The Blood-Red Banner: The Alamo – Disappointing, all around

Being a reviewer, I’m sure that many think that I crave blood and go for the jugular.  This is resoundingly not the case.  I’m more of a “benefit of the doubt” kind of person.  I try to see the advantages and who a game *might* be good for, rather than simply who it is not a good fit for, however, every once in a while I find a game that is going to make me sound like a cold hearted, blood thirsty, monster.   Today that game is “The Blood-Red Banner: The Alamo”.

I wasn’t familiar with Victory Point Games before my game acquisition team had this, and a handful of their other games, arriving on my door step.  When I opened the box and saw all of the baggies I was mildly confused, but then presumed that these were similar to Cheap Ass games.  Cheap Ass games, or games of a similar style, usually come in very cheap packaging (such as baggies, or very plain black and white boxes) and they only have the components that are required to play and are unique to the game.  So special cards, boards, and tokens might be provided.  However, if the game needs a standard die or pawns, you’ll need to supply your own.  This keeps the game cheap, usually $5-$10.  Looking at the Victory Point Games, they seemed to fit this model.  The games each came in a baggie or manila envelope and were printed on cheap card stock.  I didn’t have to supply any generic pieces, but the games didn’t really need any either, opting to have printed cardboard chits rather than pawns.  I then noticed the price tag on the games, which are printed on the front insert for each baggie.  The Blood-Red Banner was marked for retail at $17.95.  Other games were marked as high as $40.  I was a bit flabbergasted.

The "board" used in this game. I say "board" because it is made from a folded piece of card stock that has been printed on one side. Maybe "paper mat" is a better term. The Mexicans all start on the paper mat in the "4" positions of the track and progress toward the center until they breach the wall.

So the game came out of the packet and I began reading the rules… or trying to read the rules.  I like to think of myself as a seasoned rule reader, but these were long, complicated, and generally just hard to digest.  The game isn’t hard.  Once I knew what I was doing, it was surprisingly simple and remarkably dull (but we’ll get to that).  Why were the directions so awful?  Firstly the rules to this particular game were a single 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.  Double sided.  With small font.  Each side containing three columns of text.  I’ve seen games that were ten times as complicated with a shorter explanation of the rules.  Besides the general length, they were also spaghetti rules, with each section referencing other sections via section numbers and sub numbers (things such as  “See Section 4.2.3”).  Spaghetti rules are maddening! And beyond that, the rules just were not written in very plain English.  It took roughly a half hour to get through the rules and really know what was going on…. the game is only slated for 15 minutes, and in reality took closer to 5 minutes. So it shouldn’t have taken me half that long to get through the rules.

One of the cards used in the game.  This indicates that the Brown, Yellow, and White Mexican tokens will move forward on this turn.  It also states that you get one action point (can attack or move) on your turn.  Occasionally youll be granted two actions, but one seems to be standard.

One of the cards used in the game. This indicates that the Brown, Yellow, and White Mexican tokens will move forward on this turn. It also states that you get one action point (can attack or move) on your turn. Occasionally you'll be granted two actions, but one seems to be standard.

So what is this game actually about?  It’s a solitaire game about the Alamo.  Mexicans are rushing the fort and it’s your job to beat them back.  Eventually they are going to get through your defenses, but you should hold them off for as long as you can.  Each turn you flip a card and either place the Mexicans pictured on the board, or progress them forward along their given track.  Then you have a choice between moving one of your forces, or fighting.  If you choose to fight you pick the Mexican to attack that is within range of your guy (indicated on the board by lines) , and roll a die.  If you roll higher than the number listed on that Mexican’s chit, then they move backwards one space.  Otherwise, they stay where they are.  Once a Mexican breaches the wall, the game is over.  You count up how many cards you have left in the deck, and that determines how well you did.  Game over, that’s it.  Sure, there are a few finer points to the rules, here and there, but that is the bulk of it.  I described it in a paragraph, the author of the rules took several thousand words.

As I mentioned earlier the game was remarkably dull.  Perhaps that comes across as harsh, but for me and for other testers who played it, this was resoundingly the case.  The player is given only one choice each turn:  attack or move.  Everything else is determined by luck.  The card flip is luck.  The dice roll for the attack is luck.  Luck luck luck.  We found little to no skill in this game, which would have seemed to be paramount for creating an interesting solitaire game.  Ya know, something to engage a person’s mind?  After doing a little research of this game, I found that this is the simplest game in their series.  It’s made for beginners to this style of system.  Fine.  But even for a beginners game, I still expect there to be some game to it.  This was a game that played you, rather than you playing the game.

Between the confusing rules, the high price tag compared to the cheap components, and the poor game play I think it goes without saying that I really can’t recommend this game.  Having skimmed some of the other games they published the price tag and awful rules seem to be a virus that they all have.  We’ll just have to hope that the game play is better on some of the others.

This entry was posted by The_Null_Entry on Monday, February 6th, 2012 at 8:08 am and is filed under Board Game Reviews, Luck and Betting Games, War Games . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

7 Comments

  1. David Kennedy says:

    Hi, Victoria! I see you were not impressed with the game. Fast-playing solitaire games are not everyone’s cup of tea. If you’re looking for large game experience, SoS games is not a good option.

    You seem to have misunderstood a couple of rules which appear to have diminished your enjoyment of the game.

    1) “Then you have a choice between moving one of your forces, or fighting.” Actually, on your turn you can move or attack with both of your heroes. You can then attack the advancing Mexicans with your Attack Markers. So potentially, you have up to four attacks per event card.

    2) “Once a Mexican breaches the wall, the game is over. ” Actually, once the Mexicans enter The Alamo space inside the fort, the game is over. Obviously, once the Mexicans enter a wall space, you’re in grave danger. There is a storming roll to be made before a Mexican unit enters a wall space. You can also bolster your defenses with a hero or hold them back for a counterattack.

    Given how you were playing, yes, winning would be extremely difficult. I can also see how you wouldn’t find it fun to play. That said, it is a good idea to understand the rules of a game before reviewing it.

    As for the game being all luck, you’re right given how you’re playing (erroneously at that). Absolutely, if you roll poorly, it is hard to win. To play with some skill, you need to do a little analysis of the event decks and determine the likelihood of Mexican units advancing. This allows you to evaluate risk and allocate your precious resources wisely. The power of a Mexican unit isn’t just in it’s battle value, but the frequency it advances. Otherwise, you’re just blasting away at the closest Mexican unit. Since the game is designed to overwhelm you, you better be prudent. What is key is understanding how to allocate your resources in the aggregate. Without this awareness, shooting from the hip is not the smart way to play.

    Some players do find the situation overwhelming and give up. Understand, the SoS system is designed for hopeless situations. That doesn’t appeal to everyone.

    Cheers!

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