Kaboom! Game Review

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The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up (publisher 12+)
  • For 2 to 5 players
  • Variable game length (about 10 minutes per player)

Geeks Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Outlast your enemies in this quick game of combative card playing!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek rejected!
  • Parent Geek rejected!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

From behind your protective wall, you can just make out your enemy. They are peeking at you, too. You think about waving, think better of it, and fire a rocket at them instead. Not as nice as a wave, but this is war. And in war, only one side is meant to win. At least, that’s what the General says. Where is the General, by the way? You haven’t seen him for days. Oh, well. Guess you’ll just keep firing weapons until someone with authority says “stop”.

Kaboom!, by JEM Games, is comprised of 108 cards. The cards consist of four different types which are Attack, Wall, Special, and Endgame cards. Within these major cards types are a large number of unique cards to be played.  The cards do not have any artwork on them and text is minimal.

Game Set Up

To set up the game, first find and remove the Endgame cards from the deck. These cards are green and have an “E” located at the upper left corner on the face of the card. Place the Endgame cards to one side for now. This is the Endgame deck and is not used until the endgame is triggered.

Second, find and give each player 1 Iron Wall, 1 Stone Wall, and 3 Palisade cards. These are placed in front of the player, face-up, and in any order they like. If there are 5 players, each will receive 2 Palisades instead of 3. If there are only 2 players in the game, find and remove the Nuclear Bomb Special card from game play.

Third, shuffle the deck and deal out 7 cards to each player. The players should look at their cards, but keep them hidden from their opponents.

Fourth, place the deck of cards in the middle of the playing area, face-down. This is the players’ draw deck for the duration of the game. Leave room next to the deck for a discard pile.

That’s it for game set up. Determine who the first player is and begin.

Weapons and Walls of War

The different card types are summarized here.

Wall Cards

These cards protect the player from their opponents’ attacks. They don’t do anything other than take hits. Some walls are stronger than others and can withstand attacks from certain Attack cards without issue. But if the Wall card is attacked by a weapon that it cannot block, it falls to the ground and is moved to the discard pile. Each Wall card lists what weapons can destroy it. Players start with 3 different types of walls, but within the draw deck lies the Steel Wall card that can withstand just about anything you throw at it.

Attack Cards

These cards are meant to do one thing and one thing only: crush walls and break enemies. For every Wall card there are one or more Attack cards that can level it to the ground. For example, the Flaming Arrow Attack card is the perfect weapon to remove an opponent’s Palisade, as it is the weakest of the Attack card weapons. The Steel Wall card, however, can only be taken down with C4, an RPG, or the devastating Nuclear Bomb! As a general rule of thumb, the more powerful the explosion, the more walls will fall.

Special Cards

These cards are not specifically Wall or Attack cards, but they might act as such or allow the player to take a special action not usually available to them. For example, the Nuclear Bomb Special card eliminates one player from the game no matter how many Wall cards they have in front of them. Then there is the Spy Special card that allows the player to steal one card from an opponent or destroy a Force Field.

Endgame Cards

These cards are used when the endgame is triggered. These cards are very powerful and are only available to players who have been eliminated. Selecting the right Endgame card to play on an opponent could mean the difference between victory or defeat for others, but always results in delicious revenge for the eliminated players.

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Laying Siege

The game is played in rounds with each player having a single turn per round. A player’s turn is completed in two steps and is summarized here.

Step 1: Draw a Card

The player’s first step on their turn is to draw a card from the draw deck. This card immediately goes into the player’s hand. If there are no cards left, the discard pile is shuffled and becomes the new draw deck. If at anytime during the game a player should play their last card, they immediately draw 3 new cards from the draw deck, even if it isn’t their turn.

Step 2: Take an Action

The player’s second step is to take one of three possible actions. Only one action can be selected per turn.

  • Play a Card: The player can select one of their cards in their hand and play it. Normally, only one card can be played on a player’s turn unless they use another card that allows for more than one to be played. The card’s effect is resolved and then placed face-up in the discard pile or remains in play.
  • Trade Cards: The player can select any 3 cards in their hand and place them face-up in the discard pile. The player then draws 1 card from the draw deck.
  • Do Nothing: If the player does not want to take any of the two other actions or chooses not to, they can simply end their turn without playing or trading cards.

The player’s turn is now over. The next player going clock-wise now has their turn, starting with step 1 above.

The Endgame

As the game progresses, the players will have their protective walls slowly whittled down to nothing. This leaves them exposed and the next attack from any opponent that cannot be blocked immediately eliminates the player from winning the game, but does not remove them from the game. As soon as this happens, the endgame is triggered and the Endgame cards come into play.

On a player’s turn, if they have been eliminated (that is, attacked with all their walls gone with no way to defend), they now select one of the Endgame cards on their turn. This is the only action they can take on their turn. The Endgame deck can be picked up and looked through, but only one card from the deck can be played to the table. Once played, the effect of the card is immediate and the card is returned to the Endgame deck. The one exception is the Advanced Technology Endgame Card that remains on the table for the round.

Winning the Game

The game ends when there is only one player left who has not been eliminated. This player, being the only one to survive the battle, is automatically the winner.

To learn more about Kaboom! and read the full rules, visit the game’s web page. Additional information can also be found on the Game Crafter.

Prediction

Kaboom! is a very simple “take that” card game where players chip away at each other until only one is standing. These games are very simple to teach and to play. I have never had a problem with our groups when teaching games like this because the objective is clear. No teams, no friends, only opportunities. This type of game does bring out some tears, however, as the youngest of the Child Geeks might feel picked on. We always watch for that and the Parent and Gamer Geeks never hesitate to pause a game to help a Child Geek out. Once everyone is feeling better, the game resumes.

I think this game will appeal most to the Child Geeks. The easy game play and simple hand management is nothing that is going to challenge them, but that’ll be OK. The challenge the Child Geeks are going to have to worry about is each other and how they plan to act and react to their opponents. Parent Geeks might like this game enough to endorse it if it provides them a fun and interactive game to play with their Child Geeks. Their level of endorsement is going to hinge on the game’s playability and their Child Geek’s opinion of it. The Gamer Geeks, I’m afraid, are not going to go for this game. It’s too simple and light to be of much interest to the elitist gamers.

Teaching the game is not hard, but keeping track of the cards is. The rules do a good job of describing the game in general, but leave out some important points on how the cards are played. There are timing issues that can only be resolved by looking at the card’s detailed description in the rules. But even that doesn’t help a new player at times because there are some rather important definitions for game play that are not clearly spelled out. For example, the flow of the game suggests that you can only play a card on your turn, but there are cards you can collect that can be used as instant cards or defensive cards to trip up or nullify another player’s turn. These cards have nothing on them to suggest when they can or cannot be played. Additionally, some of the cards have icons, some have letters, some have both, and some have none. This is confusing for new players because they are trying to make associations with the icons, letters, and the card’s abilities. Again, it all comes down to reading the rules. As a result, I had a number of “what if” questions from the Child, Parent, and Gamer Geeks. Even worse, I couldn’t answer some of them. This lead us to create some house rules based on our interpretation of the card’s text and their description.

And so, after reading the rules to my little geek and answering all his questions, we were ready to play the game. As he shuffled the cards and dealt them out, I asked him his thoughts on the game so far.

“The cards are kind of confusing and not very interesting, but I like how I get to destroy your defenses!” ~ Liam (age 8)

Looks like my little warlord is ready to rumble! I was also not very impressed with the lack of anything on the cards, but I’m pleased to see that my little geek is focusing on the game play and not the presentation. I have taught him well. Let’s see if Kaboom! is a hit or a miss at our gaming table.

Final Word

Child Geeks liked this game and very much enjoyed exploding their opponents’ defenses. The Wall cards make it very clear what the protective strength of each player is, which also makes them a big target. The Wall and Attack cards do a good job here as each Wall card says what Attack card can bring it down. That’s easy for the Child Geeks to look at, find a matching card, and topple the wall. The Child Geeks did a great job with the Wall and Attack cards, but really struggled with he Special cards and their timing. We had to pause the game many times at first to read about specific cards to understand how they could be used. But, by far, the most well-loved aspect of the game were the Endgame cards. The Child Geeks felt pretty miffed about being eliminated from the game, but reveled in their destructive power with the Endgame cards. This made the sting of defeat all but go away as they sent in alien invasions, sabotaged walls, released diseases, and giving all the players more cards because it was Christmas in the world of the game. The Child Geeks, despite their disappointment and confusion with the Special cards, very much enjoyed Kaboom! and fully endorsed it.

My little geek "toasts" me after destroying one of my walls

My little geek “toasts” me after destroying one of my walls

The Parent Geeks, despite the level of enjoyment their Child Geeks had, did not endorse Kaboom! They found the rules to be unfinished, some of the card plays unclear, and the game felt a bit disorderly as a result. The Parent Geeks spent more time trying to interpret the rules rather than playing by them. That really sucked the fun out of the room. Most of the time, it was easy to make a logical conclusion if a card could be played despite it not being clear in the rules or on the card itself, but not always. The amount of effort that was needed to “make sense” of some of the cards seemed very unnecessary to the Parent Geeks and they would have preferred that every card was very clear about how it could or could not be played. Looking at the rules a few times is forgivable. Looking at the rules for every card that has little in the way of a description is not. As a result, the rules were passed around a great deal to players who had no idea what their cards did. One Parent Geek summed it up very well by saying, “You need two hands for this game: one to hold the cards and one to hold the rules.”

The Gamer Geeks did not care for this game. The game play was not for them and they really disliked the overpowered Nuclear Bomb card that removed any chance of winning. They rather liked the Endgame cards, however, and thought that was a very interesting and unique way to keep all the players in the game. The Endgame cards kept the Gamer Geeks thinking about their timing before delivering a deathblow to an opponent. Kill them too early, and you made a powerful enemy who would guarantee you would lose the game. Kill them too late and you might lose a chance of claiming victory for yourself. The Gamer Geeks were all impressed that Child Geeks made Kaboom!, but didn’t think that was an excuse to favor it. That and the game didn’t really allow the players to do much in the way of strategy or tactics. It was all luck driven and that doesn’t usually appeal to Gamer Geeks.

The really neat thing about this game is that it was designed by a family. Two Child Geeks and a Parent Geek, to be exact. For the most part, it plays exactly how a card game designed by children should and doesn’t offer any surprises. That is, fast game play, big table effects, and not much in the way of depth. Play the game a few times, however, and you’ll be surprised how much thought you have to put into it to stay alive. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the game makes use of strategy or tactics, as the player’s actions are driven and limited by the cards in their hand. But what the game lacks in strategic game play it makes up for in logical and critical thinking. Timing is everything and being able to recognize when to defend and when to attack is a must. The game requires the players to play smart, watch the table, and take into account the whole battle ground. Failure to do so will result in the player quickly being eliminated. Of course, there is nothing stopping two or more players from gaining up on another, but all this will do is create a bitter enemy.

The endgame is an interesting twist that I found to be a great deal of fun and terribly frustrating at times. The Endgame cards are meant to quickly bring the game to a conclusion. This is where the game’s depth goes from shallow to zero, as the Endgame cards simply plow over other players with no possible way to block them. When playing as a disgruntled eliminated player, this works very well as it allows you to destroy the player who destroyed you. As a gamer, however, these types of endgames are undesirable as they take all the hard-work a player has done to keep alive and ignores it. Essentially, you will live longer if you kill less, but this goes against the game’s objective. The player is therefore doomed to be the recipient of an eliminated player’s wrath the moment they take out an opponent in an attempt to win the game.

As it is currently designed, the game has a few game play issues that can only be resolved by updating the cards. There is very little on the cards to suggest what some cards do or when they should be played. For the Special cards, the players will be highly dependent on the game rules to understand how to play them. A better approach is to create a small number of icons to be put on each card that suggests when it can be played and summarize each card’s ability or action on the card’s face with more detail. This will free the player from the rules and allow them to focus more on the game. Stopping game play to review the rules to learn how a card works is a terrible mood killer and greatly reduces the game’s overall level of excitement and engagement. These are simple design changes that will have a very positive impact to the game and would most certainly appeal to the Parent Geeks.

Kaboom! is an excellent start to what I hope is a long and illustrious game designing career for the Child Geeks who created it. Kaboom! has merit and with some more time and attention to the game’s details, it is sure to be a winner. I have no doubt that it wouldn’t take much to do so and most sincerely hope the Child Geeks continue to work on it. With just a bit more effort, Kaboom! could be an explosive game of fast and furious fun for everyone at the gaming table.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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