Review – Slapshot from Columbia Games

Review – Slapshot from Columbia Games

Design – Tom Dalgleish, Lance Gutteridge

Art – Karim Chakroun, Doris Matthaus, Kwanchai, Moriya

Hear the one about the guy who went to the fights and an Ice Hockey game broke out? (cue rimshot…)

I grew up watching the New York Rangers and Islanders play ice hockey so any game related to this fantastic sport is of interest.

Slapshot was originally designed by Tom Dalgliesh and published in 1975 under the name Team by Gamma Two Games. The game has been printed under license several times since.

So, Tom has brought out a new version of Slapshot under the Columbia Games banner. A bit strange you might say, considering that Columbia Games produces an awesome line in Block Wargames, but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of diversification, especially if you own the intellectual property for a game, AND you are a “Hockey nut”, which I suppose Tom must be.

Slapshot is a card game for 2-10 ice-hockey nuts, ages 8 to adult. Yep, I would say that there is a clear target market for this game. The players are Hockey team managers who need to manage a team of six players, make the playoffs, and then win the championship. Sounds pretty simple eh? This is a light and fast “beer and pretzels” social game and makes no pretensions to be otherwise.

It’s not a simulation although you do get to try to improve your team with trades and drafts, and there are injuries caused by “bruisers” although I prefer to call them “goons” myself.

Unboxing

In the box you get –

54 Cards in three decks of players – Forwards, Defensemen and Goalies

• 1 Scoreboard

• 6 Wooden Tokens

• Game Rules

The quality of the cards is very good and I really like the functional scoreboard for tracking your wins and setting out the 3 decks.

Slapshot is a card game which takes a comical look at ice hockey as the cards are cartoon-style, and each of your players has a suitably silly name along with a number that indicates the strength of the player. The artwork is fun and works really well for the type of game it is.

Game play overview

A very simple game to play, at its core, the mechanics of Slapshot reminds me of the classic card game War or perhaps Top Trumps neither of which I am fond of. But because I like Ice Hockey, I was easily able to see past this.

Each player stars with a randomly chosen hand for their team that must include 1 Goalie, 2 Defensemen and 3 Forwards. This team make-up must be maintained throughout the game. As you will notice, your players will have different strength values from 0-10. This is important as you will need the strongest team possible to win matches. The cards with a Red cross are Bruisers which will hurt the opposing players and knock them out of the team.

TURNS
During your turn, you must choose one of 3 actions:
1. Trade
Choose another player and pick any card, add it to your team, and then give back a card of the same type, also face-down. As the game goes on and you have matches, you will need to pay attention to notice what types of cards belong to other players. Then you can have a go at trying to get stronger cards from them and putting weaker cards into their teams.
2. Draft
Choose any card on your team, place it on the bottom of the deck that contains the same type of player and then take the top card of that deck. With a bit of luck, you will get a better card than you are handing in, but it doesn’t always work that way.
3. Game
(a) Challenge an opponent to play a game. They cannot refuse to play.
(b) Arrange your team into a deck of six cards, and place it face down in front
of you. Your opponent does the same. Neither manager can change the order of cards after this game begins.
(c) Both of you reveal the top card in each team. The card with the higher value scores a goal. (Exception: see Goalies). If the two cards have equal value then no goal is scored. This procedure is followed until all six cards on each team have been revealed and compared.
(d) The game is won by the team which scores the most goals. If the result is a tie, reorganize your team and play a new overtime game. The first team to score (sudden death) wins the game.
(e) Move the winning manager’s token one space up the scoreboard towards the Playoffs space.

HOME ICE ADVANTAGE
All games you initiate are “away” or “road” games for you, but they are considered “home” games for your opponents. So you are taking a bit of a risk because the home player starts with one goal advantage, meaning the score is 1-0 against you to start the game when you challenge another player to a match.

GOALIES
1. A goalie of any value makes a save on any opposing card and stops it from scoring. Exception: Tiny Tim always scores on goalies.
2. Goalies never score goals, except when two goalies meet, the higher card scores.

BRUISERS & INJURIES
1. Any card which meets a bruiser during a game is injured. The higher of the 2 cards still scores. If two bruisers meet in a game, the higher card scores, then both are injured. That’s hilarious, but fun.
2. Injured players are immediately withdrawn and placed face up in front of their team manager.
3. After a game, injured players are exchanged for new cards by the Draft procedure, Home Team first. These drafts are not a turn and must occur before any tie-breaking game is played.

TO WIN

When one manager’s token reaches the space marked Playoffs, the hockey season ends. This team and the one in second place now play a series of 7 playoff games (best of 7) to determine the champion.

There are other rules for a League schedule and setting Draft and Trade limits.

The rules are very clear and succinct. They game play is fast and it all works really well.

Do I like Slapshot?

I have to be honest and say that if I weren’t a Hockey fan, my interest in Slapshot probably wouldn’t last. The main issue that some people will find is that it is very random. Luck is at the heart of the game and dominates any choices. To a degree, you are trying to outguess your opponents in terms of your hand composition when having matches but luck plays a large part in terms of whether you chosen stronger cards in the right order.

Drafts and Trades are totally luck dependent as well as you are swapping blind so you never know what you might get, for better or worse. I love the Bruisers actually as you can try and take out high value players held by your opponents but it is still luck dependent.

Having said all this, I enjoy Slapshot, luck and all, as I recognize it for what it is. A fast playing, simple, laugh for Hockey fans without any depth, and that’s fine for me at times. Its a nice game that you can play without burning your brain. Just have a go, throw down the cards and hope for the best. And have a laugh!

So if you enjoy Ice Hockey and enjoy simple, luck-based but fun card games on occasion, Slapshot is a good choice.

Note – There appears to me more to Slapshot than appears after a few plays…

I received the following note from Grant Dalgliesh of Columbia Games which sheds more light on the strategy in Slapshot

Thanks for the nice review.

Strategy is absolutely a part of Slapshot.

Choosing what the right use of your turn is probably the most important decision a manager makes.  If you can win against any of your opponent’s – play them.  The opportunity cost of improving your team by trading or drafting is NOT playing – thus not winning.  When choosing who to play the main strategy involves observation –  you must watch the games attentively to know who’s good and who is not?  If the optimal outcome of your turn is a win, you must know who you can beat.   Simply put, use your team to win while you have it, it will not last.

Within hockey games, the card order is important.  It involves guesswork and psychology but poker-face and bluff are useful skills.  Some would argue that if your opponent shuffles his team, your card order is immaterial, however being well-practiced in quickly choosing the most sensible line up is handy in overtimes and when the playoffs come.

Drafting or trading makes sense in several cases such as to poach from a strong team by trading, in preparation for the playoffs, etc. However, its useful to skilled at deciding which of the two options is the higher percentage play.

Early in a season there may not be enough information known to be able to make a good trade choice.  Drafting is then safer because at least you know which card you are giving up.  However, drafting without any sense of what the available draftees are rated always carries risk of getting a worse player.  Some players track the draft piles, noting when good players are injured and considering the known players on the other teams to predict when the draft deck is richer to draw from.

Trading can be both to build up your own team or to hinder an opponent. Being effective at deciding who to trade with involves observing the other teams as they play and choosing the action that is the highest percentage play. It is better to trade with a team that has at least 4 of 6 players better than your own, especially their goalie.  Bruisers are also often claimed in trade once several managers set their sights on them.

The empirical proof of this is that the annual WBC tournament seems to yield the same half-dozen finalists year after year from a field of over 150 players. http://boardgamers.org/yearbook12/slspge.htm

Note the laurels section of the page.  This is effectively a top player rating for this game.  History shows that out of fields of 200+  the highest point earners are fairly consistent.  Laurels are explained here:

http://www.boardgamers.org/laurels.htm
Grant

Grant makes some very useful points here. And points to the dilemma of reviewing games at a point in time. As happens with many games, there are limited opportunities to play so you can only make a judgement based on play availability. Lots of games take quite a few plays to get to see the subtleties, so his comments are very welcome.
I definitely need to play Slapshot more.
To be fair, I think that it will come into its own with a bunch of players (5-6, maybe) but I will have trouble finding enough players to play it and get more of the strategic subtleties out of it. I definitely sensed the challenge of some choices , especially in card order as I experimented, trying to get an effective play order during the matches.
Thanks to Grant for adding these comments as I think that this will give you, the reader more to consider.

For more information, go to – http://www.columbiagames.com/cgi-bin/query/cfg/zoom.cfg?product_id=2701

 

Just to add more to this review – I’ve since played Slapshot a number of times and the more I play, the more I like it. As Grant says, the trading is a significant element of the game and really has an impact and adds more tension/frustration and makes the game good fun!

 

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