Fuse, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Find a Game That Isn’t Such a Bomb

Renegade Game Studios has had a pretty good track record with our group. Their versions of Snow Tails, Gravwell: Escape From the 9th Dimension, and Lanterns: The Harvest Festival were all hits. They were 3-for-3. When I heard about Fuse (Kane Klenko, 2015), I knew I wanted it for my collection.

I usually like real-time games. I enjoy the stress they put on you, the way they make you think on your feet and try to make the best decisions you can under a time crunch. I also like cooperative games and dice games. I was sure to like Fuse.

And then I played it. Boy, was it a disappointment.

The game has a cool theme. Players have 10 minutes to defuse a stack of Bomb cards using the 25 custom dice that come with the game. The dice are standard d6’s in 5 colors. In real time, players draw a number of dice from the bag, roll them, and divide them up evenly amongst themselves, placing them on one of their Bomb cards. The Bomb cards have slots on them which call for certain dice to be placed there. For example, you might have a card that calls for two dice of the same number, and two more dice of the same color. Thus, if I place two red dice (regardless of value), and a black and a yellow die showing the same number, in their respective slots on the card, I have completed that card and can move on. That’s all well and good; it’s an interesting challenge to divide up the dice quickly, so that everyone gets what they need.

Therein lies the problem. Sometimes players can’t get what they need. If one or more dice cannot be placed, they are re-rolled one at a time, and all players must lose a die corresponding to either that die’s color or number. This rule completely ruins the game, because you always feel like you’re backtracking. If two dice cannot be claimed, this most likely means all players will be losing at least one, maybe two of the hard-earned dice they have previously placed. If I’m one die away from completing a card, losing one or two dice from that card could set me back substantially.

Some would argue that you can get around this by being strategic in how you divide the dice. However, it proves very difficult to use all the dice each round, because it all comes down to which colors/numbers people have spaces for. For example, let’s say that both my Bomb cards are one die away from completion. In order to complete them, I need either a blue 2 or a red 6. When the dice are drawn and rolled, none of them match these requirements. This means that I automatically can’t take a die. But it’s not really my fault. It’s not that I played poorly, it’s just that the game didn’t give me the dice I needed. Thus, I (and all my teammates) will likely lose dice this round.

It’s one thing when a game punishes you for playing poorly. Most of the time, I’m okay with that, because I feel like I deserved it, and I can learn from that round and play better next time. It’s another thing when the game gives you a no-win scenario. And yes, there are times in the game when all the dice can be divided perfectly, and everyone is happy, but way too often, you get screwed at no fault of your own.

I’m sure people will say that the difficulty of the game fits the theme; defusing bombs is delicate work. But in Fuse, losing dice doesn’t come across as thematic, it’s just frustrating.

The best way I can describe a Fuse is like this: it’s like when you play old Nintendo games with really bad controls and level design. Those games are very hard, but not for the right reasons. They’re hard because the game is flawed, not because you’re playing badly. It’s much more rewarding when a game is hard, but fair. In these games, when you lose, you want to come back and try a new strategy. You want to work for that victory. Fuse, unfortunately, is the former. I played 5 rounds of this game with different players, and every round fell flat. As much as I love Renegade Games, Fuse is a bomb. And not in a good way.

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