It’s pretty rare that I’m jonesing to play a game these days.
There’s plenty of games that I’d play on a moment’s notice, but it’s been years since I’ve had a game, even a brand new one, that has me thinking about it, has me wanting to crack it open and underway. Seal Team Flix is that game. It’s getting attention from the back of my brain even when the front of it is working on other things. This is a good game because I’m finding it compelling as much as I’m finding it particularly intriguing.
One of the things games can do is provide an opportunity to step outside of our own lives, to pretend to do (of be) something else. Sure I can pretend to be a medieval farmer or captain of industry. But Seal Team Flix is giving me the opportunity to be a hero, and to have a bunch of hero buddies. This is a campaign game, so our success in the first session was rewarding, but by no means complete. It was just a taste. That’s what campaign games do when they’re hitting on all eight – they leave you happy with what you’ve done but eager for more and Seal Team Flix did this for me. So the second scenario was a must-play when we made the trip down to the beach for three days of non-stop gaming.
Seal Team Flix is a game that fuses tactical thinking with physical skill. You’re part of an elite team of Navy specialists saving the world, and shooting is done via flicking disks. I’ve played an awful lot of PitchCar, so I have the flicking thing pretty down pat. In our first play, with a bit of aggressive movement, we were able to press deep into the building and I set myself up to get good shooting opportunities. I capitalized on them. A bit of luck worked into the mix as well, and I was promoted afterwards due to exceptionally good shooting. I’ll be honest, I was feeling like pretty hot shit coming out of that first run so play #2 was tops on my list. I mentioned my enjoyment on ThereWillBe.Games where one of the authors of the games hangs out, and he gave me the official warning – scenario 2 is a lot tougher, even tougher than the ones that follow. So now I was getting pulled in two directions – eager to play again, but worried that this could bring us to a screeching halt.
But jeeze, now I HAD to play the second scenario! Do you walk away from the challenge? It’s a frikkin’ board game for God’s sake, no one is actually dying and “the challenge” is why we sit down to play. I told my buddies the next one was supposed to be tough and they were all-in too. The game’s got game.
The designers of Seal Team Flix did something that added value to the game for me personally. I’m in my fifth decade of role-playing, so the idea of playing the big tough guy named Deke doesn’t catch my attention. I’ve played Deke a dozen times. When I pulled out one of Seal Team Flix’s character cards I found Melissa “Shooter” Rustico written across the top and a hometown of Monterrey Nuevo Leon, Mexico in her flavor text. That lifted an eyebrow. I’ve never played a Melissa before, and the fact that she’s a Mexican in the U.S. Navy got the gears turning a bit. Are there Mexicans in the American Armed Forces? I hadn’t considered it before. The answer is yes, and you can decide for yourself if the designers were looking to make a political statement by having a Mexican, a woman no less, serving on an elite unit in the U.S. military. I don’t care much either way. But stumbling across her made me think, made me consider how I was going to play her, what kind of soldier I was going to be. If I’m going to play a character in a game I’m going to go all-in, and Melissa was a new skin to try on. This was an opportunity to escape the same-old same old, so Melissa it was. She’s quiet, to the point, and when she speaks it means something. With the nickname “shooter” I planned to be out in front.
For me personally this was a big draw to the game. My character was interesting; my buddies’ characters were interesting. These impressions are based on just a few lines of text, some simple photos and a couple of equipment selections. But in this game it works, when in others it hasn’t. I can’t explain why, but there it is. I feel invested in the woman on the piece of cardboard in front of me in spite of nothing but a shadowed photo and a hometown.
The big challenge in scenario 2 is that you step into a wide open room to start the action. There are sentries already present and more due to arrive when you make noise, and you’re going to make noise. The goal of scenario 2 is to kidnap the enemy’s financier, bringing her back alive if possible. If you can’t bring her back alive kill her, but she has intel value.
It’s more or less impossible to make a quiet entrance into the building in scenario 2 which became obvious to us right away. An “I go left you go right” entrance made the most sense, with concussion grenades first (flicks again) to suppress the guards. In this scenario the location of the financier is random. She could be deep in the back of the building, or right up front. We got a break – she was right up front. But what became apparent early was that right up front had its own drawback, because you can’t travel through the room to cover. You have to loiter to get a hold of your target and drag her out, and loitering in a combat zone is ill-advised. On our entrance I got gut-shot twice and was more or less out of the picture. (Remember that planning to be out in front?) But my team was still in the hunt and I had a med kit to hold me together. When we flipped the random token in the room and found the financier nearby the question was obvious – we could kill her easily, but she had value. Do we risk all four of us to take her alive? The other three players looked at me and said, “congrats on your promotion ma’am, it’s your call.” Well shit. With everyone looking at me, I gritted my teeth for a moment then told them we didn’t come to do half a job. “Get her, I’ll cover you from the door if things go south.” Another concussion grenade (flick!) and two doses of fire (flick flick!) and the target was unconscious, a second guy on the team shot up but still mobile. The team dragged the financier out and completed the mission without my help with everyone still breathing. Not breathing comfortably, but breathing. Even after catching a break it was a short, tough scenario.
That was kind of a killer moment. This wasn’t optimizing points, this wasn’t drawing three cards and discarding two. This was deciding how much risk you wanted to take and then hoping your ability to flick a disk into the right place on the map will come through to have your concussion grenade or bullet go where you wanted. You verbally walk through the action with your fellow players before the team moves, saying things like, “you have to take out both of those guys” knowing that if he doesn’t it’s you that will pay, not him. This isn’t just a “we all win or we all lose” kind of co-op game. Your miss can mean he’s dead and you’re not, so there’s more than a bit of pressure to pull off the trick you’re going for. If you don’t you’re a dog. If you do, you’re the shit. You’re the hero, or heroine if you’re named Melissa. That adds drama to the game.
Seal Team Flix pulls off a neat trick by putting the majority of your random results in your grasp, whether you want them there or not. You define the action you’re going to go after and then complete it by flicking, not by rolling dice or drawing cards. That optimize-your-result bullshit that is so common in modern games isn’t available to you here. You need to look at the map and ask yourself a harder, less quantifiable question – can I hit the cubes in the middle of the room hard enough to knock out ALL the bad guys in one turn? Tell me how you calculate the odds on that one. Showing up on game night with cold hands makes a difference in a flicking game, so there’s no figuring out the chances by how many cards are left or knowing how easy it is to roll an eight. It’s on you, mentally and physically, to define your task and then do it. Don’t miss. People are depending on you.
So damn, I want to play Seal Team Flix again. It may be that the game becomes less compelling after half a dozen sessions. But for the moment this one is on the top of the short list, which is pretty rare air for an old boardgame player like me. I need to get back with my buddies, and we have to get back to this game. Lives are in the balance.
Seal Team Flix is currently available at your dependable online retailers for somewhere between $40 and $50. Games like this often show up used for less because owners play through all the scenarios and look to move them on for other things. But the used market for the game currently has higher prices than new, so it appears that people are holding onto it for the time being. This is a game that requires some assembly when you first crack it open, and that’s something you want to tend to prior to your friends showing up to play. But after that the game is quick to learn and easy to play. Well, ok, easy to understand. Bouncing that grenade off the wall into the next room beyond the desk – that’s a little tougher. You might want to practice that before going in!