Cardboard Children – Frag: Gold Edition

“Oh, Rab!

“Please don’t recommend another game! My wallet can’t take it! And particularly not a game that is kinda specific to my PC gamer interests!

“Please, Rab! Don’t!”

Eat it, punk.

FRAG: GOLD EDITION

FRAG: Gold Edition, is a game from Steve Jackson Games. With it being a Steve Jackson Games thing, obviously it looks really lo-fi and kinda cheap. With FRAG the looks sort of work, because it looks like a PC arena shooter from the 90s. And it plays exactly like that too. Which kinda sorta makes it, when you’re in the right mood, one of the best board games EVER.

You start by choosing your little plastic dude, in your favourite colour. Then you take a dry-erase of that same colour. Then you use a pen to fill in your guy’s stats. You have seven points to spread over the attributes of HEALTH, SPEED and ACCURACY. Health is how tough your dude is, and how long it takes for him to be fragged. Speed is how fast and far your guy can move. Accuracy is how good you are at shooting and also how many attacks you can bust out per turn.

The board is like this big ugly arena with rooms and pools of acid and doors (some of them one-way) and little icons that represent GEAR and WEAPON pickups.

On your turn you roll dice for your movement according to your speed and then start sprinting around the map. If you put, say, four dice into SPEED you are going to be going crazy fast. Imagine your rolled four sixes. That’s (counts on fingers…) 24 spaces in one movement. But maybe you only put one die into SPEED. That means you are going super-slow (but you probably have massive HEALTH, so you’re like a TANK up in here). It’s cool that you have that little bit of control over the type of dude you are. If only you had that much control over the dude you are in real life…

So you move. If you run over any of those gear or weaponry icons, you roll a die for each one you’ve touched. On a 4-6 you get to take a card from the appropriate deck. New weapons are good. Stuff like rocket launchers and flamethrowers and needlers and shotguns. The gear can be things like armour or exoskeletons or speed boosts. Ooh mama.

Then you attack. If you have another player in line-of-sight, you count out the range and have to roll at least that number using your accuracy dice. If you hit, you roll your weapon’s damage rating, and divide the result by your opponent’s roll on their Health dice. If you roll right, you FRAG your opponent, and they drop all their gear and stuff right on that spot. You mark off a frag on your board. And on the dead player’s next turn they will respawn in a random location.

How fun is that? Sounds great, right?

And it is. It’s the type of game you put out on the table and then everybody just sighs. “This looks BAD.” But then the game kicks in and you start chasing each other around. Six of you, sprinting and dashing and launching rockets at each other. Trash talk. Threats. Opportunities to roll BIG HANDFULS of dice. Then it’s all totally like “This is RAD”. Except nobody actually uses that word. It’s awful.

There are these “SPECIAL” cards too. You start the game with one in your hand, and they are cards that affect the actual code of the game. Haha! No, seriously. They’re like cheats. Just last night an absolute shit of a person used an instant frag on me. I was just DEAD. No rolls or anything. Nobody scored anything for my frag – she only used it to stop me scoring a winning frag on someone else. “Hey I just exploded! HAXXXXXXORZZZ!” But wait – I had my own special card. I used it right after I respawned. It’s a hack that allows me to access the code for 30 seconds, to take whatever I need. What this means in THE REAL WORLD is that I have 30 seconds to search through a deck of my choice for something I like. I found this big heavy cannon that I used to get my revenge. It was –

It was beautiful.

See, FRAG is about as straight-forward as a board game gets. But there’s something really impressive about how closely it nails the feel of a PC arena shooter. As I was playing I was seeing how you could easily have a capture-the-flag variant, or a king-of-the-hill type thing. The game’s rules just totally work. It becomes second-nature stuff within minutes. And then you’re all just boosting around shooting the shit out of each other. It’s so unfussy.

There are two maps – one on each side of the massive board. There are little chits for “bloodstains”. Yeah, when you get fragged you leave a pool of blood on the floor. If another player runs over that they can take it as a medpack that heals 1 health. That’s cool too, huh? There are little chits to track dropped stuff. So someone gets fragged while carrying a portable nuke. That nuke drops where they stood. Mark it with a chit, then everybody chases after that thing because IT IS A NUKE. There are little bullet chits to track your ammo on your weapon cards. Yeah, they can run out of ammo. Sickening.

My favourite weapon in the game is the Beam Pistol. It has five ammo, but you can choose to discharge as much ammo as you want in a single shot. Each extra ammo spent is another die into your damage roll. You can turn that 5 ammo weapon into a one-shot weapon if you like, blasting lots of dice at your opponent. I think I just love it because you can almost hear it charging up to fire. One die- two dice – three dice – BWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMM – KRAKOW!!!

Heid aff.

Deid.

FRAG.

I really miss arena shooters. Unreal Tournament. Quake III. All gold, as far as I’m concerned. FRAG is that experience on a table. It’s a brilliant way to wind down after some thinky board games.

Sometimes you just want to fire thousands of dice at your friends until their heads go pop, you know?

19 Comments

  1. Hex says:

    Have you ever played SJG’s Revolution? I worked for Steve Jackson back when they were finalizing the game, and the beta tests were pretty fun. Haven’t gotten around to checking out the completed game, though.

    • Xipheas says:

      Well I ballsed that up. See my response to your post below.

  2. Joshua Northey says:

    Two of the worst games I ever bought were SJG. I think I will pass. One of them was clearly never finished, and the other didn’t even have a complete ruleset. Like literally there were a half dozen holes in it where you were like “what happens in X situation?”, and there was just nothing in the rules. Never understood the hype, the other SJG I have played were all pretty meh. Munchkin is fun for one go through, but it just the same joke over an over again.

    • Baines says:

      I played a beta test version of Frag with friends, and none of us really liked the game. I think the beta test guy went ahead and wrote up our opinions, but I don’t think our issues with the game were addressed with the final release.

      What I vaguely remember was that it just felt like a bad mix. The “computer game” stuff felt poorly bolted on, overall silly and not very realistic either. The mechanics of the board game were fairly mediocre, and the theme just didn’t work well enough to sell us on the game.

      If it was a Cheapass Games release, it might have been worthwhile. But it was Steve Jackson Games, which meant it was horribly overpriced for both the quality of the game as well as the components that you received. (Well, the components that you would received. The beta test version was I think just thin sheets of cardboard.)

      (I’m a bit biased because I’m sadly old enough to remember when Steve Jackson Games released low cost games. I still have a pocket box version of Car Wars somewhere. Though I’m not quite old enough to have bought the early ziploc bag games, I even remember ads for those. So it was rather crushing to see SJG products over time become increasingly expensive, while their actual quality of game design was arguably declining.)

      • jingies says:

        Interesting that you mention Cheapass Games, as the first thing I thought of when I saw the top photo was the Cheapass game Spree. Which features lots of people running around shooting each other, although the theme is more about looting a shopping mall rather than all out fighting. I think it’s one of their free print and play games now, worth a look.

  3. GameCat says:

    I want to play it. :-(

  4. Xipheas says:

    Revolution is an awesome game, great mechanics, the bits and pieces are anything but cheap, and the rules are simple. What more could you want in a board game?

    Well, I’d like to win it. I must have played and lost at least twenty times. I even lost once to my non game loving girlfriend!

    Other than that, perfect!

  5. Shadow says:

    I don’t know what to think of this. This resembles a simplistic computer game, so why wouldn’t I just play such simplistic computer game? A PC arena shooter is an odd thing for a boardgame to try and replicate.

    I suppose what I expect from a boardgame is an original concept, one which provides an original experience I can’t get elsewhere.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      Well, the most obvious answer is it’s easier to clear the table after dinner and play FRAG than it is to set up a LAN and play Doom II.

      • Shadow says:

        Yeah, I get that. But then it’s a matter of picking a hassle: playing an arena FPS with dice, or set up a LAN to play it hassle-free thenceforth.

        • thekelvingreen says:

          I think you overestimate how much of a hassle it is to play a board game. It’s easier to take this to a friend’s house than it is to set up a LAN party there.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Phasma Felis says:

    I was baffled that FRAG’s rule for the (rather unlikely) event of a player spawning in the same space as another player is: the player who was there first is shunted aside.

    How can you be enough of a classic-FPS fan to make a game like FRAG, and then miss the chance to make a telefrag rule?

    • Shieldmaiden says:

      I’ve not played Frag for ages (in actual fact, I’m now wondering where the heck my copy went) but I’m positive it had telefragging.

      • Premium User Badge

        Phasma Felis says:

        Perhaps they revised it in later editions, but I clearly remember having a minor dispute at the college gaming club over whether we could change the rules to correct this egregious oversight. This was many years ago, probably in 2001 when it was released.

        I just…generally got the impression from it that the designer had watched some dudes play Quake 3 and said “hey, I bet I could sell a board game to these guys,” but wasn’t actually an FPS gamer themself and didn’t really “get” the genre. I dunno, it’s probably a perfectly good game regardless.

        I also thought it was weird that “Health” served as both HP and armor (the number of dice rolled to resist damage) at the same time, so the less health you had, the easier it was to lose even more.

  7. Spacewalk says:

    It sounds cool but the map isn’t Deck 16. Lame. No sale.

  8. Battjmo says:

    Looks… rad.

  9. detarame says:

    I love you. I love your opinions.

    I own this game. I am very, very surprised to see you recommend this game.

  10. jamesgecko says:

    I had such high hopes for this game, but I don’t think I ever want to play it again.

    FRAG is basically Dice Rolling: The Game. There are stats and equipment and such that bolt numbers onto the roll or add more dice, but it’s still essentially rolling dice over and over again. It feels nothing like a FPS. All the speed and excitement and skill of the genre is nowhere to be found. It feels like bare-bones RPG, and not even a good one at that.

    Maybe you built a character that sacrificed all your HEATH in favor of SPEED and ACCURACY. This is something that can actually work in a real FPS, if you have a lot of skill. Unfortunately, this is dice combat, and skill has nothing to do with it. Other players will kill you from across the map in a single hit when it’s not your turn. Then they will take your items so they can kill you more efficiently next time.

    If you love the general idea of FRAG but want to play something actually good, I strongly recommend Wiz-War. Because wizard capture the flag! The basic mechanics are similar and it’s a bit slower paced, but I had much more fun playing it.

  11. damaki says:

    Rab, you’re so RAD, mate. Gotta go and FRAG my friends, now