Over the holidays, I had the pleasure of getting to play a new game that quickly became my son's and my favorite over the holiday break (when we try to play lots of games together). It's my friend Doc Popular's KnifeTank and he was kind enough to send me a prototype copy.
When I got the game, I was excited, but with reservations. No offense to Doc, but I expected it to be light and gimmicky, something of a vanity project. What I wasn't expecting was a game I instantly wanted to play over and over again and invite my friends to come and play (which I did). KnifeTank can hold its own against anything coming out of a large commercial game company and I look forward to it enjoying a long and happy life, with many expansions and a worldwide, enthusiastic player community.
KnifeTank comes in a poker-type tuck box and includes everything you need to play. You get 30 action/movement cards, 8 tanks (4 two-sided cards), 4 health cards, and 5 damage cards. The box also contains a rule book and there are two rules summary cards. The game is for 2-4 players and rated ages 12 and up. Each game takes about 20-30 minutes to play. The goal of the game is get your tank from your table's edge to your opponent's edge or to eliminate your opponent(s) by reducing their health/hits to zero.
Those familiar with tabletop miniature games like Star Wars X-Wing and Gaslands will likely dig the movement mechanic here. Each turn, players lock in two actions from their hand by placing them face down on the table. Movement goes first and the movement cards show a movement direction and distance. You place the movement card down, align your tank turret markers to the distance marker indicated, and then remove and discard the movement card. Part of the challenge in playing is guessing the distance and direction your tank will end up with after the card is played.
After movement cards are played, the knives come out. You play the stabby cards in a manner similar to movement, placing them as indicated my symbols on your tank and hoping your weapon overlaps an enemy tank (giving you a chance to deal damage).
Finally, after the stabbing stops, you get to play special cards. This is an aspect of the game I expected to like the least, but it turns out it's what makes KnifeTank truly special and fun. The special cards are things like bombs or first aid packages that you literally drop from 2 feet above the table, or things like a knife copter that you have to try and spin onto an opponent, or flick and blow cards that you have to… well, flick or blow onto your opponent's tank. This kinetic activity instantly brings back the childhood fun of playing games like paper football.
Hits are resolved by the use of Damage cards that you blind draw. This is another fun and tension-producing dimension to the game. If you're hanging on by a single hit point, drawing that card can be maddening.
Doc has done a really great job with the cartoony heavy metal vibe to the design and the card art. It's hard not to want to shout "KNIFE TANK!" a lot in a cookie monster metal voice. The game feels like its own little realized world with more going on than meets the eye. There is a lot of humor in the design, too, like this turret weapon card depicting a hammerhead shark with a knife tapped to its head. (Get it? Shark tank? Card shark?)
Doc launched a Kickstarter yesterday to finally bring KnifeTank to the masses. The campaign runs through February 4th. At only $15, you know you need this. As my son, Blake, himself a professional game designer, exclaimed after we played our first few rounds: "This game rules! I love it."