Good Christmas-themed games aren’t exactly a hot commodity. There are a couple of options, but if you yearn to play a holiday-themed game over the holidays, your choices are limited. When I saw that Big G Creative (makers of Bob Ross: The Art of Chill, Monster Crunch, and other surprisingly fun games sold at Target) was coming out with a game themed after Home Alone, I hoped it would be a worthy holiday gaming candidate.
Home Alone is the movie I put on repeat for much of the season and it still doesn’t disappoint. (Along with Christmas Vacation. Can someone please make a game where I can play as Cousin Eddie and capture the big mean boss and blow up the sewer? I’d pay for that.) Anyway. Did the Home Alone Game live up to my nostalgia for the movie and satisfy my yen to play Christmas games? Let’s find out.
How It Plays
The Home Alone Game is an asymmetric card game where one player takes on the role of Kevin, setting out traps to stop the bad guys, and the other player(s) play as the Wet Bandits, trying to score loot from the Silver Tuna house. In a two player game, it’s a head to head matchup, but with three or four, one player plays as Kevin and the others play as a team against him.
To begin the game, each player gets the deck of cards for their role. “Kevin” also gets all the loot cards. All cards are placed face down on the respective player boards. Three iconic locations from the film are represented on tiles, which are placed between the two adversaries.
The game is played in rounds, and each round consists of five phases. Phase one is simple: All players draw from their deck until they have six cards in hand. None of the decks are ever refilled, so if you can’t draw up to six the game will continue, but you will have fewer options.
Phase two is the Loot phase. “Kevin” draws the top three loot cards and shows them to all players. This is the loot that the bandits are attempting to steal this round. “Kevin” then secretly decides where to put each loot card, placing one face down on each of the three locations. The bandits do not know which card went where.
Phase three is the Kevin phase. This is where “Kevin” sets traps to stop the bandits from getting the loot. “Kevin” may place up to three traps on each of the loot cards, but he is not required to place any. Traps are placed face down in any order between the location tile (this will be the first trap encountered) and the loot card (last trap encountered). Each trap has certain costs that must be paid in order for the bandit to pass it. This means that the bandit has to discard cards from their hand or deck, depending on the requirements of the trap. There are also decoy cards which can be hidden like traps, but the bandits won’t need to do anything to disarm them.
The Bandit phase is next. Now the bad guys see if they can grab the loot! The bandit announces which location they want to break into. Bandits are not required to break into any location in a round, and they may end the bandit phase at any time. In order to break in, they must first pay the costs of the location by discarding the required number of cards from either their hand or deck (as indicated on the location).
Once inside, “Kevin” turns over the first trap card and it’s time to go through the traps. In order to defeat “Kevin’s” traps, the bandits have to either disarm them or take the pain. To disarm, you pay the cost indicated on the trap by discarding cards that match the icons on the trap. If you choose to take the pain, you must discard a specified number of cards from your hand and/or deck, as indicated on the trap card.
Some traps give Kevin a special ability that allows him to fight back, or make it harder to move past the trap. The bandits also have a few special abilities that give them some advantages, too. After all these guys aren’t completely stupid. Oh, wait…
After the bandit successfully disarms the trap or takes the pain, that trap is discarded and the next is revealed. This continues until either the bandit decides to retreat and end the bandit phase, or the loot is reached and successfully stolen. If the bandit steals the loot, take the loot card and place it face up on your board. The bandit can now choose to continue breaking into locations, or stop and move on the next phase.
The last phase is Clean Up. All loot and trap cards still in the house are discarded. All cards in players hands are kept until the next round. Circle back to the draw phase and begin again.
The game ends under the following conditions: If the bandit steals $2,000 worth of loot, the game ends and that player/team wins. If the loot cards run out, or if the bandit runs out of cards and cannot continue moving through a location, the bandit is arrested and “Kevin” wins.
Is This The Silver Tuna of Holiday Games?
I knew we were onto something when I picked up the box and saw, “Merry Christmas, Ya Filthy Animal,” scrawled across the top. The giggles kept coming with the components. While the sweater pattern that dominates everything is a little odd (cute, but odd), the cards themselves are amusing. The “loot” is retro from the time of the film. Tube TV’s, VCR’s rollerblades, and big ‘ol stereo components tickled my 90’s sensibilities. All your favorite traps are here, too, including the tarantula, glass ornaments, the hot doorknob, and the fan and feathers. If you know the movie and you liked the 90’s, you’ll be in heaven.
So it’s cute. But how does it play?
First, you have to understand that this is a light, quick, family-friendly game. It’s not a deep brain burner on the level of Android: Netrunner, or even Raptor. If you’re hoping for something like that, move along now.
If, however, you’re up for the lighter end of the gaming spectrum, the Home Alone Game is pretty fun and it does give the feeling of matching wits against either Kevin or the Wet Bandits. For all that it’s a light game, each side does have some thinking to do, and a little strategy to deploy.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the decks don’t refill in the game. Once you’re out of cards, the end is near. You’ll keep playing, but if you’re Kevin you have no more traps to play, and if you’re the bandits, you’ll only be able to break in and disarm traps as long as your current hand allows you to. So while running out of cards doesn’t necessarily end the game, it does reduce your options. Part of the strategy is figuring out how to deploy your cards wisely so that you stay in the game, but remain competitive.
When you play as Kevin, this means being careful with your traps. Yes, you want to put a lot of traps on the most valuable loot, but if you can get by with less, that’s great. This brings about a bit of bluffing. The bandit knows which loot is available each round, but where it is isn’t known. Can you fool your opponent into going for something else by putting fewer traps down on the “good stuff?” Can/should you use your decoy cards in place of traps to try to draw the bandits off?
You can also put a lot of traps down on the less valuable loot and try to make the bandits waste cards trying to get at what they believe to be the good stuff. The trick is to vary your tactics. If you always put lots of traps on the high value loot and fewer on the low value, your opponent will figure it out pretty quickly. But if you can keep them guessing as to where the good stuff is and how many traps they’ll have to get through to get it, you stand a good chance of making them burn through cards quicker.
If you play as the bandits, you first have to read your opponent. Where is the good stuff? Are they bluffing or not? Once you decide what to go for, you need to watch your card burn rate. Sometimes it’s wise to retreat from a location if you’re having trouble getting past the traps. When do you deploy your special abilities? When you have to discard cards and you have the option to discard from either your hand or your deck, which do you choose? Do you drop a card from your hand thinking it’s one you may not need, or do you risk dropping the top deck card, unseen, and hope it wasn’t something good?
The luck of the draw has some say in both sides. Since you only have six cards in hand each round, you don’t have your entire deck to work with. The really good cards may not come up when you need them. Home Alone is sometimes a game of doing the best you can with what you have. You can try to plan ahead and hope that the cards break your way, but if that card you need stays stubbornly in the deck until the end, you’d better have a plan B. The more you play and the more familiar you become with the decks, the better you can be at figuring the probabilities to a point, but the draw will have the final say.
Don’t get me wrong: The strategy here is very light, as you’d expect for a fifteen minute game based off of a kid’s movie. But neither is it brainless fluff. You do get to use your brain for those fifteen minutes. And since it’s so quick, it’s easy to go again, switching roles each time for variety. The game also functions as a nice introduction to asymmetric play. It’s an easy way to teach non-gamers the basics, and perhaps draw them into something heavier like Raptor.
I feel that the Home Alone Game is best with two players. With just two, it’s a head to head matchup. Each side has some thinking to do and each player gets to make all the decisions and concoct a full strategy. When you play with three or four, the Kevin player still gets to make all his decisions, but the bandits have to play as a team. But you’re not really a team. Even though each bandit gets their own hand of cards and gets to take their own crack at breaking into the house, you don’t really work together. If a bandit needs certain cards to disarm a trap, he has to have them in his own hand. There’s no sharing of resources. You can show your cards to the other bandits and discuss what to do, but when it comes to doing it, you’re on your own.
I guess this is somewhat thematic since the bandits did split up a lot in the movie, but in the game it just feels weird. You’re a team, but not. You can discuss things, but you can’t trade cards either during or before the break in. What you have in hand is all you have to work with, so really you might as well be playing as a single bandit. The team option is a nice add-on for playing with kids who might need an adult’s help, or for those times when you don’t want to leave others out, but if you’re looking for a true “game” in the gamer-y sense of the word, stick to two players.
That aside, do I have any negatives? Well, there’s the obvious one that this theme may not be something you want to play all year long. Do you see yourself playing this in June? If not, it’s up to you whether it’s worth the purchase and the storage space. Some people like to keep holiday games around even though they’re only played once a year. Others can’t stand it if a game doesn’t see regular rotation.
Next, if you do want to play this all year, I suspect you’ll quickly grow a bit tired of it. There’s no way to change the game up, or increase the difficulty level. After you’ve played it a few times, you’ll have seen everything there is to offer and you might want to move on to more challenging asymmetric games that offer a larger decision space. But if you do only bring this out at Christmastime, you’ll probably preserve the novelty.
Finally, this is a Target exclusive, at least for now. If you don’t have a Target, or live abroad where Target does not ship, your purchasing options are going to be limited. Maybe by next year it will be more widely available. Some of Big G’s games, such as Bob Ross: The Art of Chill, started out as Target exclusives and are now available on Amazon and Walmart.com.
On the whole, I give it two crowbars up, as long as you’re playing with two players. With more it’s a nice diversion, but the bandit side isn’t as interesting when played as a team. It helps if you’re a big fan of the movie, as well. If you go into it expecting a quick game that riffs off the movie and provides some light strategy, you’ll likely have a good time. Light up the Christmas tree, get a cheese pizza, put the movie on in the background, and enjoy some nostalgic fun.
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