Grimslingers: Frantic fun in the Forgotten West

Grimslingers Review

In a land beyond God’s reckonin’ is a place called the Forgotten West. A cursed land of sorts in the American Frontier, housing the damned, the mysterious, the unfortunate. You ended up there, God knows why, and you sure ain’t leavin’ anytime soon.

Grimslingers is produced by Greenbrier Games and is the brainchild of Stephen S. Gibson. Grimslingers is equal parts Deck/Pool builder, duel game, and co-op narrative card game. It attempts to accomplish a lot for a card game, and through this review, I will discuss if, in my opinion, it achieved that lofty goal.  I often hesitate in being too negative on any property. I understand that someone poured a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into bringing a new concept to the niche games market, and I have a hard time bringing the hammer down on that kind of ingenuity when I have experienced myself just how hard it is to achieve getting your product out there. So I want to be clear there are many merits to Grimslingers that I do feel outweigh the flaws.  Mr. Gibson delivers outstanding artwork with very solid bones that just need some refining to truly shine.

What’s in the box????

~ 280 cards consisting of:

  • 6 Anima cards

  • 12 Archetype cards

  • 44 Creature

  • 10 Grimslinger cards

  • 1 Hank the Hunter card

  • 77 item cards

  • 20 number and event cards

  • 62 Spell Cards

  • 30 Target cards

  • 18 Tracker Cards

~ 2 Booklets:

  • 1 Rule booklet

  • 1 Tall Tales Story Booklet

~ Various pieces

  •  Red Meeple

  •  Six Sided Die

  •  Valley of Death Map

The Rules

There are multiple minor issues involved in Grimslingers. I wish I could say the rulebook flawlessly embraces each type in a mannerism that is easy to interpret, but honestly, there are many times final aftermath resolution steps, and one-off circumstances are either discussed poorly or not at all. The Creator has made a series of tutorial videos on game-play, and they were helpful in understanding, although the versions I watched was actually covered using the mobile app and not the card game.

The basic duel game can host anywhere from 2 to 6 players, but for review purposes, I only did the duel with one other player (I was short on willing victims for this review) Each player in the basic game starts off by picking 1 of 10 Grimslinger’s characters. In the basic game, this choice is made purely on aesthetics, but in other versions, the choice does affect play-style.

Next, they pick their plucky Anima sidekick, of which there are 6 choices.

Each player then selects a health tracker for their Grimslinger which they place beneath the Grimslinger card. This allows them to slide the card up and down reflecting health loss. They grab an energy tracker and place this underneath their anima. This reflects the energy they expend slinging nasty spells back and forth and much like the health tracker simply slides up and down dictating the players’ energy levels. It is also important to note Animas unlike Grimslingers do not have a background story on the back of the card but instead are double sided, as Anima can enter different modes, called a surge.

Finally, for the basic duel game, you get 6 spells Ice, Fire, Water, Earth, Lightning, and finally Wind.

At times you will have to face off against your opponent, which means entering into a game of what essentially is blackjack. The number deck cards look like typical cards from a Hoyle deck but only go up to 5 and there are only 10 of them.

The dueling game starts off with each player assembling their Grimslinger on top of their health tracker and placing their Anima on top of their energy tracker. The trackers are set to 10. The face-off deck is placed in the center so that both players can reach. If you are going to be playing with more than two players it is wise to use the target cards. Target cards assign a color to the player and on each of the cards, arrows show whom (or which color) that player is targeting with their spells. 

Table set up for some dueling
Phase 1: The Standoff

(1) Players have the option to sacrifice hit points to increase their energy pool at a rate of 1 hit point for 1 energy point. This will probably not come into play on the first standoff as no one has expended any energy yet.

(2) Use your purge or reload ability of your Anima – You can only use one of these abilities during your standoff. Reload lets you put up to 4 of your spells back into your hand at the cost of 3 energy points. Purge lets you discard spells in order to regain energy. Again in the initial start-up phase, this will not be necessary but will become part of the game later on

(3) Use your surge ability of your Anima – If you flip the Anima card over it has an alternate image of a red and angry Anima (pictured above). Surges make your spells more powerful ensuring a worse outcome for your opponent if they go off. You have to deactivate 3 spells, which go in your current turns deactivated pile. (There is a difference between deactivated and discarded cards and deactivated cards go in different piles)

In advanced rules for dueling players can trade cards with teammates, they can draw item cards, they can play item cards that have standoff as their type and they can use one of their archetype abilities.

The players announce they are ready and play proceeds to the draw.

Phase 2: the Draw

(1) Players begin by selecting a spell card and choosing their target. My target was pretty easy since there was just two of us but normally you would use your target cards to signify which player you were casting your spell at. Players then place the card face down in front of them.

(2) Once all cards are drawn and face dawn, players shout “DRAW” (or if your my morose 14-year-old you sort of mutter draw while rolling your eyes)

If a player chose to pass instead of play a spell, they place their spell card back in their hand and instead regain 2 energy points.

Play proceeds to the Aftermath phase.

Phase 3: The Aftermath

(1) Place any deactivated cards from the previous turn back in your hand.

(2) Deduct any energy costs of the card you just played (this will be in the lower right-hand corner of the card and have a blue dot with the energy cost in white numeric value) including any costs that might be in effects or FX area of the text.

(3) Resolve cards starting with a resolution number or RN for short of 1 and continue through 10 in advancing numerical order. (Our spells both go off on 9) If players play cards that go off on the same RN they roll off with the six sider to see who goes first. High roll wins. If two players play elemental spells that have the same RN, they clash. They still need to roll to see who goes first. If you get defeated (reduced to 0 hit points) before your spells RN comes up your spell never resolves since you were not alive to cast it.

(4) Resolve Elemental Clashes by looking at the banners underneath the spells name and checking for any weaknesses. In the case of our first hand, neither spell was weak to the other which prompted us to have a face-off, which will be covered below. If your attack is successful, your opponent takes damage in the form listed (some damage effects health, some effects energy etc) and additional effects listed for the card.

(5) Discard the card you played unless some effect on the card tells you not to.

(6) If you surged your anima flip it back over again making sure to accurately reflect your energy total when you do

(7) Move cards in your deactivated pile for this turn to the previous turns deactivated pile.

(8) Any remaining players with more than 0 hit points begin a new turn.

Special Phase: Face-Offs

In our game we both got the same number, so we had to draw again to resolve a tie. I got a 5 of diamonds so I got to go again, but I drew another 5 which meant I exhausted. My son had already drawn his which is why the 3 card appears in the stack but either way, I had exhausted so he won the Faceoff.

Face-Offs occur when two elemental spells confront one another with explosive results (think Voldemort and Dumbledore’s clash in Order of the Phoenix). Players initially each take one numbered card. The player with the highest numbered card goes first and draws yet another card in their attempt to be the closest to 11. Players continue to draw (push) until one exhausts (goes over 11 points in numbered cards) or reaches an Apex (11) and chooses to hold or gets close enough where fear of exhausting makes them not want to draw cards anymore and they choose to hold.

So if one player exhausts the other gets to apply their damage from their spell and DOUBLE its effects. So in our duel, I took 4 damage and I lost 4 energy points from the first salvo. Not off to a good start am I?

Advanced Dueling

The above example is just the basic setup for duels. It is the recommended path for beginners to get a hang of the game. The more advanced duel set up adds in several cool factors certain to make any Magic player giggle with anticipation.

  • Team play – 4 players face off, cards that are normally reserved for single targets now apply to teams, but by the same token, it is possible to also hit your teammates with friendly fire if you are not careful with which spells or items you choose. The last team alive wins!

  • Quick Draw Mode – 3 players recommended, works very similar to basic duel mode except players can agree to a predetermined limit of cards that can be played each turn. Between 2 to 6 extra cards. All spell cards have to be accompanied by target cards as you can cast at more than one person each turn. The number of aftermath phases is dependent upon how many cards were played. Players reveal their cards in the aftermath phase now instead of the draw phase. Every time a player dies you get to draw one less card per phase. This is one spot where the rules conflicted with themselves. In one spot it mentioned that the players get to decide how many cards they can each play during Draw phase but later on in the same subsection it sets an amount based upon the number of players at the table.

  • Archetypes – Hell’s Fury, True Grit, Dirty Cheat, Resurrect, Blood Feast, Spell Flare (spelling errors on the resurrect card). These determine how many hit points you start off with and give special abilities to your character. Players use Archetype abilities during the standoff phase.

  • Signature Spells – There are 24 various signature spells. Players either randomly get 2 signature spells or they can agree to each pick two. Signature spells, unlike Elemental spells, have an energy cost reflected in the bottom right corner. Other than that they operate pretty similarly to Elemental Spells.

  • Items – For dueling there are 37 specific item cards (this is expanded to 77 in the Tall Tales portion of the game) Item cards are drawn randomly and much like spells can affect the gameplay in different ways. The only issue I have with the items is the way the rulebook split it up into two different entries, both having pertinent information but neither being consistent in the way it relays facts. You draw item cards during the standoff phase, and never more than two at a time.

Tall Tales

Dueling yer fellow Grimslingers was practice fer a much grander destiny. Icarus, yer creator, is sending you out into the harsh Forgotten West on a perilous mission, of which you survivin’ is mighty unlikely. Sorry ’bout that…

Tall Tales are a solo/cooperative storytelling experience. It combines elements of role-playing games in with the card game for a fun filled 60-90 minute romp around the savage forgotten west. Players grab the standard duel cards, and then they add in archetype card and a level tracker.  Card placement is identical to dueling as well except you place your archetype and level tracker to the left of your Grimslinger card, and make a spot for a stash pile.  Players place extra cards that exceed their hand size in the stash pile. Players can store unlimited cards in their stash and use them at a Rest or Landmark node, or during the standoff portion of a duel.

Tall Tales is split into three phases similar to duels.  However, they have different functions relative to the Tall Tales experience.  The phases are Narrative, Node Resolution, and Movement.

  • Narrative Phase – verify you are ready for the next part of the story, resolve any actions necessary to this portion of the story and move on to the next phase.

  • Node Resolution Phase – Figure out which node you are on and decide which actions you as a player or as a group wish to take. Sometimes players get individual actions even in a group game.

  • Movement Phase – Players agree on a map node that connects to their current node and moves there.

The Map

The map contains three different nodes known as Landmark, Attack, and Event.

  • Landmarks – Players reference the landmark and find an appropriate entry inside the story booklet, kind of like a choose your own adventure book. Players make choices based on the entry that affects future outcomes in the game.

  • Attack – Moving to an attack space will immediately require a 6 sided dice roll. The players reference the legend on the map to see what they will be fighting.  The incentive to moving to attack nodes however besides plausibly building your Grimslingers up is that you get to landmarks much faster.

  • Event – Players draw a card from the event deck and follow its instructions to completion.

The Story Booklet

The story booklet is set up in chapters and further broken into individual parts. In order to complete a chapter, players must progress through each of these parts while accomplishing certain tasks or beat certain encounters. Players cannot skip parts, they need to meet the qualifications in order to progress.

Tall Tale Duels

As you follow the map you will encounter situations that force the players into duels with certain creatures or entities. Tall Tale Duels work a bit differently than standard player duels. Creatures have health trackers and energy pools similar to Grimslingers and they also have their own unique skills or abilities similar to the spells Grimslingers cast. You cannot draw item cards or use your archetype abilities in duels with creatures.  Creatures use energy and have to reload the same as players do. Other than a few exceptions, creatures operate very similarly to dueling a player.

Leveling

Another unique aspect of Tall Tales is being able to level your character. Leveling brings perks with it like increased hand sizes, being able to gain more Hit Points or Energy Points or choose more signature spells. 

Is it worth the price?

At the time of this review, Grimslingers retails for $29.95.  Jaw-dropping illustrations astound your eyes, both on the cards and on the map.  The cards have a matte finish, which from regular shuffling and use does show wear marks pretty easily. Buying clear sleeves, and a container for storage are strong recommendations if you see yourself playing this game a lot.

Greenbrier games did another Kickstarter in early 2017 called the Northern Territory ( https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gbg/grimslingers-the-northern-territory ). It appears that this version also includes a 3rd edition version of Grimslingers (This review is of the 2nd edition), and it mentions that a new rulebook with revised rule explanations based on player commentary. With any luck, this will tighten the bolts enough on this game to truly take it from pretty neat to truly outstanding. I do not think I am alone in hoping that the world of Grimslingers moves into the role-playing game realm at some point. Heck, even original stories or novels would be pretty cool as the one thing this product definitely left me with was a tantalizing for more background into this world. Cyborg Cowboys, anamorphic animals, and the arcane all help to make Grimslingers a thrilling setting.  I will never be able to look at another Weird West product and not immediately think of Grimslingers, and that means that Mr. Gibson made it his own.

If you would like to purchase Grimslingers for yourself, you might have to do a bit of hunting.  Due to the third edition currently in production for the Northern Territory Kickstarter, you might have some trouble locating a second edition copy.  However, keep an eye on Greenbrier Games website just in case more stock is created. https://secure.greenbriergames.com/gne/shop/ 

Thanks for reading!

Keep rolling them bones

Chris

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