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Board Game Review: ScrumBrawl

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I came across ScrumBrawl at the 2011 SoonerCon in Oklahoma City, and I was immediately fascinated. The game is solidly fantasy, but it is also a sports game reminiscent of the old magnetized football or miniature hockey sets. It has player-controlled monsters ala Magic: The Gathering, but it has objective, board-related goals like a miniatures battle. Whatever its genre really is, ScrumBrawl makes for a great game.

The fantasy element is the most obvious. Set in the Great Arena (based on a back story involving dreams and the sphinx Queen Margaela), players act as captains controlling some 50 fantasy creatures such as satyrs, ghosts, trolls, hydra, and leprechauns all organized into different tribes that give bonuses when aligned with one another, though any player can conjure any creature on its card draw. These mechanics smack of time-tested gameplay in Magic, but ScrumBrawl is much more self-contained than the ever-expanding CCG.

Still, being a complete set does not limit the variability of the game. Each creature comes with a long list of characteristics involving throwing abilities, speed, flight, magic, and special attacks. Some creatures are large enough to be “Adept” (carrying an orb and still being able to attack another creature), others are so small that the Heavy Orb will crush them if they are in the same space. Into the more fantastical realm, Gargoyles can turn to stone for extra defense and the various mages can cast spells such as Transmutation or Teleportation. Even the orbs are variable with magical qualities such as slipperiness or breaking when dropped once or even causing chaotic teleportation. Enchantment cards give power-ups, creating an even wider range of possibilities as creatures can become blessed with luck or resistant to attack. Other cards cause Instant Events such as Lightning Storms that strike the board at random when drawn, making the game as raucous as any sporting event.

Ultimately, the fantasy theme is the icing on a heck of a sports game cake. The mechanics of ScrumBrawl are solid and impressive, even down to its grid board. Aside from the art, it stands as a 20×20 grid, and two 20-sided dice determine random positioning on blue and red axes. This allows for random placement of creatures, orbs, or portals. Even the possibility of dropping an orb is accounted for with the randomizing eight-sided die that shows which direction it can fall. From that point, the game system runs clearly: get a blue point for getting an orb into a portal or a red point for killing three opponents; three points wins. Players draw cards to get creatures, enchantments, or events. There are also invaluable Alter Reality cards that enable the player to shift rolls several degrees, possibly turning a disastrously placed portal into one much closer to friendly creatures or saving a creature’s hide in a fight by upping defense (or, conversely, making the kill stick with upped attack).

In all, ScrumBrawl is a well designed game with excellent production values. It is fairly advanced, making the 13+ age recommendation reasonable, but rules are straightforward so that it is not as overwhelming as the titanic games like Twilight Imperium or Civilization, making for an in depth but relatively short game at about 45 minutes, depending on number of players. The well loaded rules book contains plenty of information to settle gameplay disputes, and the website explains any further errata as well as displaying a demo of game play.


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About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.