There’s really only one way to spend the extra time granted by the hiatus in my daily commute: gaming with the kids.

We’ve had Squirmish sitting around for a while, but no chance to get into the nuts and bolts until Coronachan paid us a little visit.

It is an odd duck of a game, mixing elements of card games with tactical wargaming with the complex management of a collective car game.

Each card features a different creature that gets played on the table in a grid – hence the square shape to the cards.  Once you’ve played enough critters on the table, they can attack adjacent creatures using a simple 1d6 and comparing to an attack table printed on the card.  A roll of 6 triggers a special attack, and each card has at least one special ability.  Some cards (noted by the border color) have a second ability that only unlocks when members of the same faction are in play (and they don’t have to be controlled by the same player).  To complicate matters even further, cards can move on a player’s turn by swapping places with an adjacent card. Naturally, some abilities allow more than one move per turn, or “leaping” over cards.

An example of a three-player game in progress.

The winner is the player that knocks out three cards first.  Normally, this would mean a mix of opponent cards, but some backstabbing critters can kill allied cards instead.

It’s a bit of a mess, and after the third or fourth critter dropped on the table, it can take a bit of concentration to remember all of your cards’ abilities.  The first time through expect to take your time, make a few gaffes, and either reset or just plow ahead.  The game sets a conservative age range of 10+, but most reasonably intelligent seven year olds can have fun with it, with just a little help and a few reminders from their parents.

Overall, the balance seems to work out well.  Some of the most powerful attacks in the game belong to low-HP glass cannons.  Most of the healerbots are tough as nails, but force the player to choose between saving a card and earning a kill.  The most powerful special abilities don’t show up until late-game, and rely on your opponent playing cards that complete a set, which unlocks those attacks for the both of you.  The result is that a mid-game stalemate can quickly turn into a rapid bloodbath with cascading effects allowing multiple players to make a sprint for the finish.

The art manages to be cute and unintimidating without being twee or try-hard adorbz.  All too many games these days get a hard pass from me based on the art alone – hipster cutesy and ironic detachment stylings are automatic disqualifiers for me.  The “LOL so random” replacement for wit and humor is also mercifully absent.  Yes, most of the names are puns, but the lightheartedness of the game helps counteract the combativeness and the every-player-for-himself nature of a skirmish like this.

Squirmish is good light fun, and for the ten and under crowd, makes for a great stepping stone to more complicated fare.  And right now Amazon has it for just eight bucks.  That’s a great price for a game with significant replay value.