25 September 2018
Get your fill in this frantic dice-chucker
I’m refueling my truck in the wasteland, watching the sand trickle slowly back into the tank. My opponent rolls again. Another two flames burst from the pool. I pray I can hold on for just a few more precious seconds. They throw the dice once more. “Stop.” That’s it. I hope it’s enough.
This is Kero, a one-on-one dice-chucker that’s as slick and glossy as the puddle of oil that might drip from one of its Mad Max-ian trucks. It’s far from the first post-apocalyptic world to put the scarcity of fuel at its centre, but it is perhaps one of the most purely effective realisations of the panic and desperation of watching your vehicle’s gas run low that the tabletop’s seen in a good long time.
Central to the stress and tension of managing your limited reserves are the game’s sand timers, moulded within two opposing plastic trucks that are tipped this way or that to expend the kerosene or refill. As the grains tick away, a handful of dice are thrown, either to gain resources or to cut your refueling short. Flame results lock dice, creating a hectic push-your-luck situation where you can choose to frantically re-roll as much as you like while the sand still flows to gain the resources you need, but risk diminishing your overall supply. Jerrycans, gained through rolling, can be spent on refueling or special dice, making them particularly prized – is more time or more dice more valuable?
Resources are used to buy cards from a market, granting abilities and victory points. These cards are ‘burnt’ by too many flame results, potentially speeding the game’s runtime along and triggering its periodic scoring rounds faster, which can be used for tactical advantage. Or you can spend supplies to send explorer tokens to four territories, claiming extra points and bonuses if you hold the majority.
There are enough options to give players control over the dice rolls and offer up interesting decisions about how and where to cash in your results; tokens representing the helpful native Tuareks provide the chance to manipulate your own results and impede the gathering of your opponent, leaning on the competitive head-to-head atmosphere without feeling punishing.
The engine in the middle purrs along beautifully, never spluttering on frustrating bad luck or slowed by unnecessary gameplay complexity. Beyond a few glances at the back of the rulebook during your first game, there’s not even a need for a player reference card – the board’s superb artwork also does a first-rate job of reminding you what everything costs and its effects.
Even with the wider cardplay and resource management giving its lightweight chassis a bit of necessary heft, it’s impressive just how thrilling Kero’s core conceit remains. Each minuscule grain of your truck’s fuel feels genuinely precious; watching your rival snatch up and toss a handful of dice again and again, gradually counting the growing number of flames put to the side, is a nerve-wracking experience when you’re on your final jerrycan. When it becomes time to burn that fuel it’s just as exciting, where every half-second spent considering whether to try again for one extra recruit or take the wheat and run has a real, tangible cost.
Fuelled by an endless supply of exhilarating moments like these, Kero itself never needs to stop and take a break. Hop on and come for the ride – you won’t regret it.
Kero bolts a satisfying amount of interesting strategy onto a lightweight chassis without needing to slow down. Its thrilling, tense real-time resource management makes you feel the price of every grain of fuel.
Designer: Prospero Hall
Time: 30 minutes
This review originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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