Friday, April 7, 2017

Voltage, one of Mattel's experiments

Voltage came out about ten years ago, a strange experiment by Mattel where they put out a couple games that were basically German Family games aimed at the American mass market. Voltage wasn't a bizarre experimental game. It was just in a weird experimental place.

Voltage is a two-player game where you are engineers fighting for control over a power plant that's on its last legs. Players take turns playing cards on either side of a board.  

The game is firmly in the world of Lost Cities-style play. There are four suits or colors of cards and the board has four spaces for players to make columns in each color. Players can play cards on either their side or their side. When there are five cards total, it gets score, with the current position of a plastic fuse token  determining if low or high will get the point. First player to four points wins.

(As usual, I've glossed over a lot of rules. Like players get two actions per turn, which can either be drawing or playing cards, or some cards let you flip the switch token.)

Earlier, I wrote that Voltage was an experiment for Mattel but not as a game. That's practically an understatement.  Voltage is very much a simplified/streamlined version of Balloon Cup/Piñata (yes, known both versions). Voltage has a simpler deck with the random element of the transformers that flip a token immediately. It also has a much simpler scoring system compared to Balloon Cup/Piñata's set collection system.

Between Balloon Cup/Pinata's more deeper decision tree and lower random factor, I think it is fair to say that it is a better game than Voltage. Not that Voltage is bad. It's pretty good. Just not AS good.

However, that simplicity is why I have kept Voltage. In addition to the fact that you know, I really enjoy Lost City-style games. It isn't that it's easier to teach. Frankly, Balloon Cup isn't that big a jump.

No, it is actually the _physical_ simplicity of Voltage that has made me keep it. A tiny board with a score track and four plastic tokens instead of tiles, score cards and a bag of cubes. The end result is a very small footprint with minimal housekeeping.

After all, I enjoy playing the style game to relax and mellow out. The physical elements of Voltage adding to the ease of play are really nice for that purpose. 

I have a feeling that if Voltage was released for the American mass-market audience now, it would be a lot more successful. German family games have been making definite inroads. Unfortunately, I think it came out too soon and sank.

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