Way back in Days of Yore, when Settlers of Catan ruled the great board game wildlands and Facebook was something aggressive librarians did to unruly students, I was engrossed in video games. In fact, I’ve been a fan of the digital smile machines since I was old enough to smash fingers into keyboards and code my first POKE-based programs on my trusty old Amstrad CPC-464. And yes, I realise I’m showing my age with that one. Once games evolved to the point where we could shoot each other over the internet, the idea of digital deathmatch has exploded, mostly due to two games: Quake and Unreal Tournament.
Yes, I know there were others, but let’s be honest, they were crap in comparison. I never got into Quake as much as UT for reasons best known to myself and I spent many an hour with the phrases “Head-Shot!”, “Double Kill!” and “Ultra-Kill!” ringing in my ears. And probably my neighbour’s ears too as the speakers were always turned up loud enough to wake Tutankhamun and his extended family.
It seems that I’m not the only one who enjoyed spamming my arena enemies with flak cannons, rocket launchers or pulse rifles as is evidenced by the recent release from Czech Games Edition in the form of Adrenaline, which is essentially Unreal Tournament in board-game form.
Now, the avid Polyhedron Collider readers and podcast listeners (and why wouldn’t you be?) will know that this isn’t the first time we have encountered this particular cardboard shooty fun, indeed we actually got a playthrough of an advanced beta courtesy of Paul Grogan at the UK Games Expo in 2016. Anyone with half a working brain may start to put two and two together and work out that after playing a beta then buying a copy for himself, there’s a good chance we may have enjoyed ourselves. Perhaps. Or maybe Steve just forces me to play games or I won’t get fed. Don’t let the happy-go-lucky bearded façade fool you; he’s quite the slave driver when it comes down to it.
But enough of Steve’s sadistic ways and back to the subject at hand: Adrenaline. A game for 3-5 players, which seems rather restrictive at first glance, but given the fact that it’s a deathmatch scenario, it makes sense. You need a minimum number of things to shoot at (solo deathmatch wouldn’t be much fun unless you have a fixation on Hari-Kiri), but you can’t have too many or the map becomes more clogged than the sewers the morning after Taco Tuesday. I think a change in mindset is needed for Adrenaline – in most games you’re not interested in open war with anyone unless you have to; even then you pick your targets well. Not the case for this game – everyone is a target and everyone will get shot, there’s no hiding in the corner sucking your thumb. You have no choice but to get stuck in and open several cans of particularly violent whoop-ass.
The idea of Adrenaline is to get Victory Points – pure and simple. How you do this is the genius of the game (I’m showing my hand again here). There are three spawn points on the map and each player can choose (within reason) where to spawn. You then take two of a possible three actions: Run, Move and Grab or Shoot. Grabbing means either picking up ammo or a weapon. You can carry up to three lumps of each type of ammo (red, blue or yellow) and each weapon will require some or all of these types. Simple enough.
Once you’ve fired a weapon, it needs to be reloaded. At this point we’ll forego why each weapon is a one-shot-wonder, suffice to say it is in keeping with the mechanics of the game and keeps everything nicely balanced. Different weapons do different amounts of damage – some single target, some multiple etc. There’s a vast array of weapons so you’re never stuck for choice.
Doing damage to opponents is the clever bit – killing an opponent and doing the most damage is obviously important, but you don’t score until the opponent dies. So they can run around for ages squirting blood from any orifice, wholesome or otherwise, without releasing any VPs. Until you get that all important frag, they’re tying up all those tasty victory points. You score points in four ways – First Blood, most damage to target (you usually score higher this way), the final kill and the most kills in the game. Most points at the end (usually 8 total frags) wins. Simples. Once you’ve killed someone, they get a Skull icon, which blocks off their VP track making them less attractive a target in future. I like this mechanic as it prevents victimisation of a single player (not that I speak from experience of course). Once you’ve been killed you’re worth fewer points, so it’s in everyone’s interests to spread the pain around like a particularly gruesome jar of Nutella over the toast of combat.
The game has a few different modes beyond Deathmatch so you can mix it up and change play styles. The boards are double sided providing four different possible maps to play on, which also accommodates differing numbers of players. The miniatures are all very different and everything is very recognisable and fun. There’s even a “mark” mechanic so you can store up pain on a target allowing you to unleash hell when you do hit them again.
Once you have suffered a certain level of damage, your actions change and become more powerful – you get an Adrenaline rush (see what they did there?). You can move more before a grab and move and shoot. So people better beware – poke the cornered wolf and he’s probably going to be less happy than a middle class local Conservative group over the proposed construction of a wind farm near to the bowling green.
So what’s not to like about Adrenaline? Not very much if truth be told. It’s fluid, fast and doesn’t require too much thought so you can rattle through a game quite quickly. And because the frag total is scalable, you can alter the length of the game at will making it very flexible indeed. If I’m honest, I think a 3-6 player game would have been better instead of the 5-player limit currently imposed and would have improved the value for money as for nearly £50, the game does seem a smidge on the expensive side. It’s not crippling though because you get a good, well made and fun game for your money.
So, it would appear that first impressions do count for a lot and are certainly the case here. Seeing Adrenaline for the first time it was like a teenage couple – a lot of attraction at first followed by a brief, but enjoyable fondle in the corner. Things then grew and matured so we’re left with something that’s well rounded, even more attractive and definitely something you’d take home to meet the family.
Assuming your family are into guns. Lots of guns.