Pew pew pew! Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch! Boom! Splat! Kapow!
As you probably gathered from that slew of comic book sound effects, Adrenaline is an action-packed game of guns and glory. It’s also kind of a Eurogame.
And don’t worry: no one really dies. At least, not for long.
How It Plays
Adrenaline is an action game all about blasting your friends into tiny bits with the biggest, coolest guns.
Here’s how it works:
On your turn, you can move, shoot, or pick up items (guns or ammo). After 2 actions you can reload your guns, then score any kills you made during your turn before play passes onward to the next player!
The weapons are where the heart of this game dwells. Each weapon (in addition to having a cool name and FPS-style design) has an effect that typically deals out damage based on your target’s proximity. Most guns have multiple possible effects, and some allow you to spend ammunition when you put the gun into play to increase its effectiveness. For example, one gun lets you choose to deal a lot of damage to one player, or spread out the damage to multiple players in the same space. There are guns that shoot through walls, guns that suck your target towards you, guns that let you run up, smash someone for damage, and then run away.
You’ll need ammo to power your guns, so you’ll pick up tiles that let you collect ammo cubes and someimtes item cards that grant additional powered abilities.
Each player has a health track with a dozen or so points on it. Whenever you damage someone, you hand them damage markers in your color. As you take more damage, your abilities grow more powerful – you can move farther before grabbing ammo, and eventually move and shoot in the same action.
When someone’s damage meter is full, they die, points are scored, and they respawn instantly. They’re also worth fewer points the next time they’re killed.
Points are awarded primarily for having dealt the most damage, but each player that has contributed damage earns some points. The kill shot itself is worth no points, but it does allow you to put your markers on the kill shot track which scores points at the end of the game.
When a certain number of kills has been reached, “Final Frenzy” is triggered – this gives each player one last shot at blasting their friends to pieces with adrenaline-infused actions. Once this final round ends, each player’s board is scored one last time (even if they aren’t dead) and points for kills are tallied. Then, whoever has the highest score is declared the winner! Great work, murderer.
Two additional game modes are included to supplement the default “Deathmatch” mode described above. In Domination mode, players can earn points by controlling the Spawn points, by attacking one or ending their turn on one. In Turret mode, players can place turrets across the board, which automatically damage anyone who moves nearby. Players can take over each other’s turrets, too, and bonus points are scored at the endgame for having more turrets on the board than other players.
What in the great space race does that mean, futurewolfie?
Everything you can see about the game – the box cover, the way the rules are written, the theme, the components – they all suggest a thrashy American game with guns and conflict and hurting other players and taking-that all over the place. Tentacled aliens and smiling robots abound, and there’s flash. Lots of flash.
But the core of the game, the actual mechanics? Pure Euro. It’s not even one of hybrid monsters like Eclipse which has the economics and the dice and the explosions all mixed in.
Peel off the theme and what you’ve got is basically an area-majority game. It’s all in place: you’ve got a few abstract actions with which you can pile your tokens onto the available areas – in this case, the other players – which eventually “break” and score, awarding everyone involved a bit of something. The 1st-2nd-3rd place scoring is straight out of the Euro playbook.
You can’t even harm the other players. Weird, right? For a game about shooting everyone as fast and as furious as you can manage, you can’t actually slow the other players down. Actually, you can only make them stronger. That’s right, another common Euro trope: the thing you do to score points grants another player some benefit. Other than the competition involved in area control, the only direct assault you can make on other players is to grab a gun or piece of ammo they wanted. But there are plenty of guns to go around.
Even dying doesn’t slow you down. You keep your weapons, ammo, and cards, and you become less valuable a target to the other players. You immediately respawn, with no penalty to your actions, abilities, or points.
Man. Way to take an action-packed premise and do your best to make it… boring.
And it would be boring, too, except for the guns. The game provides a good 40 or so weapons, each with unique functions and abilities, for you to play with. And play you will.
The euro-centric mechanisms allow you to focus your turn on maximizing your carnage in fun and surprising ways. How can you combine your weapons effects for maximum damage? How can you do damage and make sure you can reload your weapons so you can keep delivering bullet sandwiches next turn? You don’t have to worry about someone having some surprise card or ability that completely ruins you. Sure, they can mess up your ideal turn slightly, maybe by killing your intended target, or breaking up a clump of players you were going to smash all at once. Maybe they’ll kill you and you respawn on the other side of the map. But you’ve still got plenty of room to do stuff. There’s no munchkin-esque “Go back to level 1” of any kind.
I’m getting off topic. Guns. Lots of guns. It’s silly and fun and hilarious, the variety of weapons at your disposal. A good chunk of entertainment comes from the iconic depictions of the weapon effects; it’s somewhat Portal-esque, with featureless stick figures suffering violent wounds and death. Getting stabbed and punched and shocked and sucked into vortexes.
And then you get to do those things to your friends. It paints a vivid picture in your mind of what’s going on – as gory or as tame as you prefer. I can’t think of a single weapon that I don’t enjoy using.
Despite the over-the-top action theme, there’s no gruesome imagery, or blood, or gore. The art on the cards looks like an FPS video game, but typically not in the middle of any violent action. As I mentioned, the effects are depicted with icons in a humorous way. The rulebook kicks off this over-the-top style by covering up the long, detailed “backstory” so typical of these thematic games with one of the player characters simply saying “Yeah, this is boring, just get into it okay?”
Of course, gore or no, I’m sure the theme will be off-putting to some. It makes no attempt to hide what it is, so you can judge for yourself.
I will say that Adrenaline does play with a different vibe than other games with a similar theme. There’s no excitement of rolling dice or surprise action cards that keep everyone on their toes. There’s no risk of abject failure, only the possibility that you might not play as efficiently as another player. The game, being a euro, tends towards quiet, thoughtful turns with short bursts of excitement as a player decides what their actions will be and then describes the result of their weapons. The fun comes from the guns, but there’s not much unpredictable happening. It is what it is.
So, Adrenaline isn’t the game I would choose to play every time I want a little action in my cardboard. But it is an incredibly well designed game, a smart use of theme with solid Euro mechanics. It balances action and strategy, rewards players for spreading their damage around to all players, and keeps everyone involved throughout the whole game. Because there’s no randomness, turns resolve quickly and fluidly, and games don’t last longer than they should. You won’t get the excitement of taking risks with dice and cards, but you will get a solid, entertaining action game with great weapon effects that keep things interesting.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Czech Games Edition for providing a review copy of Adrenaline.