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Subject: [Review] Kablamo rss

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Tom Vasel
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Kablamo (Gigantoskop, 2004 - Christoffer Kramer and Jesper Moberg) definitely has a controversial theme - that of playing Russian roulette with some compatriots, trying to be the sole survivor. Of course, Gigantoskop is no stranger to controversy, as they released the notoriously named “Spank the Monkey” a few years ago. Without trying to sidestep the whole issue of the theme, I’ll just mildly mention that many game themes can be considered disgusting or ill-themed by gamers, such as Guillotine, Liberte, Bang!, and pretty much any war game.

But theme aside, is it a fun game? I think that the answer to that question will determine how much you like chaotic memory games. Players are attempting to keep track of bullets as they travel betwixt different guns, but the task becomes impossible for all but those who are memory geniuses. I enjoyed the game, but I’d have to say that it came down to a 50% split amongst those I gamed with as to their appreciation. Some could not stand the chaotic nature of the game, while others liked the cool components and the nerve-racking revealing of the bullets. No one complained about the theme. I even had the game along at a banquet (in transit), and when asked to produce a game (I have some sort of reputation) I had only Kablamo to pull out. I thought the theme would turn everyone off, but no one seemed to mind. Maybe the theme’s less offensive than I thought?

Each player is given a cardboard board with a rotating board on top of it – representing the barrel of the revolver. Each player draws (from a bag) eight bullets and places six of them face down in the chambers of their revolver – in any order they want, keeping the other two in their hand. Each revolver has one “safe position”, which is the first bullet to fire. The first round is ready to begin.

All players simultaneously rotate their revolvers one space in a clockwise direction. Players then all reveal the bullets in the firing chamber (one after the “safe position”, and follow the instructions on them. If the bullet says “Kablamo”, then that player is “dead”, and out of the game. (Some rare circumstances change this.) Each bullet has a small number at the bottom of them. In case of confusion when determining who does what action, order of play follows the number (shades of Robo Rally). Some bullets have a red background. This means that they can also be played from a player’s hand.

The bullets have a variety of effects:
- “Click” – does nothing except scare the sanity out of whoever revealed it.
- “Triple Action” – allows the player to swap the positions of three bullets in at least two revolvers.
- “Hammer Malfunction” – whoever the player plays this effect on (can be themselves) does not reveal their bullet next round.
- “Ratchet Malfunction” – same as hammer malfunction, except that it stops a player from rotating their revolver instead.
- “Bolshevik Rules” – in the next round, “Kablamos” eliminate the person to the left of the player who revealed it.
- “Stockpiling” – allows the player to draw a new bullet and load their revolver, as well as draw another bullet for their hand.
- And many other effects.

When resolving effects, players cannot touch bullets in the Safe position, but all other bullets can be moved, causing some confusion. After resolving all effects, the bullets are discarded – most to the box, but “Active bullets” are put back into the bag (Kablamos and Clicks), forcing the game to eventually end. Each player then draws a bullet for each empty position in their revolver, and then all players reload their guns. Once a player places a bullet in a gun, they cannot look at it again until it is revealed. The deadly dance continues until all but one player is dead – in which case that player is the winner!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: The bullets are round, thin, cardboard counters – with clear writing on one side and a picture of a bullet on the other. They’re a little thinner than I’d like – they’re hard to flip over occasionally, but are functional, and work fairly well. The revolvers themselves are pretty cool – it’s neat to spin them, and the concept works well – helping the game become more thematic. A cloth bag comes with the game, which allows the bullets to be drawn more easily. I saw one person complain about the blood-spattered backgrounds for the revolvers and box – until he mentioned it, I hadn’t noticed (thought it was simply a red background). The box is thin and long, but everything fits inside fairly well.

2.) Rules: The game is extremely easy to teach – I usually only mention about three rules or so, and then deal with each bullet as it appears. The color rulebook explains the rules well, with some detail on each bullet and how it works. While some people I played with weren’t fond of the game, no one had a problem understanding it.

3.) Memory: The game is extremely memory-intensive. The bullets are moving around the revolvers – to and from different revolvers, backwards and forwards, and such until it achieves such a dizzying effect that I would be surprised if a player could remember where all the bullets where in the game. Yes, there is a memory element to the game; but it’s rather difficult, and I’m not sure anyone could really follow what’s going on.

4.) Time: The game, it would seem to me, would run well if people were fast and loaded their guns quickly. This hasn’t always been the case. Some people tend to load their guns slowly, taking a long time as they ruminate over which bullet goes where. If a “Speed Load” bullet is played on that person (causing them to draw six new bullets and reload their gun with those bullets only), it can drag the game out longer than needed.

5.) Frustration: Some people are frustrated when playing the game because of bullets like “Speed Load” that mess up all their carefully laid plans. But that’s simply how the game is – you can try to set up combinations and cool effects – but nothing will probably go your way, as bullets tend to move all over the place. It seems as if the best strategy is to simply make sure that the “Kablamos” stay out of your gun as long as possible. When a game of Kablamo ends, I usually don’t look at the winner as a person who has played with great skill and strategy, but merely someone who was lucky scum.

6.) Fun Factor: This luck doesn’t mean that the game isn’t fun – indeed, I enjoyed my playings. But not everyone liked the mass chaos – they couldn’t stand that the best laid plans of suicidal men went astray. Normally I’m not such a big fan of absolute, uncontrolled chaos; but in this game, it went fairly well. This is definitely not a game for everyone, but there will be people who find this type of entertainment satisfying.

7.) Elimination: Games that remove a person from them are usually frowned upon by myself, as that means that someone has to sit around, bored, until the game finally reaches its conclusion. But in this way, Kablamo reminds me of Bang!, as the game isn’t that long, and players can watch and enjoy the final players as they scramble to avoid the bullets from others. The only time elimination bothers me is when I’m killed early, and the remaining players seem to take an eternity to finish their turns.

8.) Mechanics: I really like games that include the “lowest (or highest) number goes first” mechanic, as it resolves a lot of timing issues and helps the game to run smoothly. I thought that with a wide variety of bullets, it would cause some uncertainty as to how they all worked together, but this mechanic helped the game to run fairly well.

Kablamo certainly doesn’t have as offensive as a name as Gigantoskop’s first game, although some might find the theme offensive. As to whether you’d like the game or not, it all depends on how much you would enjoy a memory-intense game with a lot of fairly uncontrolled chaos. I find the game good for a lark (maybe playable once every other month or so), and the moveable boards are neat, with a quick game possible. But some people (and I’ve played with them) are simply not going to like the game, so I’d have to say it’s a “try-before-you-buy” game.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”


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