22 December 2016
There's a lightweight dice game to love in Ryan Miller's latest
Whether it’s hours of stat counting, dice rolling, distance measuring, rule clarifying or deck constructing, saving the world sure can be heavy sometimes. Luckily, Ryan Miller has come up with a lightweight way to fight back the forces of darkness in the shape of Fantahzee: Hordes & Heroes.
As the name suggests, Fantahzee is a fantasy-flavoured spin on dice rolling classic Yahtzee, with the five-dice, three-rolls formula bolstered by the introduction of an equally accessible card game element. In addition to their dice, players have a hand of cards with heroes and actions, two of which can be played at the start of each turn. Heroes can be used to build a party of up to five, with actions introducing a nice spread of abilities from gaining extra dice to the chance to change a rolled result.
Actions and heroes alike are portrayed in a lovingly goofy cartoon style, which puts a fun spin on a mash-up of fantasy classics – dragon, mage, dwarf and so on are all present – plus steampunk robots and engineers. The combination works thanks to the clear and charming artwork, with a healthy splash of vivid colours, expressive poses and subtle playfulness. (One swordsman swills a glass of red wine in his free hand.)
Then comes the dice rolling, with the standard poker-like ‘hands’ of dice used to activate characters’ abilities, which feature similar boons to help bolster the team’s strength. This strength is then added up and applied to five central stacks, each of which made up of opposing monsters, ranging from weak level one enemies to the powerful boss monster lurking near the bottom of each deck.
Players can pick off enemies by spending their strength as they please. A focus is put on defeating the right-most ‘vanguard’ pile, as a monster left alive on the top of the stack at the end of a turn means a building in the local town is destroyed, resulting in the loss of points and other potential side-effects. Following the battle, beaten enemies have the chance to counterattack, reducing shield values and possibly defeating heroes, while those at the top of the five piles can inflict similar ambush damage. Particular enemies also hold treasure, which attaches to a hero and can provide two different levels of benefit – depending on the strength of the enemy that was vanquished to obtain it.
It’s a simple setup that works in Fantahzee’s favour, as the gameplay flows nicely back and forth between players. The hero powers and abilities are diverse enough to provide a good level of mechanical variety, with the introduction of the element of steam, which can be built up and used to activate robots instead in lieu of dice, helping to ease in more complex decision-making. While the use of dice means there’s always the presence of luck, a player who happens to draw especially powerful heroes can breeze through much of the easier monsters even with lower dice rolls – but the boosted stats of the bosses often made them feel genuinely difficult to overcome when finally encountered.
Three defeated boss monsters means the end of the game, with each player adding up the value of the enemies they have bested (minus points for allowing a part
of the town to be wrecked) to turn the co-operative town defence title into a high-score competitive game at its close.
It’s not going to win the hearts of any hardcore players, but Fahtahzee is a fun and fast way to introduce more thematically rich and complicated mechanics to younger players and newcomers to the genre, with its sense of joy, approachability and upbeat style helping to override weaker shallower aspects.
As the next step up from its dice-rolling namesake, Fahtahzee is a relaxed way to get casual players invested in more diverse mechanics and themes. It’s easy to learn, fast to play and is good fun all the while – but for the same reasons may find less of a following among experienced gamers.
Genre: Dice rolling
Time: 20-40 minutes