Clever Girl! . . . CHOMP! - Raptor Review

2 player only games are a problem for me. I live alone (I know, change the record and all that) and thus the only time to get a decent 2 player game to the table is at a games club meeting. The problem is when you're at a games club you're usually playing in groups as you want to socialise with all your mates there. So I find it hard to get them played as often as I'd like and so some two players are starting to hit the cull pile, Dice Masters and Summoner Wars to name a couple. Most of the time I'll let my friends acquire such games and play their copies (I hope my buddy doesn't get bored of Pixel Tactics any time soon).

This is a shame, because one thing about 2 player games, a lot of them are actually good fun to play. Not all of them <cough cough Battle Line>, but on top of what I just mentioned you've got Android Netrunner, Hive, Star Realms, Innovation (yes it plays 3 & 4, but it's best with 2), X-Wing Miniatures and all sorts. That feeling of engaging in a duel with only one opponent, your mind against theirs, no other distractions or multiplayer chaos. It's very engaging and takes me back to my younger days where I had a 6 year period of being in Chess clubs and teams.

But with my issue of getting them played it means that any 2 player game that remains in my collection has to be REALLY good as in "this is a game I am willing to forgo multiplayer social activity for briefly because I enjoy it that much". Netrunner and Innovation succeeded and now I have two more contenders, the first of which is Raptor, one I wasn't even thinking about when I marched to Essen, but caught my eye on the demo table and slowly drew me in to find out more. . .




Designer: Bruno Cathala & Bruno Fadutti (2015)
Publisher: Matagot
Age: 10+
Players: 2
Time: 20-30 Minutes
Rank / Rating: 3,074 / 7.38


BOOM! Alan!  


The best way to describe this game is the prequel to Jurassic Park. You've discovered a breed of Velociraptors (coincidentally my favourite dinosaur, yeah screw you T-Rex!) and naturally want to study them for science, as humans love to do. One player controls the Scientists who are out to capture 3 baby raptors for further research. The other player controls the Mother Raptor who is trying to protect her babies and if necessary eat any foolhardy Scientist trying to take on a raptor!

The map consists of 6 modular tiles that randomise the placement of blocking terrain and exit points. Each player has a unique selection of 9 cards of which 3 will be available to choose from. Through simultaneous card play, they will attempt to outguess their opponent as to what they are trying to accomplish each round. The player who plays the lowest value card gets to perform the special action on it, but the one who played the higher card gets a pool of action points to do various things (move, shoot, eat, etc) based on the difference between the two values shown on the cards. As each turn goes by, the players gain more information about what might be in their opponents hand from the discards, but it is possible to draw them back up early if they play the "1" card, which of course is dangerous if the opponent has played their "9"!

Play continues in this fashion until one player meets a victory condition. For the Scientists they must either capture 3 baby raptors or shoot the Mother 5 times to put her to sleep. The Mother must move 3 of her babies off the board through several exit points or eat every Scientist on the board.


That Thing That Looks Like A Raptor, Sounds Like a Raptor, Thinks Like A Raptor. . . I THINK IT'S PART RAPTOR!! 


For a game that doesn't have a particularly high price point, the component quality is fairly good. Matagot do quite well on this front and here you've got chunky modular tiles, cardboard stands for blocking terrain, colourful artwork and miniatures as well. We're not talking fantastic quality miniatures, but enough to give the game some charm and not have to resort to tokens. After seeing Takenoko though I do wonder how cool the Raptors and Scientists would look with similarly painted models. All of this put together makes for an attractive, thematic set piece on the table without hurting your wallet.

With only 18 cards in the box, sleeving won't cost you an arm and a leg (and I'd recommend doing so) and everything fits in nicely with space to spare. I suppose the box could have been a little smaller but it's hardly going to hog all the space on your shelf in its current state. The reference aids for each player are laid out very well acting as a reminder for the card abilities and actions available including your opponents which you don't see very often. I guess it helps to stop players having to constantly peer at the opponents reference aid to check rules out.

Speaking of the rules, they're easy to follow and have illustrated examples so it won't take you long to absorb it all yourself. The cards use iconography to show what they do, but because it's all written on your player aid in front of you it doesn't matter that there isn't any text on the cards, leaving room for large, colourful artwork. 


I Can Figure Out How To Open A Door, But Not When I'm Being Had!! 


The main aspect of this game is the simultaneous card play. We've all seen this mechanic before where both players reveal their cards at the same time and resolve them. It's a great mechanic that alone would make Raptor fun to play, but here we've got an added twist. The concept that the lower card gets the special action and the higher card gets the difference in action points is so clever and really adds makes the game shine. Now every turn you're thinking whether you need a particular special action or just lots of action points and the likelihood of whether you'll be able to achieve that based on what cards have already been played. It's all well and good playing your "1" card to get all your discards back and put some babies to sleep, but time it wrong and give your opponent 8 action points when they play their "9" and see how many of your scientists the Mother Raptor can eat in that time!

And it creates more tactical options than you might think. Let's say you had a good turn where you ate half the scientists on the board. They only have two left and need reinforcements fast. Well you know what cards they have to play to get more on and so can hopefully scupper their efforts deliberately by playing lower cards to cancel their actions. Problem is, they will anticipate that you know this and thus will perhaps try to bluff you out and gain a ton of action points at your expense. You can't stop paying attention to what's going on and thus Raptor creates a healthy amount of depth to test the brain cells without burning them out.


Thematically it does a good job of drawing you in, I don't know if it's just me, but I think this is a great theme to use for a 2 player game especially as it was released around the same time as the recent Jurassic World movie, which I've still not watched yet. Each player will usually start making very bad raptor noises, roleplaying some oddball Scientists and even making the odd Jeff Goldblum quote. Raptor, despite the slightly mean nature of stealing babies from their mother, is very light-hearted in the end. There's no gore in the artwork, all the shooting is tranquilisers only, it's fairly family friendly really minus the notion of a raptor eating humans, but hey it's a predator, you still take your kids to the zoo to see lions and crocodiles don't you?


I'm A Bad Raptor, I'm A Bad. . . Bad Raptor! 


Here is where things get a little subjective based on experience. And I'm going to use a friend of mine who has also reviewed this game (Fiona from The Game Shelf #freeplug) as an aid to this point. I've played several games of this and so far for me the Raptors have NEVER WON. They have come close twice but otherwise they seem to get owned fairly easily and I've triple checked the rules to ensure I wasn't missing something. The Scientists seem to have a much easier time at succeeding for me.

Now I'm not going to turn round as a result and say the game is unbalanced. I think it's actually fairly well balanced overall, but I do believe that the Scientists are easier for players to grasp their tactical abilities for. Scientists can get reinforcements fairly easily and so can afford to be a little reckless in how they play, essentially treating their friends as raptor bait. The Raptor side however requires a great deal more care and finesse to play right. Simply bolting your Mother into the line of fire will result in a very quick knock-out much akin to the amusing tranquiliser dart scene in Madagascar. Your baby raptors also have to get off the board whereas the Scientists only have to get next to a sleeping one to claim it off the board. I find however despite this that it's easier to go for a slaughter victory with the Raptor than it is to get the babies off the board and that's where I've come the closest to winning with them.

Now to contrast this, The Game Shelf believe that the Raptor side is a little more powerful from their experiences. I can't agree with this yet based on the results I've had, but it shows that the question of balance is going to be subjective here and that from two reviewers already, one says Scientists are better, the other says the Raptors are better. So put the two together and there does seem to be a good level of balance here. I notice also that players greatly underestimate the power that the "hunt" cards hold and don't make the best use of the raptor calls, both of which are key cards that need to be used right to win. I'm sure other gamers have had a mix of both sides being victorious, a lot of it comes down to the tactics and mind games utilised by each player and I'll admit, in one of my Raptor losses I made such a stupid gamble in my card choice that I deserved to lose that one.


Verdict


I don't get many 2 player games to the table and as such, not many end up in my collection. Raptor however is going into the collection hopefully for some time! It was a big surprise for me as I didn't think I would go mad for it originally at Essen, but everything just flows and the theme grabs me regardless of which side I'm playing. The key part is the simultaneous card play with your opponent with the action point mechanic - it's a clever, tactical system which has you getting in your opponents head and trying to outguess them on every turn and every success or failure is memorable.

It may be argued that the balance isn't perfect and that the Raptor's have a harder time or at least require a bit of extra skill to play, but it may just be co-incidence also. The word on the grapevine is that it's fairly balanced and some of my Raptor defeats have been very close games so I'll leave you to make your own conclusion. It's still very cool to have asymmetrical sides that play out differently and Raptor is so light hearted and quick that it really doesn't get a chance to leave a negative impact. I'm staggered this is Rank 3,074, it's easily Top 500 material. It's simple, fun and well worth checking out - horrendously under-rated.



YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You want a quick and straightforward 2 player duel game.


You get into the theme - it's represented very well in the art and the cards themselves.


You're a fan of simultaneous card play - it makes this game for me and I'd argue that it's a good gateway game for this mechanic.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You're concerned that the two sides aren't quite balanced - but remember it's potentially subjective.


You feel that having a restricted hand size makes the game too random.


You're. . . . opposed to . . . . the exploitation of. . . . .raptor babies. . . . yeah I couldn't think of a good third one!


P.S - all credit to the Nostalgia Critic for the quote headings and his amazing work! 




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