Monday, October 17, 2022

Handy Brawl is thinky!

During the early stages of the 2022 In Hand contest, I printed out and tried what turned out to be one of the early versions of Handy Brawl. Now I’m trying the final contest version (the one that one best game) and there is quite the difference. It’s almost a different game.

The idea is that HB is a nine-card deck where a hero fights a monster. The first version I tried had five heroes fighting four different monsters. It was kind of kludgy, not helped by my black and white printing sometimes making me have to check if a couple characters were heroes or monsters. (The groot-ent and the cyborg with a gun, in case you’re curious)
The final version has one hero broken down into five cards and one monster broken down into four cards. It’s a lot cleaner and clearer with the individual characters having much clearer synergy.

Even better, there are three different heroes and three different monsters. That allows for a lot more choices and mechanical options. We go from one deck configuration to nine.

Make a deck of nine cards out of one hero and one monster. Shuffle it up but you can look at every card at any time. The top card either gives you options (hero cards) or required programmed actions (monster cards) The actions all break down to either moving cards around or changing their status (which usually means damaging them) You want to get the all monster cards dead before they get all the hero cards dead.

Handy Brawl is a remarkably thinky game for nine-cards. After the initial shuffle, there are no random or hidden elements. And the most simple card sets (the paladin and the ogre) have nine  distinct symbols. Several of those symbols can have additional modifiers and the more complicated heroes and monsters add to the symbol total.

This complexity creates HB’s greatest strength and weakness.

Handy Brawl is fiddly, particularly for a game that’s just nine cards at a time. After several plays, I’m still not sure I’ve got all the rules and symbol interactions right.

Having said that, the theme is a HUGE help with that. Framing all those symbols as weapon blows, arrows, shields, traps, etc, makes them more intuitive. Having a context for all the symbols to interact with really helps.

And the puzzles each combination and shuffle create are fun. Handy Brawl requires some actual thinking to win. There’s a decent amount of content going in here. Handy Brawl’s complexity is greater than its depth but there is some depth.

Palm Island didn’t create the In Hand niche but it did really increase the interest in it. I don’t think the In Hand design contest would have happened without it. Handy Brawl does not fire Palm Island but I do like how it goes in a different direction, creates new options.

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