Review: Raptor

raptorboxWhile Bruno Cathala has been on a tear for the past two years, with huge hits like Five Tribes and Abyss, the other Bruno (Faidutti) of Citadels fame has been on a quiet resurgence of his own, with a very well-selling microgame Mascarade and the recent auction game Warehouse 51. Together, they’ve had a couple of recent reprints – Queen’s Necklace and the excellent Mission: Red Planet – but Raptor is the newest fruit of their long-standing collaboration. An asymmetrical two-player game with variable powers and card-driven play sounds exactly up my alley, but does Raptor live up to these designers’ legacies? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:

 

Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine  the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?

 

raptorcomponentsComponents: Wow, this game is incredibly impressive. No surprise, since it’s coming from Matagot (Takenoko, Cyclades, Kemet). What impresses me most is how aggressively this game is priced ($35 MSRP) when it comes with around 10 small plastic miniatures, about as many large board tiles, a deck of cards, large and awesome reminder sheets, and some tokens (and even a rulebook!). That’s a lot of material in a small box, and it’s all done very well. The rules did a great job of hitting the easy-to-miss rules and making sure to have them identified in large text, and giving a VERY in-depth player aid to each player. We didn’t screw up a single rule on our first play, which is honestly shocking, since there’s a few minor-but-important ones you could miss if the game wasn’t set up so well. More games need player aids of this size and depth, please! The art is also beautiful, as it always is when Vincent Dutrait is present. I’m very happy here.

 

Accessibility: At its core, this game simply involves both players simultaneously picking a card numbered 1-9 from their hand of 3 cards, but there’s a unique twist: the lower number gets a special action based on the card, but the higher number gets the differential as a number of action points to take “standard” actions. So if I play a 7 and you play a 3, you do the special thing that 3’s do, while I get 4 action points (but my 7’s special move doesn’t trigger). That’s the core of the gameplay, and everything else is based around this clever mechanic. Actions involve moving on the board, attacking/blocking the other player’s miniatures, or trying to get the baby raptors to escape (or not). The central mechanism is very simple yet brings a lot to think about. The rules get fiddly with what you can and can’t do with your standard actions, but as I said above, the rulebook did an excellent job keeping players in the loop as to those issues. This could easily be a gateway+ game (it’s not as simple as something like Las Vegas or Sushi Go!, but it’s simpler than Dominion or Catan.)

 

Depth: This game certainly at least appears to have a lot to chew on. However, it seems my games have been frustratingly lucky.  I wouldn’t find a pure information game very interesting, so I’m glad that you don’t play with the whole deck at your disposal – on the other hand, sometimes the game can be very frustrating. The worst offense is when you play a card just one higher than your opponent’s – they get their special ability, while you get one measly action point. If this happens several turns in a row, you are most likely toast. I’ve also heard murmurs that the game is skewed towards the scientist player. I don’t know if that’s true, although I think the fact that the mother raptor has to spend one action point for each sleep token before she can even move makes it very difficult for the raptor player to get out of a tight spot. I’ve played the game four times, as both sides, and the scientist has won every game – but that’s not a very large sample size. And it may be one of those games, like Twilight Struggle, where one side is simply harder for newbies to learn to play effectively.

However, the central complaint for me is that those opening turns are very blind as to what you and your opponent have in hand, and a run of bad calls (i.e. playing barely over your opponent) can really ruin you. I’d be very glad to be wrong on this, but I spent many turns as the raptor player, even when I had a lot of action points, staring at the standard actions and just realizing that they were all pretty useless. (Again, this is especially true if the mother raptor has 2-4 sleep tokens.)

 

Theme: The theme on this game is wonderful. It’s surprisingly unique in the board game world, since it’s so common in pop culture. And it’s done very well – the actions make thematic sense, the board and miniatures are beautiful, and they’ve imbued a ton of theme into a game with a very abstract central mechanism. Color me impressed!

 

Fun: This game has a lot going for it. It’s inexpensive, it’s beautiful, and it’s highly thematic. Yet, during play I kept finding myself somewhat frustrated and “pinned down”, unable to find anything clever to do – especially as the raptor player. It may just be that the game needs more plays to “open up” for me, but I didn’t have quite enough fun the first eight times to invest more time into it. I wouldn’t hold it against someone for loving it, and I’d gladly play again if asked, but it’s not one I’d go out of my way to play again.

 

Raptor is -almost- all the things you want in a game – inexpensive, beautiful, thematic through and through – but the gameplay wasn’t quite as deep as I had hoped it would be.

 

Rating:

3star

3 out of 5

 

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