Seal Team Flix: Breaking my Distaste for Dungeon Crawls

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Seal Team Flix Review

Your soldier’s cover has been largely destroyed by those last shots.  She stands up, alone, and needs to make her two shots count or they will be her last.  The player assesses the situation and…  rolls 11 dice to find out if that happened or not.

To my mind, the core achievement of Seal Team Flix is in modeling the tense and physical act of personal combat with a ludonarratively matching tense and physical mechanic.  In so doing, the game put in stark contrast the mechanical issues I’ve had with dungeon crawls over the years: dungeon crawl is a genre that should be exciting in play but is, in practice, one of the most intensely calculated and elaborately strategic genres in existence.  Adjusting modifiers and constantly minimizing risk every turn is the order of the day.  That central conceit has never worked for me.  That doesn’t mean the games are bad, but rather that the mismatch between theme and mechanics was off-putting to me.  Even a widely praised innovator like Gloomhaven falls for it---if anything, it takes the genre into an even more puzzle-like direction: how should I order attack cards, when will I have resources for my attacks, how do they synergize, when do I pick up my discard?  And even though many dungeon crawlers are known for their drama and uncertainty stemming from dice rolls, I’ve always felt that the risks represented by dice were still a distinct thematic mismatch since the final roll usually stems from an extremely carefully calculated optimization process. 

By contrast, Seal Team Flix boils down the most important action, your character’s attack, into an intense moment of concentration paired with a physical action that can be short circuited by the player’s own tension and drama of the moment.  The designers seem to understand this and streamlined most of the other parts of the game beyond the player’s actions and flicking.  Although I have some issues with the rest of the game, this fundamentally makes the game worth playing for a wide audience.  Anything else I say about the game pales in comparison to the game's central strength.

Beyond the immediate play, the game handles the meatier bits of a campaign style dungeon crawl in a way that makes it more thematic and interesting than a game like Catacombs.  Seal Team never devolves into a war of attrition, ticking off hit points and adjusting modifiers due to equipment.  There is impressive variety in the base box along with some clever game modeling decisions.  In essence, equipment differences are represented by different sizes and numbers of discs being flicked or their effects, somewhat like the magic spells in Catacombs, but in ways that I consider far more creative.  The sound, door, and cover systems provide a lot of avenues for unusual and innovative uses of the flicking mechanic.  As an example, when your soldier fires a shotgun, you are allowed to fire through a door in front of you by stacking two discs on top of one another and, with luck, the top disc will travel over the cardboard door token and into the room to cause havoc.  Similarly, the difference between a loud assault rifle firing three medium sized discs that blow up cover and stun enemies compared to a submachine gun firing lighter, smaller discs that do not affect cover became extremely telling when running through the campaign missions.  Seal Team also carries flicking into game models of other activities, using sideboards for lockpicking, sniping and bomb defusing.  The sideboards create the same sense of tension as the firing, though I found myself using these rarely enough that they were not quite as notable as they have been for other reviewers.

On the whole, the components are also a bright spot for the game, particularly for its low mass market price.  While I’m indifferent to the theme, it fits right into a world dominated by modern special forces games in the digital space.  The standups generally worked well and I had little trouble gluing and putting the boards together.  The variety of environments and the idea of physically representing the tight spaces, corners, and rooms in real life environments in a non-miniatures game is still shocking and, from a gameplay perspective, had me actually considering the importance of corners and cover physically rather than mechanically, a fun twist.  A physical issue with the game, however, is space.  By representing doors, walls, cover, individuals in a non-abstracted fashion on a grid, it also meant that shots that would seem easy for my soldier became difficult for me simply due to the need to get my fingers into flicking position.  I found myself taking “worse” shots due to extra room for my fingers, which significantly hurt the verisimilitude of the model.  This is an intractable problem: ideally everything in the game would be scaled up to be twice as big, meaning your fingers would be trivially sized and shots would be easy to perform from all positions.  But, of course, then the game wouldn’t fit on my shelves and would be some hilariously expensive niche Kickstarter.

Finally, unfortunately, Seal Team Flix does highlight some of the genre’s larger unsolved problems.  The relatively tedious (and critical!) concept of Line of Sight remains, despite the flicked player shots, due to the AI enemy’s use of a simplified dice roll system for its own shots.  Running the AI, too, is slightly tricky until mastered, putting it squarely in line with its co-op dungeon crawl peers.  There are also some slightly unintuitive tactical consequences of the AI move, fire, and take cover system that you need to play several times to appreciate.  In your first few games, you will likely be brutally flanked by enemies when you thought you were in good shape.

On the whole, Seal Team Flix is an innovative game with a shockingly low price that manages to salvage dungeon crawl games for me.  I generally play the game solo---it is quite amenable to being played that way---and when I have a little time for setup it is an extremely welcome diversion.  I look forward to any additional content for the game and suggest you take a look if you have found dungeon crawls wanting in the same ways that I do.

Your soldier’s cover has been largely destroyed by those last shots.  She stands up, alone, and needs to make her two shots count or they will be her last.  The player assesses the situation, gets their finger into position and carefully lines up the angles.  It will take a precision shot that bounces off the wall to get around the corner and hit the enemy standee.  You line up the shot, take a breath, flick the small blue disc…  and misfire it straight into a nearby wall.  Gulp.

There Will Be Games Seal Team Flix Review
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GorillaGrody's Avatar
GorillaGrody replied the topic: #287900 11 Dec 2018 07:56
This is the game where you go around gunning down environmentalists, yeah? Kind of a turn-off for me.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #287901 11 Dec 2018 08:16
Great review. I love articles that get into deeper analysis of what works and what doesn’t.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #287902 11 Dec 2018 08:25

GorillaGrody wrote: This is the game where you go around gunning down environmentalists, yeah? Kind of a turn-off for me.


They are really anti-humanists. I don’t think anyone would have understood if we had used that term, but I regret that “eco-terrorist” turned some people off.

Thanks for the review, Gary. I agree, 2x boards would be great. And sadly impractical.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #287907 11 Dec 2018 08:49
Great work! Makes me want to get this back out and play it again soon.
GorillaGrody's Avatar
GorillaGrody replied the topic: #287908 11 Dec 2018 08:57

hotseatgames wrote:

GorillaGrody wrote: This is the game where you go around gunning down environmentalists, yeah? Kind of a turn-off for me.


They are really anti-humanists. I don’t think anyone would have understood if we had used that term, but I regret that “eco-terrorist” turned some people off.


I mean, it really sounds like a fun game. But in an age in which even moderate conservatives like Schwarzenegger are being called eco-terrorists (or even anti-humanists), it just sets off my dog-whistle alarm. In future, I'd recommend Nazis. Everyone wants to shoot a Nazi.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #287910 11 Dec 2018 09:07
I think we have enemies for the expansion that can be universally disliked.
lj1983's Avatar
lj1983 replied the topic: #287911 11 Dec 2018 09:17
in the Clancy book Rainbow Six the bad guys are a group of eco terrorists who are planning on releasing a humanity-killing plague on the world.

Not sure on the backstory in Flix but that would count I think.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #287913 11 Dec 2018 09:33
Thanks for the kind words.

Yeah, that's basically this game theming-wise lj.

Like I said, modern military themes in a light game generally aren't at the top of my list for a lot of reasons, many of them political. It's a legit reason to be turned off if it doesn't work for you for whatever reason. That said, I didn't have too much trouble with it, the focus of the game is on a pretty interchangeable OpFor style besides some light interstitial stuff in the scenario book. There are only three types of enemy and they are very generic.
SuperflyTNT's Avatar
SuperflyTNT replied the topic: #287914 11 Dec 2018 09:45
LJ nailed it. That’s the main reason I went with antihumanists. It started out as Islamofascists but I’m not keen on them nor was Zev so we decided to change.

Anyone reading page one of the manual has it laid out unequivocally, Gorilla. These are folks that are to the far left of VHEMT. They are a death cult who seeks to end human life on Earth to save the planet.

It’s funny to me that people with no idea what the game is about simply thinks “conservative dog whistle” when people seeking to be offended are the only ones who hear it clearly. This is maybe the third time I’ve heard this particular phrase used by people, and only one person has been like “fuck yeah, kill lefties” on BGG, and he was trounced

One of the designers is an environmentalist who has worked to reform e-waste recycling for 20 years or so, FWIW
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #287917 11 Dec 2018 12:07
I caught the whiff of compromise in the theme. I appreciate that you don't want to offend a billion people, (any particular billion) so you need to have an enemy that's way out beyond one of the fringes, and best if they don't actually exist. I think something like Hydra might have been a better concept, but I'm not the guy that produces hit board games.

Heck, Zev wouldn't even name real diseases in Pandemic. Presumably he didn't want to call out influenza or ebola in case there was a future epidemic that made the game look ill-topicked.

I think anyone concerned with the opponent can simply insert whomever they like. I think you could release this game multiple times a la the C&C system with different settings and eras, and really have quite a franchise. Nazis, Communists, Assyrians, Jesuits. Okay, maybe not Jesuits. But the English . . . hell yeah! Let's set it in 1774 and flick off Thrower's relatives!

My intention is to make this game a gift for several reasons -- 1) the new owner will be forced to play it with me in gratitude; 2) he has to assemble it; 3) he has to store it. It's really the perfect solution. But the more I hear from reviews like Gary's above the more I'd like to have this one to play with my boys on a snowy day. So I'm torn.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #287919 11 Dec 2018 12:49

GorillaGrody wrote:

hotseatgames wrote:

GorillaGrody wrote: This is the game where you go around gunning down environmentalists, yeah? Kind of a turn-off for me.


They are really anti-humanists. I don’t think anyone would have understood if we had used that term, but I regret that “eco-terrorist” turned some people off.


I mean, it really sounds like a fun game. But in an age in which even moderate conservatives like Schwarzenegger are being called eco-terrorists (or even anti-humanists), it just sets off my dog-whistle alarm. In future, I'd recommend Nazis. Everyone wants to shoot a Nazi.


If they're terrorists (and I believe that word was used rather than fanatics or protestors or ...) then I have no problems in ending them in all ways possible.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #287924 11 Dec 2018 15:29
I am probably the most squeamish person around when it comes to military board game themes, and I initially thought that I would be put off by having to shoot at eco-terrorists (a.k.a. contemporary humans). However, when I actually played, it didn't bother me as much as I thought it would. They were fictional enough, and "evil" enough that I was able to rationalize it - also, other players humored me about not saying they were dead when we hit them, they were just "down".
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #287932 11 Dec 2018 16:48

ubarose wrote: I am probably the most squeamish person around when it comes to military board game themes, and I initially thought that I would be put off by having to shoot at eco-terrorists (a.k.a. contemporary humans). However, when I actually played, it didn't bother me as much as I thought it would. They were fictional enough, and "evil" enough that I was able to rationalize it - also, other players humored me about not saying they were dead when we hit them, they were just "down".

Are you down with S.T.F? Yea, you know me.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #287933 11 Dec 2018 17:00

Sagrilarus wrote:
My intention is to make this game a gift for several reasons -- 1) the new owner will be forced to play it with me in gratitude; 2) he has to assemble it; 3) he has to store it. It's really the perfect solution. But the more I hear from reviews like Gary's above the more I'd like to have this one to play with my boys on a snowy day. So I'm torn.


I can't remember how old your boys are, but if KingPut, Strider and I had had STF when we were kids we would have played the crap out of it. And one of us would have probably have hidden it our suitcase to take it off to college.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #288069 13 Dec 2018 10:16
Bugger ... I just caved, just got an email saying it was back in stock so bought my own Christmas present.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #288093 13 Dec 2018 17:41

southernman wrote: Bugger ... I just caved, just got an email saying it was back in stock so bought my own Christmas present.


So Mark & Pete, where are those alternate rules so I don't have to flick things (I'd like to have a slight chance of winning) ?
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #288112 13 Dec 2018 20:59
Seriously? You bought the wrong game.

At one point such rules existed, but that was years ago, and they were not fun.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #288158 14 Dec 2018 12:55

hotseatgames wrote: Seriously? You bought the wrong game.

At one point such rules existed, but that was years ago, and they were not fun.


Yep, I know, never played dexterity/flicking games before (OK, once I think) and I'm sure I'm going to be crap but I just bowed to the site hype :-))
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #288162 14 Dec 2018 13:40
Pete/Mark - online shops in the UK seem to have received a new batch of stock this week (my usual emailed me yesterday), has there been a new print run done or is this just the distributor spreading excess stock around the world ?
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #288163 14 Dec 2018 14:02
It's the same original print run still.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #288172 14 Dec 2018 17:43

southernman wrote:

hotseatgames wrote: Seriously? You bought the wrong game.

At one point such rules existed, but that was years ago, and they were not fun.


Yep, I know, never played dexterity/flicking games before (OK, once I think) and I'm sure I'm going to be crap but I just bowed to the site hype :-))


This is a good introduction. A lot of your shots are close range and straightforward so it has a good mix of very makeable gimmes and difficult bank shots.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #288185 14 Dec 2018 18:53
I do believe a special treat will be in an upcoming issue of GTM (Game Trade Magazine).
CranBerries's Avatar
CranBerries replied the topic: #288283 16 Dec 2018 00:27
Speaking of death cults, I'd like to see a future scenario where you move through the apocalypse bunkers of dot com millionaires , trying to fight your way to the rocket ship that's leaving for Mars as the world collapses.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #288291 16 Dec 2018 01:37
Cranberries, you really need to look up a video of the last level of Hitman 2.
Frohike's Avatar
Frohike replied the topic: #288293 16 Dec 2018 03:21
SuperflyTNT's Avatar
SuperflyTNT replied the topic: #288337 17 Dec 2018 13:09

CranBerries wrote: Speaking of death cults, I'd like to see a future scenario where you move through the apocalypse bunkers of dot com millionaires , trying to fight your way to the rocket ship that's leaving for Mars as the world collapses.


That is the entire premise of WreckAge from hyacinth games
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #288734 27 Dec 2018 09:09
Sold out at Alliance by the way.
SuperflyTNT's Avatar
SuperflyTNT replied the topic: #288746 27 Dec 2018 14:38

Sagrilarus wrote: Sold out at Alliance by the way.


Well, Mark just got his big royalty check for 2018 through November (protip: less than $200), so maybe it was a sleeper Christmas hit? :D
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #288791 28 Dec 2018 13:18
I'm in a holding pattern on all my game purchases at the moment.  I liquidated a lot of titles, so I will be getting everything through a "local" game store, about 50 mile round trip.  Battlestar Galactica: Starships of Glory came in in no time at all, and I expected Seal Team Flix to do the same. 

My FDGS is telling me Alliance is reporting Seal Team Flix out of stock, but Alliance can be really dodgy at times, magically having games come back into stock because they decide your particular store is worthy of their attention this week.  So STF may suddenly appear on any given Thursday.

My other two are Talon 1000 and SpaceCorp, both of which are filling preorders now and likely will appear in early January, likely around the same time.  The store is going through Alliance for these titles too, instead of ordering directly from GMT.  Don't know why, they could certainly find six games to fill the order to qualify for the cheap shipping.  I'm concerned they don't consider such things.

So here's hoping that a copy of Seal Team Flix shakes free around the same time as the GMT titles and I'll only need one trip.  Hopefully this will happen while I still have my rental car (hit a deer) as it gets more than double the MPG as my van.

Side note -- "STF" for some reason translates to Stiff Little Fingers when I see it, in spite of it not even being the same letters.  I'd recommend you use the full name all the time, as "STF" will be a mystery to anyone who doesn't know exactly what you're talking about.  Seal Team Flix is worth a lookup, and they'll actually find it in short order.