24 September 2021
Kids with bikes have be-spoke capers
The Snallygaster Situation takes the aesthetic of the Kids on Bikes RPG universe and transposes it to a co-operative board game. Think neon colours, 1980s small town Americana, weird monsters lurking in the shadows and ineffectual adults who just don’t get it. In order words, it takes Stranger Things, itself a loving homage of cultural institutions like ET, The Goonies, and perhaps Eerie Indiana, files off the serial numbers and presents it as an hour-long tabletop experience. A bootleg of a bootleg, if you will. Which is about as eighties as you can get.
One player plays as the ‘Lost Kid’ – a child who has mysteriously disappeared from school. The rest play as the standard motley gang of besneakered youngsters biking round town, trying to solve the mystery. As well as avoiding the roving monster, kids must avoid getting collared by the Feds, who – naturally – are the only adults who’ve noticed something’s up but probably think it’s a Soviet plot. The aim of the game is to rescue the Lost Kid and complete a series of goals before the Doom Marker – which acts as the game’s timer – reaches ten, which as any witch or soothsayer will tell you is the scariest and most ill-omened number.
Players move kids around the map of the town, searching locations to complete goals, find new items and hunt for the Lost Kid. Sometimes – often – doing so attracts unwanted attention from the Feds or the monster. In keeping with the theme, you can hide in treehouses dotted around the map, lure the monster away by setting off cherry bombs, or even ram it with the basket on the front of your bike, depending on what items you’ve picked up.
Each kid starts with a randomly assigned power, via a Ride card. These powers are by no means equal – some feel obviously better than others – but they add some nice variability to the game. There are four monsters in the base game – the Jersey Devil, Bloody Mary, the Dover Demon and the titular Snallygaster – each with their own bit of story and different rules governing movement and goals.
One cool feature that sets this apart from the usual co-op adventure games of this ilk is a Mysterium-lite system whereby the missing kid can send the other players hints of where they’re hidden, via symbols on cards. The Lost Kid player, in fact, acts as a sort of GM for the whole game, making it a great role for older or more experienced players, who might otherwise be tempted to tell everyone else how to play. Since the symbols are on cards played by the Lost Kid, cards which sort of act as event cards, it creates a nice tension where it may actually be better for the Lost Kid to play a nastier ‘spooky’ event in order to give a better clue.
One problem that a lot of co-op or semi co-op games suffer from is an inconsistent arc. Individual games can sometimes feel too easy or too hard, or end anticlimactically as the final problem is either solved or the timer runs out. In building heavily on existing game designs, The Snallygaster Situation doesn’t really solve this. Sometimes you win with plenty of room on the Doom track to spare. Sometimes you’re in the middle of trying to stop the monster and oops, you hit a couple of bad breaks and ping, ping, the game’s over. Either way, you look at each other like: oh, I guess that’s it. It’s not a blowout while jumping the old creek – more a slow puncture in a wet parking lot.
Granted, the monsters that use hidden movement (which the Lost Kid player tracks from behind their screen) have more tension, and sometimes it really does go down to the wire. But it’s very inconsistent. In a world where we’re so utterly spoilt for choice, do you really want to play a game where maybe a quarter to a third of attempts fizzle out?
The Snallygaster Situation is at least quick – you can be done in an hour if at least one player knows what they’re doing – and the relatively straightforward mechanics mean that younger players can join in as long as someone else is doing the admin. But unless you’re really jonesing for simple eighties nostalgia on wheels, you might find their antics a little two-tyred.
PLAY IT? NO
If Fury of Dracula was a bit too confrontational – and fun – for you, this offers a more PG, co-operative style of play.
Designer: Michael Addison & Jonathan Gilmour
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Time: 45-60 minutes
What’s in the box?
- Pinboard (double-sided)
- Doom Track & Turn Order Board
- 75 Tokens
- 38 Lost Kid Cards
- 4 Player Aid Cards
- 27 Item Cards
- 4 Powered Cards
- 7 Ride Cards
- 20 Symbol Tiles
- 33 Search Cards
- 2 Mini Monster Standees
- 19 Monster Goal Cards
- 4 Monster Standees
- 4 Snallygaster Tree Tokens
- 4 Kid Standees
- Secret Screen
- 4 Monster Story Cards
This article originally appeared in issue 59 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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