09 July 2023
Rolling to dodge disaster… again.
“There’s thirty seconds left on the timer! You need to defuse it NOW or everyone is going to die!” The final moments of a countdown timer are pivotal to many 80s pulp action films, and ripe for exploitation in the world of games. FUSE brings that to the table in the guise of a fistful of chunky custom dice and enough nervous energy to power a Liz Truss government.
Now, FUSE: Countdown is technically a standalone expansion to 2015’s FUSE. Given that both share nearly identical mechanics and contents, you can play with them together (if you want to deal with 9 people in a frantic realtime game of dice grabbing?!) or separately. Countdown adds some additional, sweat inducing cards to the mix.
The basic premise is that you, the engineering department of a particularly unlucky spaceship, have been hustled into an impromptu Bomb Defusal Team. Dozens of explosives have been planted all over the ship, and you have ten minutes to stop them.
Each player takes two bomb cards – their current focus – with five more in the middle of the table. Players then roll dice each turn, one per player (or more with some player numbers). Each player must place one on their active bomb cards, piece-by-piece defusing that timing device. If they can’t place one, they must add a Spark card to their bomb cards. This represents an additional complication, extra cards that must also be defeated as a distraction from the target of resolving near fifty bomb cards in ten minutes.
Placing dice is at the core of FUSE: Countdown. Combinations include placing dice in a certain order, making dice numbers add together to match a printed equation, or just rolling a specific, unbelievably-difficult-to-achieve green dice with a five (I got that card three times. Green fives feature heavily in my PTSD flashbacks these days). I think Renegade Game Studios have done reasonably well here, but I do wonder if the iconography could have been a touch clearer. In our fifth game, we were still having to consult the icon reference on the back of the rulebook. Fuse cards use a red border on all dice, which implies that every single dice placed on them has to be the last dice placed on that card - a contradiction.
Fuse cards remove already placed dice. So if your bomb card already has a green six on it, for example, and a Fuse card with a “3” and “Green” on it appears, each player must remove a dice matching one or both icons from a card; you put your placed green six back in the bag.
We live in an age where accessibility should be a priority for all designers. My red-green colorblind friend tells me that the bright red and green colours here are “sort of alright”, but really a game about quickly identifying colours and numbers could easily be chosen with four colours that nearly everyone sighted can distinguished. FUSE is not the first game to fail at this, although some designs have rightly been updated to fix problems (Nods hat to Roll for the Galaxy 2nd Edition).
Beyond colours, my main criticism of FUSE is that it’s a stressful, real-time game that’s also punishingly hard. It took us five attempts to beat the game on Training mode. I can’t imagine managing Standard, let alone Expert, Elite or Heroic. The entire game feels ship building phase in Galaxy Trucker or the flurry of putting together ship actions in Space Alert. Both of those games, however, reward the stressful building phase with an amusing roll out of consequences; in FUSE: Countdown, your only reward is knowing that you did your best. If you enjoy performing under pressure, this might be your cup of C4, but if you enjoy a relaxed approach, look somewhere else.
PLAY IT? MAYBE
Tension at the table with a bucketload of chunky dice might be your perfect game. That said, there are other options that give the same experience, but set into a larger enterprise.
TRY THIS IF YOU liked Jungle Speed…
…I’m absolutely terrible at it, but if you enjoy seeing how slow you are and being punished for it, both Jungle Speed and FUSE: Countdown have your back.
Designer: Kane Klenko
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Time: 10 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 25 Dice
- 52 Bomb cards
- 10 Fuse cards
- 7 Role cards
- 20 Spark cards
- Drawstring Bag
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