[Review] DareBase

tomvasel
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Joined: 03/23/2011

As a child and teenager, my all time favorite game to play at summer camps and with my friends was "capture the flag". I have so many good memories of the game, as there was just something exhilarating about taking the opponent's flag, and guarding your own. DareBase (Matt Worden Games, 2005 - Matt Worden) simulates this to a certain degree in a strategic two player game. The rules of this "team tag" game are different than the game I played as a child, but the concept was similar.

The game includes a couple of mechanics that I found very innovative, especially the power cubes. Gameplay takes only fifteen or twenty minutes, yet that twenty minutes offered enough choices and back-and-forth gameplay that I was very pleased with the end result. As with his previous game, Castle Danger, DareBase is a homemade production, but well worth checking into if you're looking for a two player game with multiple choices.

A small game board is formed from three pieces, producing an eight by eleven grid of squares, representing the field that the kids are playing on. Three spaces on each player's side form the "jail", and two other spaces represent the "base" of each player. In the middle of the board are two squares marked with small crosses that represent where the flags are initially placed. On the side of the board is a power scale with an arrow to show which direction is stronger and which is weaker. Each player (coach) takes five numbered player pawns and five matching power cubes of their color (yellow or blue). A scenario is picked from the rules (for purposes of my review, we'll talk about the "Steady Supply" scenario), and flags are placed accordingly - one on each of the starting cross spaces. Three six sided dice are rolled and placed next to the board with the smallest number immediately next to the board and the other two forming a row after it. The blue player takes the first turn.

On a player's turn, they use the first two dice in the row. They may move one pawn a number of squares equal to one of the dice results. For example, if I have "2" and "4" showing, I can move pawn # 2 up to four spaces or pawn # 4 up to two spaces. If a player has doubles, they can move ANY of their pieces up to the number shown on ONE of the dice. Players can move orthogonally or diagonally (which counts as two moves). When adding a player for the first time, the coach places it on any space in front of their own end line, counting that as the first space of their move. When adding a player, the coach places their power cube on the power scale - on the stronger side of any power cubes already there. This represents fresh players coming onto the field, having more strength then those already running around.

A player cannot move their piece into a spot that contains an enemy pawn, unless their pawn's power cube is higher. If this happens, the "captured" player and its power cube are removed from the board and placed on the jail space closest to their opponent's endline, shifting any players that are already there. This may release a player if there are already three players in jail. Pawns can also be rescued from jail if a coach moves another player onto that spot. Freed pawns and their power cubes are returned to the coaches, who may bring them onto the board on future turns.

Players may also remove a player from the board if they have it on their own endline, so that they can have it re-enter the game on another turn, with the power cube in a better position. If a pawn moves onto a space with the flag market, they may pick it up immediately, although they cannot drop it on the same turn. The first player to get two flags to their opponent's bases wins the Steady Supply scenario.

After moving a pawn, the player picks up the first die, rolls it again, and adds it to the end of the line. The next player now uses the first two dice in line for their movement, etc. Once a player has completed the goal of their scenario, they are the winner!

1.) Components: The game is packaged in a video cassette case, with handpainted wooden pieces, each with stenciled numbers on them. The flags are wooden discs, and the board is three pieces of laminated cardboard. They fit together to form what looks like an actual playing field. All of the components are handmade but are very easy to use, and the wooden bits are chunky and easy to move on the board.

2.) Rules: The rules come on a fold-out sheet with six pages. An insert is also included which lists four scenarios to play. The rules are fairly easy to understand, although I did have to go back and check them a couple times, and we made several mistakes our first game. However, the game is simple to play and learn, and I've had no problems with it since.

3.) Power Cubes: I really enjoyed the mechanic of the power cubes. A player has to constantly adjust their strategies, as new players come out onto the field, each stronger than previous players. This keeps some dead strategies from occurring - a player can't continually guard their base with one player, because the opponent can simply bring on a stronger pawn, rendering their opponent's defense worthless. This very simple mechanic works well in the game, and greatly increases the strategy. I would like to see it explored in other games - it's a brilliant idea.

4.) Dice: Dice are random, but each player uses the dice in the game - just in different combinations. A player always has at least two choices each turn, and must maneuver their players as to counter their opponent's pawns. Yes, getting double sixes is the best possible choice; but your opponent will also get at least one six on their turn, so the luck evens out. A similar mechanic is found in Magic Hill, a game where players move their pawns using cards. Here, the dice are more random, but the playing field allows more choices. The dice may make DareBase sound like it's a much more random game, but games play out more like an abstract strategy game.

5.) Theme: The theme in DareBase is essential to understanding why the pieces move in the way they do. It explains the power scale, the flags, and since most people have played capture the flag at one point in their life - the mechanics. This theme not only draws in people to play the game but helps them understand and adjust to it. Strip the theme away, and you have a pretty interesting abstract strategy game. However, the theme added in makes DareBase an excellent game.

6.) Time and Fun Factor: Games are fast. Players move pieces, move power cubes, roll dice, repeating. This simple system offers a lot of choices, but games are decided fairly quickly. A player must attempt to complete the goals of their scenario efficiently and quickly, and one mistake usually gives the game to the opponent. Because the game is so fast, several can be played in a row, and the game is fun enough to encourage that. I enjoyed all four scenarios but liked Class Capture-the-Flag the best, simply because it was the most fun for me for nostalgic reasons.

DareBase doesn't have the glitzy components of many of the games that I play; and it may fly under many people's radar, since I haven't heard any buzz about it from others. But don't overlook this fun little game. Castle Danger was an interesting game; but this second effort by Mr. Worden is an excellent one, incorporating a few clever mechanics into a simple game. While it may not often be noticed on my shelves due to unassuming packaging, it's a game I won't easily forget, and because of its speed of play, will probably see the table often.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
www.tomvasel.com

Brykovian
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Joined: 07/21/2008
[Review] DareBase

Wow -- thanks, Tom, for the great review. (And thanks to Clark R. for pointing this out to me -- I'd missed it when it was first posted.)

I'm glad you took a moment in the piece to talk about the dice ... I wanted them there to add a little bit of variation, without having them play an overly-strong role that dice sometimes do in smaller games.

You liked the power-scale/cubes mechanic ... but that was simply "lifted" right out of the schoolyard game by the same name -- you can't tag someone unless you entered the playing field after they did. I just needed to find a way to translate the keeping track of that to a boardgame design. (It's rather interesting to me that when we played this back in elementary school, we had no trouble keeping track of which players were "fresher" than others -- even when we had 15 kids per side.)

In any case ... I'm very glad to have one of my designs reviewed by you -- and to see such a positive review at that.

Thanks again!
-Bryk (Matt Worden)