Monday, October 1, 2007

Spree: strategizing within a luckfest

One of the guys in our gaming group at work has a collection of games from the Cheapass company. These games tend to be inexpensive, with minimal components. The point is to have a cheap game to which you add your own bits.

Once such game I recently played with a couple guys was Spree!

When I have the chance, I like to write about these games you are less likely to have played, just so you can see what's out there.

One thing that is immediately apparent when playing Spree is that it is heavy on luck. The game feels scripted much of the time. What I mean is, it's easy to feel like you are just a pawn helping the game to play itself out. My goal here is to explain what I've discovered to be the strategic features of the game that will allow you to have more control over the outcome. Understanding how to use these features will greatly increase any fun you may experience when playing Spree.

The game does have a theme, even if the components don't represent it well. Each player is a criminal breaking into the lowest-security mall in town. Everyone's simultaneously running around trying to steal goods from shops. In the process you can steal from other players or shoot them (shooting doesn't kill, it just stalls). As you collect merchandise, you run back to your car to drop them off, earning you points. The first person to reach the set point goal wins.

So, here are the control features built into the game that I think are important to utilize to your advantage. I have put them somewhat in order of importance (in my very limited opinion):

1. Shooting and stealing

Shooting is the best trick you can use. It's relatively easy to do because other players tend to be running around somewhere nearby. Since shooting gives you an extra action, I can't think of a better trick to utilize. Stealing is also good, especially if you have a joker (wild card) and someone else has more than one of a number (3 jacks, for example). Jokers are good for stealing because that way you don't have to waste that valuable Ace (which would otherwise count as 15 points when scored).

2. Timing drop-offs

Do you make the trip back to the car now? Or do you wait until you have more loot in your pockets? Choosing the timing of drop-offs wisely can win you the game.

3. Movement path

Because there is no backtracking, you want to plan your route carefully. Maximizing movement is key. Often you can tackle multiple cards with one movement. You also need to keep an eye on other players' tokens so that you can plan shots and stealing, and to also avoid getting shot yourself.

4. Aces and movement cards

If you have an Ace, you can use it either to score 15 points, playing it like any other card, but you can also use it to prevent another player from doing something against you, like stealing or shooting. Hanging onto those aces can be a great way to protect yourself from getting hosed.

2s and 10s act only as bonus movement cards. Timing their use plays a part in your strategy. Those 10s will get you a LOT of movement spaces when added to your base roll, and might be just the trick to get you back to your car before the other players!

5. Car location

If your car is parked too far away, you are going to suffer when trying to run back with an armful of stolen merchandise. It is often worth it to use up a turn getting your car in the best position, planning ahead based on the cards in your hand.

Having mentioned these 5 features, it sounds like there is quite a bit of strategy in the game. In reality, the game still feels scripted. You are at the mercy of dice and card draws all game long. The 5 control options I mentioned are the tools you have to turn the luck in your favor, even if it's only a little.

The game is what you would expect from this publisher. Simple, sort of fun, nothing to hit the table again and again. But hey, every so often, I wouldn't mind playing Spree! if we didn't have anything else on hand. It's still a game, and gaming with buddies is fun.

Want a look at another Cheapass game? I wrote about Captain Treasure Boots a few weeks ago.

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