choices are to move, pick up ammo or weapons on their space, or attack. To attack, the players play whichever weapon card they want to the table and its effect takes place. In general, there are no rules for dodge or defense. You pay the cubes, the damage is done. At the end of a turn, a player can reload a weapon, taking it back into their hand, by discarding the appropriate cubes.

Weapons are unique and plentiful

Weapons are unique and plentiful

If you damage someone, you give them blood tokens to go on their board. Each player has their own colored blood tokens to give away. These take up wound slots on their player board. As they take damage, they gain adrenaline. This makes their actions more effective – allowing them to move in addition to whatever action they take.

At some point, however, someone dies. The damage done is counted up and points distributed. In the first death, the person who did the most damage gets 8, the next person 6, then 4, then 2. That dead person immediately respawns, but covers the 8 point slot. So, the next time they die, the person doing the most damage gets only 6 points, then 4, then 2, then 1.

The game ends after 8 deaths. The player with the most points wins.

A small arena for five players

A small arena for five players

The Feel. Adrenaline has several things going for it. Not the least of which is that it feels like a high-paced shoot-em-up style game. And what’s even better is that you never get bogged down in combat. Too often, a fast-paced game turns to combat mode and suddenly becomes a slow slog of dice rolling, defenses, and skill use. Not here.

In fact, that’s one of the great things about the game. In most games, you have to roll to hit with your weapon or inflict damage. Not with Adrenaline. You hit when you say you hit. There is no defense and no way to avoid the damage. This keeps the game moving and means that positioning is crucial.

Uh oh. Yellow is one wound away from death

Uh oh. Yellow is one wound away from death

And it’s fantastic that every single weapon in the game is unique. Although there are no individual player powers, players soon snap up unique weapons which effectively give them unique powers. You might get a sledgehammer that can knock people back and do damage, a rail gun that can shoot through walls, or a homing missile that can hit anyone outside of your line of sight.

And the line of sight rules are really simple. If you are in the same room, you can see everyone in the room. And, if you are in a doorway, you can see everyone in the adjacent room as well. As though you were peeking around the opening. It’s a simple solution that allows for tactical placement and maneuvering while avoiding range rulers and LOS sticks.

The damage system is also really wonderful. You’re trying to get points from the kills and that means doing the most damage – or at least spreading your damage out so you get points from every death. This disincentivizes a few players ganing up on another. And once you die, you’re worth fewer points. Which, again, encourages players to spread the kills around. Better yet, when you take damage, you get access to better adrenaline actions. So after a respawn, you often hope for at least a few points of damage so that you can start doing things more effectively.

Like any true euro, the winner is decided by victory points

Like any true euro, the winner is decided by victory points

It also comes with more than one mode of play. While the free-for-all death match is my personal favorite, you can also play in Domination and Turret mode. In Domination, the players try to control the spawn points and earn points for doing so. In Turret mode, the arena itself is armed and fires back at the players.

The only issue I had with Adrenaline is the player count. The box says three to five. And it’s certainly playable at each count. But the four and five player experience is far superior to three. Which isn’t to say three isn’t fun. My first play was with three and we all had a blast. It’s just that you’re only competing with one other player for most damage and so the scores tend to bunch together. With four or five, you see players chasing down favorite targets to maintain the lead, others who run around plinking everybody for a good effort-to-points ratio, and there is much more sniping of kill shots. While Adrenaline is enjoyable with three, it really shines with four or five.

The five combatants

The five combatants

Components: 4.5 of 5. CGE is really getting its bits game together. While the board remains just a touch on the thin side, everything is overall solid. The mini figures look great and would surely be paintable for those interested. The ammo tiles are on great stock and the weapon cards are normal, human-hand sized which I appreciate.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 5 of 5. The interplay here is wonderful. There are luck elements, but largely in what is available to all players. In fact, you may want to make sure you have enough weapons that you can use every kind of ammo. Otherwise, the other players might snap up the ammo colors you need and cause you problems.

Mechanics: 5 of 5. Again, I absolutely love how the pieces work together. The nice thing about the combat is that you never feel like a failure. In some games, you can execute a skillful move and then the dice tell you that you miss. It’s disheartening. But here, your skill is always rewarded.

Replayability: 4 of 5. Adrenaline comes with some serious replay value. First of all, the game is just fun. That’ll make you want to return to it repeatedly. But it also comes with different modes of play. This allows it to be everything from a shoot-em-up game on the lighter end of the spectrum, to a deeper hold-the-spawn-points strategy game, and even to add turrets in between.

Spite: 2 of 5. For a game about killing each other, the spite content is relatively low. The game’s mechanisms actively encourage you to spread around the damage rather than ganging up on one player and making them miserable. And the light-hearted way damage is created – as well as the boosted adrenaline actions – makes being a target tolerable and even advantageous sometimes.

The skulls keep track of how many players have been killed

The skulls keep track of how many players have been killed

Overall: 4 of 5. Adrenaline is just a solid title. It is absolutely the best-in-genre for shoot-you-in-the-face style games. The deterministic combat breeds feelings of success and the quick respawns eliminate feelings of failure. It’s really a marvelous design and, unless you need dice to feel complete, it’s one you should absolutely look into.

(A special thanks to CGE for providing a review copy of Adrenaline)

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