Bhazum – You Just Got Punk’d, Lost Cities!

So, I get this little package in the mail a couple of weeks back, and I wasn’t expecting anything, so I got on my blast gear and carefully opened the box. Turns out it wasn’t the anthrax I was expecting…it was three Small Box Games from my buddy, John Clowdus, who owns the company. Now I know what you’re thinking….”oh, this will be a positive review because John’s your buddy”. No. I’ve had sex with my friend’s girlfriends. Don’t think that because Clowdus is my buddy that if his game sucks, that I would not leave a hot, steaming pile of “post-morning-smoke-and-coffee” shit all over his game. I’d rather be honest, and I don’t kiss anyone’s ass but Mrs. Superfly’s. That’s the risk you take when you send me something, especially unannounced.

Luckily, Bhazum is not that game. In fact, Bhazum is the single most fun 2-player card game I’ve ever played. Granted, I’ve not played a ton of them, but this one trumps the hell out of anything else I’ve played, and by leaps and bounds. First, it’s fast as hell. We’ve played 3 games now, and even the “learning game” took less than a half an hour. Next, it’s simple to learn and the rules are not bogged down by unnecessary complexity as many I’ve played are. Finally, while the theme is incredibly Eurotastic, there is killing. Lots and lots of killing. I like killing, so that was a big bonus.

The concept of Bhazum is that you are some sort of provincial statesman that is vying to gain the support of the four councils of the prosperous city of Bhazum while establishing your court. Essentially, you’re playing cards to your tableau, and each of these cards represents a noble, with each one having a specific set of abilities and a certain level of affluence. You also, at the end of your turn, may secretly place a noble in the court of one of the four councils, who presumably is hob-nobbing with the council members to attempt to sway them to your cause. It seems pretty bland, really, but once you play it the first time, you’re not thinking about anything but how much fun it is. It’s a great game, and that’s really all there is to say about it.

The game comes in the standard “Pure Card Line” setup, which is essentially a stack of about 70 cards in a box, with a one-page rulesheet inside the box. By box, I mean a tuckbox slightly larger than a standard poker deck tuckbox. The art, while not amazingly beautiful, does the job and certainly helps you “get into” the theme. There are really only three kinds of cards here: there’s the four Council cards, two Traits cheat sheet cards, and 64 Character cards. My only bitch about the game, which I have with a great many of John’s games, is that the font takes a bit to get used to. It’s not all that distracting, but I would’ve liked it better had he used something a little more legible. All in all, the quality of the cards is great, as usual, but I like this game so much that I anticipate putting sleeves on them because I truly expect that this will be my “go-to” game for the foreseeable future when I’m sitting on the back deck, having a shot and a smoke with the wife while waiting for Ultimate Fighter to come on the idiot box. This is the kind of game I can see keeping in my car for when I head to the local coffee shop with a friend or something. It’s just that much fun.

So, let me get into the nuts and bolts here so you know what I’m talking about. First, to set the game up, simply put the four Council cards next to one another in the middle of the table so that both players can stack cards on their side of the Council cards. Next, players each take a Trait card, which acts as nothing more than a cheat sheet, and then each player takes 32 of the 64 cards and shuffles them up as their deck. Finally, the Draft portion of the game begins, where each player takes four cards off of the top of their deck, looks at them, and chooses 2 cards to pass to the opponent. Continue burning through your deck until all cards have been drafted, and then each player reshuffles their deck. Once you’re all done, take the top five cards from your deck as a starting hand, and you’re ready to play.

Each player’s turn is broken up into Phases, which starts with the Draw Phase. During the Draw Phase, you take one card from your deck, plus another if you have less cards in your hand than your opponent. Finally, take an additional card if you have less Characters in your District than your opponent. Next, the Tax Phase begins. Normally, players get one Action to use during the next Phase, the Character Phase, but if you discard a card you may add the total Tax Value of that card to your Actions. Moving on, the Character Phase comes next, and that’s where all the action begins.

The Character Phase allows you to spend Actions to draw a card into your hand from your deck or play a card into your District. The meat of the game comes from playing cards into your District, both potentially earning you the Affluence Value of the card as Victory Points, but it also allows you to use all of the Traits listed on the card. These Traits are the best part of the game, by far, as they allow you to discard opponents Character cards from their District, take cards from their hand, take cards from your deck into your hand, force opponents discard a card from their hand, and most importantly, call the Council to convene. I’ll come back to that.

Finally, at the end of your turn, you may play a card to the Council, but it can’t match the Clique of the Council you play it to. This is the mechanic that allows you to earn the support of the Council, and if you do that, you get to take that Council card into your District, earning you a fast 10 points for each Council you sway to your side. The way to sway them is to place cards with good Affluence Values on the Councils, and then when someone plays a Character card with the “Ksari” Trait to their District, the Council of the matching Clique convenes. Each player flips up the cards that were placed on that Council, and the player with the highest total Affluence gets to keep that Council card. I should note that the player who played that Ksari trait gets a +1 Affluence to EACH card they previously placed on the Council, so the player who controls a Ksari card really can cause trouble for their opponent.

The game ends at the beginning of a round when any player has no cards left in their deck, at which point you tally up all of the Affluence values of all of the Characters in your District, adding 10 points for each Council you’ve won. It’s a simple, simple game on its face, but the depth of decisions begin at the Draft and are present throughout the entire game. It’s a brilliant deck-building game that puts other, far more expensive games to shame. The only drawbacks that I can see are that while I like this FAR better than Dominion, it doesn’t have the variety of that or games like Thunderstone, so it can get old after numerous replays. That being said, this game has caused me to totally, completely abandon games like Lost Cities and San Juan because this game is so bloody superior in every way. I truly expect Ashton Kutcher to pop up at Essen to kick Reiner Knizia in his oversized skull, screaming “You Got Punk’d, beyotch!” after seeing what a small-press, part-time guy like John Clowdus can do. If someone doesn’t pick this game up for publishing on a mass-market scale, they’re out of their bloody minds.

Why Bhazum Is My Kind Of City:
– Player interaction is what this game is about, and it’s got it in spades
– Backstabbing and thievery galore make this game fun, and nasty
– The balance of Tax Value, Affluence, and Traits is excellent, and the Draft mechanism makes it even better
– 20-30 minutes is perfect for a 2-player card game, and this one is perfectly paced

Why The Council Disapproves:
– The fonts are closer to the “Causing Blindness In Children” side
– The art is not spectacular, and after seeing Cartouche from Small Box, I know he could’ve done better

Overall:
This should be an auto-buy for any person who likes card games. It’s fast, furious, and has an overdose of fun right there in the box, so $13.00 is a hell of a price to pay for something this good. The only downside is that you’ll find it’s hard to offload your copy of Lost Cities because once this game gets wide press, nobody will want Lost Cities anymore.

Rating:
4.5/5 Stars

If you want to learn more or buy this amazing game, go to www.Smallboxgames.com, but if you’re on the fence, here’s the rules:
http://www.smallboxgames.com/rules_bhazum.pd

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