|Designer||DonKirkby and AlanPrice?|
A set collection game and our entry in the GroupProjects design competition.
Welcome to Fort Biloxi. Your parents have sent you to military school to "help you focus". What could be scarier than military school? How about being one of the new kids? Luckily, you have a cunning plan. You and the other new kids (the other players) are going to try to get expelled so you can go back to public school with all your friends.
Feedback from the GroupProjects contest judge:
What could be more fun than going to military school and getting to study cool subjects like Weaponry and Desert Survival? I guess it wouldn't be much fun after all. The premise of Army brats is that your parents sent you to military school, which you hate. So now you're trying to get expelled by getting caught collecting useful sets of absentee passes. By useful, the authors mean two or more passes on a single day (so you can play hooky) or two or more passes in the same subject on consecutive days (so you can hold off doing your homework for a while). So Army Brats is essentially a light set-collecting game in the same vein as Mah Jongg or Rummy. As such, Army Brats seems to fit well with its likely target audience, which seems to be teens or adults who feel not quite satisfied in their current situations, and who would like to burn off some steam by vicarious rebellion.
The rules text is one of the best written among the contest submissions, and there were no questions of interpretation in our group. However, clarity could have been further improved with a few diagrams (perhaps one showing the initial board set-up and another showing a sample move after being caught with useful passes) and a table showing the demerit values for the various sets of passes. Nevertheless, the rules are easy to read and understand, and the game makes good use of almost all of the piecepack elements. The required appendix is adequate, and the design appears to be a true group effort, which is good. Where the game lacks is in the fun department. Some players said they would have liked more interaction and more choices. In the group with whom I played (who are used to counting cards) it seemed fairly easy to keep track of who had what passes, which made the optimum trade choices, and therefore the direction of travel to go to class, fairly obvious. But Army Brats is intentionally positioned as a light game, and it would be a wonderful gateway game for introducing the piecepack to people who are used to playing card games like Hearts or Euchre. In fact, with a few renamed classes, Army Brats might best be played using a piecepack that has playing card suits. Overall, I think Army Brats meets its own design goals.
Mechanically, as I may have hinted before, Army Brats is fairly shallow. It offers players up to three levels of choice on each turn -- whether to go to class and get a free pass or trade; if trading, with whom to trade; and after trading, whether to get caught with a useful set of passes or to risk waiting for a better set on a subsequent turn. But most turns, these choices are fairly obvious, even among casual players. The result was a hidden information game that felt a wee bit too predictable. On the one hand, we really liked the scoring mechanism of using the dice to count around the outside of the school (tile array). It harks back to a common score keeping mechanism found in many modern German games, such as Torres, King Me! and Medici. On the other hand, maybe it's just our group, but we didn't feel like Army Brats was as fun as the theme suggested that it should be.
Speaking of theme, it is a pretty good one. But unfortunately, the theme sometimes clashes with the mechanics. For example, why would a student (pawn) already in a given class (tile) block access to that class by other students? And why wouldn't both students involved in a trade already know what passes (coins) they're getting in return? And why would students be limited to trading only one pass at a time, and only the type of pass for the current class, at that? And how can a student immediately go from a Tuesday Poetry class to Military History on Monday? So basically, the multi-player mechanics make for a fine game, but they don't really fit this theme. Likewise, the theme is fine, but these mechanics don't give it justice.
The Canadian Army variant is a nice touch that revitalizes the mechanics when played with only two-players. Under the default rules, the shortcomings of the multi-player game (predictability and obvious choices) are amplified when Army Brats is played by only two. Therefore, the Canadian Army variant (which requires sets of at least four passes instead of the default two) is strongly recommended when playing with only two players. The difference in play is analogous to the difference between Gin and 500 Rummy for two players.
Conclusion: Army Brats is a light set collecting game that would be excellent for introducing card players to the piecepack, or for use as a filler. But it's not likely to maintain long-term interest, especially with frequent plays. Score: 20.52
BGG page: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/27820