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Review: Flag Dash

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Dodge ball.  Lightsaber duels.  Nerf gun battles.  Some games provide eternal entertainment, even for adults who probably should remain as spectators.  All those judgements are put aside, however, as you nostalgically reunite with the neighborhood friends of your youth in an epic contest of Capture the Flag.

How To Play

In Flag Dash you and a teammate devise and execute a plan to sneak, rush or otherwise overrun your foe’s territory and abscond with their team’s banner.  All while defending your own, of course.

Teams actually comprise three characters with unique abilities.  Each player represents and controls one – called runners – while partners share in moving their team’s third member – the defender, who cannot pick up flags.  To win the game, a runner must capture the opposing team’s flag and cross back safely into their territory.  Alternatively, every character carries personal flags and any runner can claim victory for their side by stealing one of these from all three characters on the other team.

The calm before the storm.

The crux of the game is programmed movement.  To activate pawns each round, players secretly select two moves allowing them to either run in a certain direction, pick up a flag, push another pawn or copy a previous play.  You can make a dash with your own character’s pawn or move your team’s shared blocker to get in the way of your opponents.  There are obstacles to navigate, tunnels to take shortcuts, and some character abilities provide unique actions.

In addition to planning moves you will assign them priority by placing tokens marked 1 through 7.  Cards are then activated and resolved in order.  Opting for an early move may mean beating an opponent to a certain spot or outrunning them.  But if you’re willing to wait before springing into action, you’ll nab a nifty bonus.  These can be in the form of boosts to gain extra movement, the chance to resolve your action two or three times, or comboing the action with another from your hand.  One token, the last in turn order, allows you to regain all previously played ones.  Otherwise you may not reuse any until then.  Action cards, however, are returned to your hand after the round for immediate use again, if you wish.

Through all of this planning your mission is to craftily maneuver beside the opposing banner or another character and play the Flag action card in order to nab it.  Personal flags are for keeps.  You can dislodge your own team flag, however, by running up next to the character who captured it and revealing a Push card – before they reach their home base, of course.  This forces him/her to drop the prize and shoves their pawn up to two spaces away in any combination of directions.  Alas, the flag remains where it lies, compelling you to weigh that angst-ridden choice ever present in this sport.  I want to go on the attack, but will that leave our flag exposed?

These Colors Do Run

There’s that moment in all games of Capture the Flag when a player stands at the border and waits.  She stalks like a lion, reading the field, every sense heightened, every muscle taught.  Waiting.  Then, all of a sudden.  It’s there.  And opening!  A parting!  A chance?  Like a viper she strikes and takes off.  The adrenaline pulses, the heart pounds.  She streaks gazelle-like across the field, zoned in on the red prize flapping in the breeze ahead.  Then, from the corner of her eye emerges a figure blemishing her clear path.  It races closer, closing in, suffocating.  In defeated panic, she looks back.  More!  “Where did they come from?  What have I done?  I’m not gonna make it!”

Flag Dash surprisingly captures that feel, despite cardboard’s inability to recreate the heart-beating, real-time adrenaline rush.  But there are definitely those moments when, despite all of your careful planning, you sadly realize that that was a bad idea!

There it is! Mine for the taking!

As in other programmed movement games like Robo Rally, Colt Express or Crazy Karts, things can rapidly go haywire.  That’s the mechanic’s charm.  While not strategic, these designs still encourage you to think ahead and plan tactically, rewarding both foresight and bold gambles.  Mostly though, they really exhort you to revel in the resulting chaos as everyone’s actions dovetail in unpredictable and often hilarious ways.  Watching you shove thin air because you thought – hoped – you’d end up next to someone is funny.  On the flip side, engineering a last-second block against a power move to protect your flag is just as heartening as your fails are amusing.

The design’s “double” programming is a simple tweak to the style that is both impactful and provides an extra layer of decision-making – in a good way.  Not only are you planning your actions, but also anticipating the exact sequence when you need them.  And not just extrapolating your own routes, but also within relation to other players.  The fact that priority tokens are limited use complicates those calculations.  Ending a round in an advantageous position to quickly nab a flag at the start of the next will leave you pulling your hair if you’ve already spent the early turn order tokens.  Still, at times when order isn’t as important, the extra benefits from resolving later in the round can be helpful.  Then again, combining a late move with its bonus action to pull off a sweet ploy when all else looked lost is a rewarding boon, too.

As hard as it is to replicate extreme activities on the tabletop – in this case CTF – Flag Dash successfully boasts its élan.  It begins with a stand-off as each squad surveys the other and ponders their approaches.  Then the action begins and the field takes on a life of its own.  As characters set in motion, you begin questioning your plans and react to your opponents, changing course on the fly in hopes you don’t get caught with your pants down and your base unguarded.  Or not.  Maybe you just go all in, running pell-mell into enemy territory on a make-or-break mission!  Flag Dash allows you to explore and try all the strategies in CTF from the quick strike or the lone wolf, to the bull rush or the distracting decoy, to any other complicated Duke of Wellington battle plan you can try devising and executing.

Planning actions is only half the routine. Assign them priority, too.

In any scenario you must work together.  That teamwork aspect excels in Flag Dash.  So much so that the 4-player complement far and away delivers the best experience.  Now the rules do not explicitly address discussion between teammates.  Yes, you program actions secretly and hide priority tokens behind a player screen to mask which you’ve used at any given moment.  Yet given CTF’s spirit, we readily and heartily strategized together how best to secure victory.  You won’t need to map out and coordinate every move by the clock.  Nonetheless, staying on the same page is essential to avoid working at cross purposes or leaving an area undefended.  Just as in the real sport, you’ll cooperate in a grand plan, but will undoubtedly need to adjust to developments – and are free to do so.

Character abilities also enhance that teamwork aspect.  There are two kinds of players in the popular outdoor version – the fast ones and the slow ones.  Those abilities generally dictate your role.  Thankfully there’s purpose for both.  Flag Dash borrows that concept and gives it steroids (last I heard PEDs aren’t banned from CTF).  One can jump over obstacles, another can spy on your plans and a third can dig more tunnels (he’s a beast!).  There’s even one guy that uses a lasso to rope pawns towards him!  Using your team’s special buffs to best advantage can be the divide between victory and defeat.

The tunnel rat!

One difference between the sport and this analog recreation are the character flags.  All efforts in CTF are understandably focused on one prize – your enemy’s banner.  With such singular aim in a board game, however, it seems to me that the programmed movement would lose much of its charm as all of the actors converge upon the same focal point.  Plus since a team can never pick up its own flag – even after forcing an opponent to drop it – gameplay could easily devolve into a slapping tug-of-war as one player picks up the flag only to be smacked again like some Keystone Cops routine.  That would be fun to watch in a real game of CTF, but kind of boring in Flag Dash.  So the alternate objective is as welcome as it is ingenious.

When picking up a team flag, you can actually slot the staff into a hole at the top of your pawn.  The meeples themselves are quirky in a fun little way.  They’re roughly cut to resemble the likenesses on their character cards.  The rest of the production value (UltraPro will be publishing the game’s second print run – scheduled for April) is fairly standard.  The tokens are basic, although wooden bits stand in for walls.  Everything is simple and clearly discernable to represent various obstacles and course elements.  Which is preferable in this design for easy setup, which you can vary for different playing fields and fresh challenges.  Sessions are brisk and action-packed.  You don’t want a tedious setup.  The rules also include a handful of variants you can toss in for variety.  After all, what playground game doesn’t have special rules that kids make up on a whim?

Always bring a cat to the fight.

Flag Dash is a delightfully engaging design.  It captures the spirit of its yard game inspiration that most everyone is familiar with, immediately catching the interest of both hobbyists and non-gamers.  It flourishes on and encourages teamwork, a rare commodity in the hobby, yet also allows each partner leeway to move independently in bold moves should the opportunity present itself.  Mixing the adrenaline of daring exploits with the angst of getting caught red-handed in an environment that can spiral out of control, this wild romp should capture a place in your collection.

 

PieceKeeper Games provided a review copy of Flag Dash for this review.

  • Rating 8.0
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Summary

Pros

Dual programming is nice tweak on the mechanism
Team play is not only present, it is essential
Delivers highs, lows and strategy of Capture the Flag
Variable powers enliven characters, enhance teamwork
Great player screen for quick reference

Cons

Guesswork can lead you awry
2 and 3 player games lose dynamic team play
Small board limits really bold manuevers

8.0 Very Good

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

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