I had a chance to play part of a game of Flying Frog's new pulp adventure game, Fortune and Glory: The Cliffhanger Game, at my local game group the other night. I would have done a full review for the front page here, but didn't feel right to do that after not being able to finish the game (I was on a hard deadline and had to leave). So this is really more of a first impression demo kind of thing, I suppose. Anyway, here's the deal...
Fortune and Glory (or FANG as they are wanting to abbreviate it), has a lot going for it for the AT minded gamer, and for light game players in general, but also left me feeling like it was another Flying Frog disappointment (which for me has been every game since Last Night on Earth) and not something I'm going to be eager to shell out $60-70 for (MSRP is $100). Ultimately, I couldn't shake the feeling that the game kind of plays itself and you roll some dice and just see what happens. As an "experience" game, you can enjoy that, regardless, especially when the theme is really cool (think Indiana Jones 1930's adventure, with Nazis and mobsters chasing after you as you attempt to discover artifacts), but if there ain't much actual "game" there, then as a hobby gamer are you really gonna want to keep coming back to it? It's sad to say, as eager as I was to play this, that when I had to leave in the middle of the game, I wasn't really all that disappointed.
But before I get into more about that, there are some very good things about the game... I already mentioned that the theme is great and they do a good job to cover a lot of thematic details in the various cards and items and villains and such. The board is fantastic... one of the best looking world map boards I've ever seen. There are some great bits, including the coins, the player miniatures (though they don't seem to be as distinct from each other as in other FFP games, so I think painting them is more of a necessity... it took us a few looks to figure out who was who), and minis for zeppelins and temples, which are a nice touch when they could have easily been represented with chits.
Another thing I love is the cliffhanger mechanic. It's just a simple idea where you have a "danger card" and need to pass some kind of skill check on that, but if you fail, the card flips over to the "cliffhanger" side and you have to wait until your turn comes around again to see whether you survive that. It's a very simple idea, and there's nothing different about it in terms of your choice in the matter (just another skill check to do), but it's still a clever way to depict that kind of thing, which is such a standard of the pulp adventure genre and befitting of the subtitle of the game.
There's also a little bit of an interesting choice as far as when you're competing with others for artifacts. Typically, finding an artifact requires succeeding at 3-4 dangers, and if more than one person is going after the same artifact (there are always 4 in play on the board somewhere) then you take turns with those dangers and you always have the option of pressing on or "camping down." Camping down let's you save any "glory points" you've earned up to that point (you lose them all if you continue on but fail with a later danger), but gives the other person a chance to get ahead of you if they press on with more dangers and get the artifact first. That right there, combined with the cliffhanger element, is the game; a little bit of press-your-luck and second-guessing about whether your opponent might continue onward. And really, that's cool. As the basic idea and essence of the game, that's terrific, I think.
Everything else isn't nearly that interesting. You have to roll and move around the map, but you're always either going for an artifact or back to a city to sell it. You might have encounters here and there as you're moving around, but they are kind of annoyances that get in the way of going to the artifacts. There are a couple of other things you can do in cities as far as buying some items or hiring allies that can help you with some things, and I guess because I missed the later part of the game I probably didn't get to see any of that stuff make a difference. But that brings to mind a major problem I felt... that Flying Frog needs to stop claiming that these games play with up to 8 players. The game I was in was 7p and there was a palpable sense of dragging, and after an hour we had barely accomplished anything, with repeated failures at cliffhangers and in fights with Nazis. It wasn't even a matter of it being the first game for most of us, as everything was explained easily enough... but the game itself just seemed poorly paced with that many players. The rules do recommend playing with teams when there are more than 5p, but I think they should just cap it at 5p or 6p, already, and be okay with that. Let people add 7-8p variants if they want, or add 7-8p as a small variant option in the back of the rules, but have the box say 5p or 6p and let it be that, so people aren't encouraged to try it with more. For the knocks I have on this game (more coming), I think as a 4-5 player game, with the expectation that it's meant to be a very light experience, it would have flowed well and I would have a much better impression of it, and any other criticisms would have been no big deal.
The main thing that bugs me about the game is the constant rolling of dice for every little thing. I love dice-chucking as much as anyone, but it gets tedious when that is used to determine too many things. First, you all roll for "initiative" to see who goes first each turn, and then, because 7p is too many, there is usually a tie, so the tied people have to roll off. (And this initiative thing was an opportunity where something like an auction using the "glory coins" would have been good, because the timing of the turn order can be important. Yes, I just suggested an auction over a dice roll... which feels weird for this type of game, but shows how desperate I feel for there to be more active choices in the game. Or, just have the turn order pass around each turn, or use the action/selection mechanism from Conquest of Planet Earth, which was one of the things I liked about that game. But the initiative roll-off here is very unnecessary.) Then, you roll to move, and even if you don't move on a turn (because you're already at the artifact location) you roll to see if you might get an event card. Then you either draw encounter cards where you have to roll to see what happens, or you're at an artifact so you have a series of dangers with skill checks that you have to roll, then you might get in a fight with an enemy which is a series of rolls back and forth. You get the idea... The thing is, in the debates that gamers have between cards vs. dice, I come down on the side of dice in most cases, because I like the element of "fate" that dice provide and the tactical choices based on the odds that they provide, without being completely deterministic. But in this game, there aren't really tactical choices to make... you just roll and see what the result is. I'm probably exaggerating a little; there probably are a few small choices here and there that relate to the dice rolling, and some dangers do offer you a choice of which skill check to make based on two different attributes of yours (e.g. Cunning or Agility), so you can make a simple determination about whether to go with one or the other. By and large, though, it's just a lot of rolling to see what happens and you hope for the best. The back of the rules actually offer a fixed movement variant, where you can either roll (getting an event card on a 1-2 instead of a 1, which is what happens with the normal rules) or just take 4 movement points. I really think that would have been the better rule to make the standard... why default to less choices, when there are already so few?
Flying Frog's first game, Last Night on Earth, is still a favorite of mine and I think it holds up well after several years because it actually includes a lot of tactical choices, even with the randomness of the cards and dice. The way the fight system works between the human heroes and the zombies is interesting, because the zombies win on ties and the humans need doubles to kill a zombie. So the choice of whether to fight, and when to fight (when you have items that give you more dice or other advantages, or when you can combine the efforts of heroes together) can be a difficult one. There are also tactical choices about how the zombies must move towards a human if they are nearby, so the human player can use that to their advantage in some situations. And there is second-guessing and timing involved in the card play and various considerations involving particular scenario situations. There's also the necessity of choosing to sacrifice a hero at certain times in order to survive, and that can be a really great element of the game. I'm not saying that Last Night on Earth is a tremendously deep game, but it definitely has some "game," and it seems to me that every Flying Frog game since LNOE has become more arbitrary, and much more random in terms of just going along for the experience and seeing what happens. I felt that way about Conquest of Planet Earth and moreso about FANG.
One other beef about the game is the tiny text that is on some cards. I mean, it is reeeally small, and my friend had to ask me a couple times what something said on a card. If it were flavor text, it wouldn't be a big deal, but it is relevant to the game. I don't want to overstate that... it wasn't as if every card had tiny text... but it came up on at least 3 cards that I noticed, and I barely saw all of the cards in the game, so I assume it is on more.
As with A Touch of Evil (which this game most closely models) and Conquest of Planet Earth, FANG offers a cooperative version and a solo game. I can't comment on those, not having tried them, but I suspect it's similar to the feeling I had after playing ATOE solo a few times; it was enjoyable as an experience but not enough meaningful choices there to want to keep playing.
All of that being said, I do want to try this game again, all the way through, but this time with only 4-5 players. As a light, adventure themed press-your-luck game it's probably good with that number of players. And I'd also be interested to play a co-op/solo game, where there is a race against more detailed and involved villains, just to see how that goes. But I'm not exactly excited about the prospect of going out to buy it just to see if I would like that. Thankfully, a friend of mine has it, so I should get that chance at some point.