ATTENNNNNN-SHUN! Listen up you maggots, we’ve got a fierce battle ahead of us. We need to deploy onto the battleground and take control of whatever territory we can; just don’t get separated from the rest of our unit. We’ll have limited medical and air support, and be in constant danger of getting bombed. Thankfully the enemy is no more competent at building bombs than we are so there’s a 50/50 chance we’ll be fine, even if they manage to hit us at all. Now get your sorry butts into the jeep and let’s move!
That’s how I picture this game starting out. You know how Secret Hitler has an intro recorded by Wil Wheaton? Ya, like that but with Michael Rooker. (and now I want a “Mary Poppins Y’all!” promo card or stretch goal…) But let’s look at what the game actually is, not just where my COVID19-Quarantined mind wanders with it.
Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is a simple to learn game. It’s so simple that another game might be called elegant in its simplicity, but there is very little elegance in Horseshoes and Hand Grenades. Which just makes it even better.
When you open up the game, you’re going to be using absolutely everything, give-or-take your player count. Each player starts with an identical hand of 13 cartoon soldiers which they will be deploying onto a camouflage bandana that represents the battlefield. Most of those units will be deployed from the back of the jeep, which is the top of the box. In the center of the battlefield is a bunker, the bottom of the box, that can multiply a player’s score. The only other thing included is a page of rules that you will likely want to use… to learn the rules.
A little over half your cards are infantry, represented by a running soldier icon. These cards are placed on the back of the boxtop-jeep, outside the battlefield. The player then deploys the unit by flicking/hitting/propelling the card in such a way that it flips on to the battlefield. The other half of the cards are support units. Instead of a running soldier, they have a helicopter blade icon to show are airlifted into battle. To do this, a player holds the card by the edge, higher than their head, and spins it at least 360º when they let it go. Now, if you’ve ever tried to do something (anything) with a card, you know that they are one of the most stubborn inanimate objects in the universe. Therefore, the rules around how a card flips and spins are considered “good play” rather than hard-and-fast “rules”
Let’s look at some of the specific cards, shall we? There are three types of infantry cards. There is the basic, unranked, infantry that are worth one point each, the Sergeant is worth two points, and the General is worth three points. But it’s not that simple, any group, called a stack, of infantry touching the Sergeant is now worth two points each. If the General is ALSO touching that same stack they are worth three points each. But here’s the trick: you need all three ranks for them to be worth the full points. If you only have the General, the Infantry are still only worth one point. If you only have the General and the Sergeant, Sarge is still only two points. You need the full chain of command to get its benefit.
The support units (my name, not theirs) are more varied. For example, the Evac Unit removes a stack from play, to be scored later and keeping them safe from the likes of an enemy Commando. The Commando can remove one card from any stack he lands on, breaking up the aforementioned chain of command in that stack.
All of the support units are worth one point on their own, but receive the same bonuses for chain of command. This can add up quickly when you add the Medic into the mix. I already mention how unpredictable cards are, and that gets played up with injuries. Every soldier, regardless of type, has an injured side and if their card lands with that side up they are worth zero points and have no special abilities. The Medic will allow all injured soldiers in a stack to be scored as unranked infantry but does not restore any abilities, including the score multipliers for the Sergeant and General.
The final card type is The Bomb. The Bomb is dropped from the same height as the support units, but instead of being spun like a helicopter it is place flat on the hand, and then dropped as if from the bomb-bay of a plane. If the bomb lands on a stack with the KA-BOOM side up that stack of soldiers is removed from the game without scoring. If it lands dud side up or fails to land on a stack, it has no effect.
I’ve never played a game rated for ages 7+ that gets as competitive as Horseshoes and Hand Grenades. It’s simple, but it’s a BLAST to play. I can only imagine the chaos when you add in the +4-player expansion, but I love the thought of it.
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