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Brave Rats | Review

August 26, 2014
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Designer: Seiji Kanai | Artists: Noboru Sugiura & Christophe Swal | Publisher: Blue Orange Games, 2014
Players: 2 | Playing time: 5 mins
The Rat King has suddenly passed away, leaving no successor to the throne, and the country is in an uproar. Two princes have stepped forward to claim succession. Both of whom have gathered their allies, all with their own unique powers, and are ready to do battle. Take on the role of the wild-natured Red Prince or the calm and composed Blue Prince. Defeat the opposing prince and his forces and the throne will be yours! There are no rules in the Game of Thrones, even for rats!

Design

BraveRats is a 2-player simultaneous action-selection micro game from Blue Orange Games and designer Seiji Kanai, the creative mind behind such hits as Love Letter, Cheaty Mages and Chronicle. Based off Kanai’s original release R, BraveRats pits players against each other in a quick battle of wits; each player utilizing the same eight cards to lay claim to the throne. Oh and they’ve added rats.

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Aesthetically, this game is a delight. Thankfully, players are treated to two differing clan sets of seven charmingly-rendered cartoon rats each. The characters are lively and animated, bringing an energy to the cards rather than a more static portraiture.  While the art is a joy to look at, that gaze won’t last long as the game moves along quite quickly and cards are mostly played face down. The 16 cards are packaged in a portable-sized tin that is slightly larger than a typical poker tuck-box. The slight increase in size is due to a rather posh, velvety inlay for your rats to rest before the battle. I, personally, inserted the cards in the same sleeves as my copy of Love Letter. Two Kanai’s for the price of one!

Gameplay

Each player selects a color and is given an identical hand of eight cards numbered zero through seven. Each round, players will select one card from their hand and place it face-down on the table in front of them. The selected cards are revealed simultaneously and the player with the highest number wins the round. But, this is a Kanai design so…where’s the catch? Each of the cards has a special mandatory power that triggers when played.

The powers are as follows:

  • 7 – Prince: You win the round.
  • 6 – General: The next card you play gets +2 strength.
  • 5 – Wizard: Nullify your opponent’s special ability.
  • 4 – Ambassador: If you win, it counts as two rounds.
  • 3 – Assassin: The lower strength wins instead.
  • 2 – Spy: Next round, you choose a card after your opponent reveals theirs.
  • 1 – Princess: If your opponent plays the Prince you win the whole game.
  • 0 – Musician: This round is on hold.

Note: There are a few interactions that “break” the rules (i.e. The Prince trumps the Assassin). Each scenario, and result, in the game is nicely laid out on a card that comes with the game to assist in those moments of confusion.

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If the two players reveal cards of equal value, or the Musician is played, first congratulate yourself for being able to read minds and then put the round on hold. Rounds put on hold are set aside and the winner of the next round will score the current round as well as the previous round(s) on hold. Multiple rounds can be put on hold making the next round even more crucial for victory. Winning rounds are set to the side and kept face-up (if they won the round) or remain face-down (if they lost the round). Play continues until one player wins 4 rounds; that person as you may have guessed is the winner of the game and the rat throne.

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Game Variants

There are seven official game variants that come in the rulebook to mix things up:

  • A Traitor Among Us: Before the game begins, both players select one card from their hand and pass it to their opponent.
  • May the Luck Be With You: Instead of playing with all eight cards, each player only draws three at a time. From these three, the player must select one to play per round. After each round is completed, the players draw another card. In this way players will always have three or fewer cards to select from.
  • Battle Blitz: The first player to get three victories wins the game, instead of four.
  • Draft: One player draws four Rat cards, selects one to keep, and passes the other three to their opponent. The opponent now selects a card to keep and passes the cards back to the player. This continues in sets of four until all the cards are have been drafted and each player has eight cards in total.
  • Random Randomness: Shuffle all the Rat cards together and deal eight out to each player.
  • Kung Fu Princess: Before the game begins, players swap “Princess” and “Prince” Rat cards. One player should have both “Princesses” and one player should have both “Princes”.
  • The Emperor: Play a single game three times as normal. The player who wins the best out of three games is declared the “Emperor for Life” or until the next three games are played.

Overall Impressions

Kanai’s original release, R, had a most refreshing quote within its rulebook:

As you may note by the play time, this is not a long strategic game in which you think carefully each round. Use it as a way to decide game order, or instead of rock paper scissors.

As the quote alludes, this game does not pretend to be anything more than it is. Much like Kanai’s other designs, if I were to describe BraveRats in three words or less I would say “simple, short, clever.”

BraveRats reminds me of a more advanced version of the card game War, with the card powers providing a refreshing twist and extra dimension of depth. The card interactions are clever and players will need to leverage them within the current game state to succeed. With each player having access to the same cards, the first couple of rounds are swingy in the sense that you do not really know what your opponent is going to play.

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The real strategy of BraveRats comes into play once the first few cards have been played and you can then begin to deduce what your opponent’s best play is based on the cards and powers he has remaining. He’s played his Princess to try and catch me off guard early, is now the time to play my Prince?Or do I try and put this round on hold so that I can play my Prince next round and double-up? Decisions, decisions!

The simplicity of this game may turn some people off. It is certainly not a game that will be played consecutively for any great length of time. The fact that it is only a 2-player game may also hinder your ability to get this to the table as there are a number of other light filler games that accommodate more players.

Taught in two minutes and played in three minutes, BraveRats does not overstay its welcome. And don’t let the Blue Orange Games logo fool you; this game is accessible to a breadth of ages and gamer types.

League Rulings

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Seiji Kanai has quickly made his way onto my “instabuy” list. I am infatuated with his ability to use minimal cards/components to create light, accessible filler games that casual and hardcore gamers alike will enjoy. BraveRats was a particular hit with my brother and me on our vacation in France recently. We pulled it out on the plane and couldn’t put it down. The short gameplay as well as the minimal setup and table space required made it the perfect game to stick in our backpack and pull out when we were at the beach or stopped for a drink at the café.

I love analyzing my opponent and calculating which card they may or may not play next. From that I can determine my best move or perhaps the move they were not expecting. There is a slight level of tension built up as the rounds go on, especially when there are cards on hold and this round could crucially swing the game in favor of one player, or even win it. My one small complaint is that this is only a 2-player game. After playing with the same opponent over and over you begin to establish a small meta and it can become predictable.

For players looking for a unique, short, portable filler game to exercise a bit of your brain and maybe even make your opponent say a few four-letter words, BraveRats would make a great addition to your collection.

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My experience with BraveRats happened over lunch break at work with Biff. He was able to teach me how to play in one minute and our first game was completed in five. It was very easy to pick up quickly and figure out the strategy without much trial and error. I really would like to try the variants for this game. These variants add a welcomed variety for additional replay value and keeps it fresh if you’re playing an opponent in a few consecutive games. This is the perfect game for situations where you are sitting around waiting for your order at a restaurant or waiting for friends to show up for game night. You can just whip out BraveRats, teach it really quick, and by the time your meal comes, you have already played three games. If you like Love Letter, you will like BraveRats.

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As I said in my 1st Impressions blog, BraveRats is not a game you really play to win, but rather just to enjoy a little friendly competition. It’s not designed to replace games with loads of strategy, but it does require a bit of thinking to outwit your opponent. Just don’t overthink it! One aspect that stood out was the great sense of balance among the cards. Rarely, if at all, did I feel defeated and unable to come back for a victory as there’s options to put rounds on hold and dodge a bullet. It’s likely impossible to play just a single game of BraveRats and if you find yourself playing the same person over several rounds, it can become familiar. But because of the level playing field it still manages to be entertaining and your opponents can still surprise you from time to time.

 

Dan H. (Nad)

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/PODCAST CO-HOST : Allow myself, to introduce myself. Boardgaming since the womb, I have an unsound infatuation with buying, playing, discussing, photographing, and writing about boardgames. As a boardgame aesthetics enthusiast (say that 5 times fast) you'll typically find that I spend a large majority of the game examining the design, art, and components. I prefer strategic eurogames but will play just about anything these days (except Arkham Horror). And I love Pearl Jam.