Designed by Paul D Allen and published by Stone Sword Games, Z-Ball is a duelling card game where you're trying to be the first to score 5 'strike points' against your opponent. It plays and feels like a combat game tho' as the 'ball' in the title suggests, you should really reassuringly think of the conflict as a sporting event between competing teams rather than as a war game.
Z-Ball notionally takes up to four players, and you can certainly play it as a 2 v 2 team game where team members alternate turns, but you'll enjoy it most as a head-to-head two-player game. You each start off with your own similar but not identical deck of cards (and the rules suggest options for building your own custom deck). You start off with a hand of two or three cards (the player who goes second starts with an extra card) and, on your turn, you draw a card from your deck and then play a card from your hand to a tableau in front of you.
The cards all show one or more icons. These either have an immediate effect (for example, to draw or play another card) or they stack with other cards, which means the card stays in play to contribute to a strike attempt (attack) or defence on a future turn. You attempt a strike by rolling a conventional six-sided die but you need to get a total value of at least 6 after all plus and minus modifications have been taken into account in order to score a strike and collect one of the strike cards with which you keep score. The icons that stack are 'focus' symbols (which each add one to your strike roll) and defence symbols which each subtract one from your opponent's strike rolls. In addition, players will have certain cards that unlock extra icons if they appear in a combo with other named cards.
When you attempt a strike, you discard the stacked cards, so there's strategy and manoeuvring as you maybe use an unsuccessful strike action to clear out an opponent's defence icons before playing a second strike that has a higher prospect of success.
Having said that Z-Ball was essentially a two-player game, we should give a shout out to the solo option. The game comes with a deck that acts as an AI opponent. It's designed so that the game plays as it does with two except that the AI deck cards are double-edged with different icons on each half. If the AI has equal or more of a particular icon than you do, you play the card one way up; if it has less, you play it the other way up. This is a simple and straightforward mechanic but it works and makes for a surprisingly effective opponent.
The lively card art by Malcolm Wope adds to Z-Ball's appeal, and we found younger players quickly seized on this quick and easy-to-play game as their next step up from Pokemon (Wizards of the Coast). Z-Ball is coming shortly to Kickstarter. As usual, we'll add a link to the campaign when it goes live.
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