Board Game Gumbo is happy to add a new voice to our reviews. Zack Moneaux joined our Krewe de Gumbo recently, and has the luxury of playing solo games, two player games, thinky euros with his own game group, plus the omni style of games that comprises our Gumbo Game Nights. Here is his first blog article about Joust For Fun, a new bluffing game from Black Key Games.
(Disclaimer: Board Game Gumbo was provided a courtesy copy of Joust For Fun by the designer for the purposes of this review.)
Joust for Fun is a bluffing game where you’ll be fielding knights, each with their own unique ability, to attack the unfortunate friend on your left and obtain fans that will win you the game.
In turn order, players will draw a card from either (a) a deck of knights to add to their forces or (b) a deck of court cards that can grant their knights bonuses instantly or in combat. Then, players will pick a knight from their stables, a public “holding area”, and shove them into battle. In combat, players will play a card face down from their hand, numbered one through five up to the strength of the attacking knight, while the opponent can play any card. At that point, players flip cards — and one of the players will sit there looking smug, adding new, adoring fans to their total. If the defender can match the number that the attacker played, then the defender will feel clever as all get out and win a fan. If the cards don’t match, then the attacker deals damage equal to the number that was played and gains a fan. Defeating a knight will gain three more fans. At that point, play passes to the left and continues until someone achieves 12 fans.
The game is made up of a couple decks of cards and a handful of health tokens. The knights each get their own playfully illustrated tarot sized card detailing their name, abilities, and more than likely, a pun or two. Each knight also has two copies of a standard playing sized court card with a related ability. All of these court cards are shuffled to create the court deck. There is also a deck of double sided fan tokens to track scores. The cards are all decent quality with a nice cream colored back along with the game’s title. Each player also gets a hand of identical cards numbered 1 through 5 for attacking and defending. The artwork is all really well done, with the focus being the big tarot sized knight cards. The humor is enjoyable, especially if you’re into puns.
But Is It fun?
We had a lot of fun playing Joust for Fun. The game is light and fast, with our two player games taking about 15 minutes and three players taking 20. At least half that time was spent trash talking or slowly and coyly turning over a card we knew would block our opponent, or laughing as a friend botches what they thought was a sure win.
For instance, you could be facing down your opponent with a buffed up knight whose special ability lets you play two cards at once, enhanced by a court card that gives you a bonus ability if you hit with a two. Your opponent will be sizing you up, knowing they need to block just one of your cards to rout your entire attack. Will you play a slow game, hitting with a one card and a two card? No, they’re expecting a two because of your bonus. So maybe you go for the one and three cards, ignoring the bonus, and hey, that’s enough damage to destroy their knight! You both throw down cards, flip and… then it is your buddy’s turn to start blasting victory music as he flips over his number three card. Turns out your buddy read you like a book.
That’s when Joust for Fun is at its best, when you have a round that has numbers very obviously incentivized or other interesting choices for both players to mull over. It’s fun to try to get into your friend’s head and satisfying when you do. Even if ultimately it came down to a 50/50 guess between two numbers, you narrowed the numbers down, sized up your friend, and made as educated a guess as you could. Unfortunately the game isn’t packed with these moments. For every multi-faceted round of different incentives, options, and second guessing, there are two or three rounds of simply picking a card from your hand.
We had a game where a hit with any card from one to four power would win me the game and if my friend blocked, they’d win. I shuffled my hand and picked a card at random without looking, while my friend did the same. We shrugged and packed the game away. I don’t remember who won but seeing the game kind of fall apart abruptly ended the fun of what should’ve been a big climactic round.
I wish the game had more ways to deduce what your opponent might hit you with. Maybe something similar to the systems in games like Battle for Rokugan or Grimslingers. Those games have many more direct incentives and give players more knowledge of what their opponents could play at any given time.
Luckily the game includes “Royal Decrees” which change some rules in the game or give each player unique goals to achieve instead of the standard twelve fans goal. These variants — as well as playing the game at higher player counts — definitely helps to sidestep some of the more “meh” rounds in the game.
Ultimately, Joust for Fun is a great little game. It has fun artwork and humor. It lets you and your friends fight and read each other’s minds and yell and laugh. It has multiple ways to play with Royal Decrees and scenarios (with hopefully more in the future). While I prefer that the game have a little more depth to it, provide a better two player balance, and give us more chances for interesting rounds of bluffing, the game plays so quickly and is so easy to teach that you can just play another game or three and enjoy the company of your friends, some goofy puns and smug smiles.
— Zack Moneaux