Publisher: Lock ‘N Load Publishing
Game Designer: Garrett Herdter
Playing Time: 30-60 minutes
Battle to the death
Been looking to sway that video gamer friend of yours into trying a board game, but they’re always too busy working on their kill streak to bother? Well, tell them to put down the controller this Christmas break and join you at the table for a game of Hollow Cell from Lock ‘N Load Publishing.
Getting your future gladiator on
Hollow Cell is a battle card game that first person shooter fans will feel right at home with. It’s to play and captures the wild spirit of a free-for-all arena battle fairly well. The game’s back story is of a planet-wide arena named Hollow Cell that is used as a method of keeping the peace between cultures in the Hedonix Empire. It is here that differences are settled, in a sort of proxy war by a few, so that the many may live in harmony.
The game supports 2-6 players and has multiple variants to support each one. On average, games run about 30-45 minutes but can stretch out a bit longer with a full table. To win the game, be the first to make three kills. Alternatively, if one player loses all three of their warriors, then the player with the highest kill tally wins.
At two players, the game is a straight up duel but once you move up to a full complement of six, the game becomes a real chaotic hot mess, making it a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, there is usually a good amount of action going on as players move or combat each other. On the other, the action is heavily predicated by luck of the draw. If you don’t get good cards from the draw deck, you will be at a disadvantage. Normally I’m not a fan of relying that much on luck of the draw, but in this instance I’m fine with it as it fits the first person shooter bent of the game. Not everyone will appreciate that they have little control over what lands in their hands, something I found out in my own plays of the game.
During setup each player gets randomly dealt a stable of three warriors from the 18 unique ones available. Each warrior in Hollow Cell has asymmetric powers, adding a nice touch and some fun combinations to experiment with over multiple plays. The order in which they are played is chosen secretly before the first warrior of each player is revealed simultaneously. Along with the warrior cards, everyone receives five Vault cards.
Vault cards provide you with multi-faceted action, equip and location cards. Action cards are immediate use and effect cards, allowing you to attack other players, defend against an attack or shrug off some damage.
Equip cards allow you to attach equipment cards, such as weapons and armor, to color coded nodes on your warrior. Weapons require charge cards to use, which are limited by player count, and must be in the cache to use. If there are none available, you cannot use attached weapons for combat. Thankfully, every warrior always has one default weapon, these can be used in conjunction with Hollow Cell cards to add more attack dice to your pool.
Location cards are places that protect you from damage for a turn. They’re a great place to duck into and let your opponent’s blast away at each other. Time it right and you can pop out and get a cheap kill, because the only wound that scores is the one that kills. Don’t be too hasty to empty your hand equipping everything though, you’re going to need some cards for defense.
As mentioned above, the Vault cards are multi-faceted and can be used for both attack and defense. Some of the defense oriented cards can disregard a hit without requiring a die roll but generally, combat is handled through opposed rolls and card play. Hits are incurred on rolls of 5-6, 3-4 are considered a graze, and two grazes converts into one hit. A roll of 2 is a focus, and of course a 1 is a whiff.
A Focus result provides different effects, sometimes very beneficial, such as canceling attack dice and sometimes not. I like that there are different levels on the dice outcomes; this adds some needed layers to the opposed rolls. As such, a missed block that turns into a Focus result may still provide a positive outcome for the targeted player.
One bad boy to keep an eye out for in this game is the intruder rifle because it cannot be defended against. It can be pretty intimidating to see an opponent armed with that bearing down on you for sure. But, if you play your cards right, you can avoid getting hit and may even be able to take it right out of their hands!
When faced with the badassness that is the Intruder, slapping down a hologram card can wreck your opponent’s intentions. Now you see me… oh wait, that’s a hologram. Missed me sucka! Want to take it off of them? Toss a knockout grenade, if it detonates, and that can be a big if, everyone gets to strip that warrior of all of their cards.
Speaking of detonation, let’s talk about one of the coolest weapons and mechanics in the game, grenades. Tossing a frag on someone isn’t a simple card and dice roll, hit or miss. When you toss the grenade die, you literally toss it in front of your target. On a roll of 5 or 6, the grenade detonates. Any other roll and the fuse is still lit, that’s what happens when you go with the lowest bidder! The target can then pick up the grenade die and toss it back at you or anyone else. This game of deadly hot potato continues on until detonation, which can lead to some hilarious fun. Careful, if you’re laughing too hard and throw it down in front of yourself, you could go boom!
To add some zip to things, a Sudden Event card may rear its ugly head. These events change things up dramatically; grazes may become misses, losing all of your gear or just taking a wound card. Of course they tend to show up at the most inopportune time. There are some other surprises in there, but I’ll let you explore them for yourself.
Finally, let’s talk about the way to earn those three kills to win the game. To take out a warrior they need five wounds, and the wounds are assigned via a random draw from the wound deck. Wound cards are valued at 0-3, so it’s quite possible you may end up with more than one 0 wound on yourself or an opponent. The lessons here kids is to keep hitting them until they’re down. At best, you can put someone down with two hits, other times it may take six or seven hits, maybe even more depending on their wound card draw.
Once a warrior is down, the victor receives the slain warrior’s card for scoring and everyone can pillage the corpse before play resumes. Once a player has three kills or someone has lost all three warriors, the game ends.
Live or die man, your choice
When I first sat with Hollow Cell it brought me back to many nights spent playing Quake or Call of Duty and it was a good feeling. Although the gameplay is not twitchy like a video game, it shares much of the same wild uncertainty of a multiplayer shooter. Much of that is due to the randomly introduced weapons and events from the card draws.
This won’t appeal to everyone, most likely not those who want deck builder type control over their hand. That was one complaint I heard from some of the people I introduced the game to. They didn’t like being totally at the mercy of the cards and would have preferred to have more direct say as to what they had. While I found this lack of control quite fitting and thematic to the setting, it didn’t resonate the same with everyone. No one disliked playing the game, they just wanted more control. I have the “fight what ya brung” attitude and this game fits that to a T! Here, you are dealing with what the arena gives you, no pre-built decks or custom kits.
The art is excellent, from the stylized weapons and gear to the gritty warrior images themselves. All of it points to a cold, harsh existence in the arena world. The card design is especially clever and functional, I like how gear gets attached to the warriors using color coded nodes. This is a great way to keep track of your own warrior as well as easily seeing what it is you are facing off against.
The dice roll spread and multiple outcomes help to keep you in the fight and the asymmetric warrior powers also help mitigate things somewhat, allowing attack buffs or better chances at avoiding damage. All of this gels together to create an uncertain and tumultuous battle where you will feel like you’re just barely hanging on in every step. Don’t expect balance and control, expect chaos in Hollow Cell, that’s what a free-for-all combat is.
If you’re looking for a card game with the fast-paced action of a first person shooter, Hollow Cell is one to put on your holiday wish list this year!
Company Website: http://www.lnlpublishing.com/
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/LnLPub
Note: A copy of this game was provided to me for this review.
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