When I was a kid in the eighties, there was a game, heavily advertised on television, called Crossbows and Catapults. Each player built a castle out of loose-fitting plastic blocks, placed little army men and flags, and then took turns knocking each others' castles down with discs launched from rubber band-powered siege engines. I loved that game so much that I taped out a regulation 6-foot by 5-foot battlefield on the basement floor.
But Crossbows and Catapults had a problem. The rules didn't make sense. It all sounded good, but the game rewarded things that were easy to do (like knock your opponent's whole castle into next Tuesday) much more than things that were hard to do (like snipe the flag off the top of the tall tower); and the really cool little army men pieces didn't serve much purpose. We tried to figure out ways to fix the game, but all our rules overcomplicated things, and games regularly devolved into more UN Tribunal on Crossbows and Catapults Violations than actually knocking over plastic castles.
Thirty years later, Cube Quest (2 players, ages 8+, 15 minutes or less, published by Gamewright) hits a lot of my nostalgia buttons for Crossbows and Catapults, but in a smart, modern, fast-playing way that you don't need 30 square feet of smooth floor to make happen.
The players start by laying out a bunch of die-sized cubes in their color on a rectangular playing field about 2 feet long that's made of mousepad stuff. One of these cubes has crowns on the faces and is the player's king. Then you take turns flicking your cubes at each other's castles (made of the selfsame cubes). Cubes flicked or knocked off the board are out of the game. First one to knock the other one's king off the mousepad wins.
It's a brilliant simplification – there's only one kind of component (cubes) that serve simultaneously as castle walls, ammunition, attacking troops, and thing being guarded. Inherent in that choice is that every choice about which cubes to flick is a tradeoff between offense and defense (if you haven't noticed yet, I love games built around tradeoffs). The dice are lightweight enough that they don't hurt your finger when you flick them, but heavy enough to cause some very satisfying damage with a well-aimed shot.
And then the designers added complexity back in, but in a good way. You see, the cubes have blank faces and angry-warrior faces. Land a cube in enemy territory face-side up and it gets to stay threateningly; but land it blank side up and it gets rolled like a die to determine whether you get it back at your castle or if it's out of the game. The four different types of cubes you can flick have different ratios of blank to warrior faces, so certain pieces are more powerful than others.
Furthermore, some of the cube types have special powers, and there are cubes that you don't flick but instead represent two different spells you can cast to resurrect cubes or freeze your opponents' cube. The whole thing takes about two minutes to teach, and there's a nifty player aid that lays out all the cubes' powers.
That same player aid also lists costs for each cube – at the start of the game you get to pick and choose your army by selecting an equal number of "points" (from the player aid) worth of cubes. You can have a huge army of lowly grunts, in the hope that extensive walls and overwhelming attrition will carry the day; or a carefully-selected team of specialists who can infiltrate the enemy castle and nail the king at close range.
One caveat about the game is that it doesn't work that well with a large age disparity in play. Adult vs. kid games of Cube Quest require the adult to tank the game to a significant degree, and the Seagull Cube Quest Sibling League is so far from competitive that the younger team has abandoned their franchise. On the other hand, adult vs. adult games, when taken overly seriously, are a hoot for many of the same reasons Coconuts is.
Still, the quick playtime, easy teachability, tactile satisfaction, and nods to strategic depth make this a satisfying addition to the game shelf.
Cube Quest [Amazon Link]