Year Published: 2016
Designer: Brent Critchfield
Publisher: Studio Woe
Playtime: 20-45 minutes
One Sentence Synopsis: The grass is the same shade of green on the other side…but now there’s twice as much!
There’s never too much of a good thing, and what’s better than mutant goats? The correct answer is “not much,” which is why if you enjoyed last year’s Gruff, or if you’re new to the mutant scene and are looking for a fast-paced, competitive card game, you’ll want to give Studio Woe’s new standalone, tactical card game Clash of the Battle Goats a look (on Kickstarter now).
We reviewed Gruff during the initial Kickstarter here, which has since delivered to many backers who are now happily mutating goats and ramming each others’ shepherds senseless. Not much has changed for Clash of the Battle Goats by way of gameplay: you’re still 2-4 shepherds with herds of three mutant goats apiece and decks of mutations, actions, and conditions to match, just trying to determine who’s in charge of the meadow. That’s great news, because it means although the game is completely playable as a standalone title, you also have the option of combining it with all of the content from Gruff to expand your deck building options and come up with some truly ridiculous mutant goat combos. It’s also still extraordinarily easy and quick to teach to new players, and has kept the same disturbingly beautiful art style from the original game.
That said, Clash of the Battle Goats does feature a couple of new backwards-compatible features that definitely enhance the gameplay, and even address my main niggles about Gruff that it could play a little long under the right circumstances, and progress could seem intermittent due to fully blocking damage.
Players each still start the game with one Shepherd sporting a unique power and statistics, and three unique goats along with their accompanying decks. Each of the goats has a completely different feel both in their statistical values of Fat (defense), Mean (attack), and Weird (amount of Crazy, or casting points, permanently added to your Shepherd’s pool for activating them), and in their decks of ability cards. One Gruff, for example, might focus on boosting its attack and defense statistics on a round-by-round basis, and on stopping your opponent from shifting their own Gruffs around to avoid or deflect attacks, whereas another might let you permanently boost the stats of other Gruffs without having to activate them to do so. Finding good synergies between different mutant goats is a lot of fun, and changing them out to try different combinations is as easy as swapping the Gruff and its accompanying cards out for another.
Gameplay is extremely straightfoward and you’re not saddled with tons of nuances or rules subtleties to learn before really getting the hang of things, making it great for younger audiences as well as adults. In fact, I’d say most players will feel right at home after the first turn. You start by drawing a card, and then resolving any attacks you initiated during your previous turn by comparing the mean value of your attacking Gruff, to the fat value of the defending Gruff. Doing damage over the defender’s fat value will kill that goat, and the extra damage is applied to your opponent’s Shepherd.
In the original Gruff you basically had to always do enough damage to kill the opposing Gruff in order to deal damage and move the game along, but the addition of a new “fully blocked” keyword has really opened up some great possibilities for strategies that make less battle-oriented goats more useful, and at the same time help to move the game along even when you’re up against stronger goats. That’s accomplished by including some cards that let you still deal damage to the enemy Shepherd if your attack value isn’t strong enough to break through their defenses (i.e. if your attack is fully blocked). It’s not big damage, but it lets you whittle away at an opponent’s health rather than having to take huge chunks out of their bar, speeding up the game as a result.
Once that step is done you then choose which of your goats to activate. The chosen goat is exhausted, and you won’t be able to re-use the goat until all your others are either incapacitated or exhausted, at which point you’d “refresh” the ones that are alive. You gain Crazy (casting points) equal to the goat’s current Weird value, and then may play any number of cards from your hand that add up to less than, or equal to, your Shepherd’s Crazy value. Cards include one-time actions that are discarded immediately after use, conditions that persist until your following turn, and mutations that stay in play on individual goats and provide bonuses or abilities until they’re removed from other card effects. Each Shepherd also now features a new value called “Breaking Point” that dictates how many of the ultra-powerful “Ultimate” cards you can have in play at any given time, but both players will really need to give a strong showing to reach Crazy values high enough where hitting that cap would become a problem.
After playing cards you then get to choose one tactic for your Gruff to perform out of four options: attack the Gruff opposite it, resurrect a Gruff, up one of its statistics, or switch places with an adjacent Gruff. Once that’s done you discard down to five cards in your hand, and play proceeds to the next Shepherd. The game ends when one Shepherd runs out of life!
For components you’re looking at the same high standard as Gruff, with nice linen finished cards that actually hold up surprisingly well to the slider system used to track health and statistics. Players who are super concerned about their game looking pristine through the ages might have an issue with the sliders, but I’ve found them to be a very convenient and easy way to track stats without having to write on anything, or employ tons of tokens which would just bog down gameplay and make things fiddly, which are both completely at odds with the experience Brent Critchfield has crafted.
COG Takeaway: Simple. Easy. Quick. Studio Woe has done a great job of making a tight, streamlined competitive card game with Clash of the Battle Goats; it’s a breeze to teach and to modify, and with the few mechanical tweaks from Gruff it really provides a fast-paced experience with some good strategic depth. Those improvements sound like they’re potentially getting applied retroactively to some of the Gruff content through stretch goals, so if you love Gruff and just want more kick-ass mutant goats and weird little shepherds, then you shouldn’t have any issues mixing and matching cards between the two sets. The art is also, once again, phenomenal, and really captures the dark-yet-quirky spirit of the entire game. Whether you’re already a fan of Gruff or are looking for a new quick-but-strategic, competitive card game that doesn’t require the money or time investment of a CCG, Clash of the Battle Goats is a no-brainer for all ages. VISIT THE GAME ON KICKSTARTER!