Reviewed by Herb Levy
(Columbia Games, 2-6 players, ages 8 to adult, 30-60 minutes; $24.99)
If this game seems familiar, that shouldn’t be too surprising as it has had a long history.
Slapshot is credited to Tom Dalgliesh and Lance Gutteridge. Dalgliesh may be best known for his wargame designing efforts for Columbia Games collaborating on such games as Hammer of the Scots (Winter 2003 GA Report) and Texas Glory (Spring 2009 GA Report). He has worked with Gutteridge before with wargames such as Quebec 1759 and Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign but also on lighter stuff including The Last Spike (a train game of building track across Canada), Klondike (gold rush game) and several others. Slapshot originally appeared in the 1970s under the name Team and was published by Gamma Two Games. Since then, it has appeared under the Avalon Hill imprint in 1982 (the theme intact but renamed for the first time as Slapshot, expanding the game to handle up to 10 players) and as Phantoms of the Ice, a semi-re-themed version under Alan Moon’s White Wind label in the 1990s. For this decade, Columbia Games has reissued the game once again as Slapshot.
All players begin with a block shaped token placed in the “Preseason” area of the board. The 54 card deck has cards in three color-coded varieties: goalies (red), defensemen (green) and forwards (blue). These cards are separated and players are dealt a starting team of 1 goalie, 2 defensemen and 3 forwards. Remaining cards are placed beside the board in their appropriate areas.
On a turn, a player may do one of three things. He may “draft” a player by returning one of his cards to the bottom of the matching draw deck and blindly drawing the top card from the stack. Alternatively, he may “trade” with another player. No one can refuse to trade but a trade can be a chancy proposition. To trade, a player randomly draws a card from an opponent’s hand. He must then return a card of the same type from his hand to that player. (He cannot return the card just picked!) This is chancy because you may end up trading away a better card! Finally, you can challenge any opponent to a game.
Basically, players arrange their hands of six cards and turn over each card simultaneously, one by one. The player scoring the most goals wins that game. Card values range from 0 to 10. High card scores a goal. If card values are tied, neither player scores. Likewise, a goalie will block any player from scoring a goal as well regardless of value. But there are exceptions.
Should two goalies appear together, the higher value goalie scores a goal for his team. One player (“Tiny Tim”) is ranked at a value of only ½! He can’t do much but he is the only player in the deck who can score against a goalie! Several cards depict a “red cross” along with a number and represent “bruisers”. Maybe they can score and maybe they can’t (depending on their values and the values of the cards appearing opposite them). But score or not, these guys cause damage! They injure the player they face. His card is removed from the team! (The team is not short a player, however, as you may draft another player – top card from the appropriate stack – to replace him for the next game.)
The team that wins the game advances one space on the board. (Should a game end in a tie, players take their six cards, rearrange them in any way they like and start another round of play. The FIRST player to score wins the game in “sudden death”.)
A significant change from previous editions is that a player who is challenged to a match is considered the “home” team and there is definitely a home team advantage here. The home team starts the match with a 1 goal edge so, before the first cards are even drawn, the home team is ahead 1-0. This is a nice tweak to the rules set replacing the old optional rule that allowed the possibility of star players being able to score on some goalies with a modified die role. It also helps discourage a stronger team from pounding a weaker one mercilessly as a one goal advantage is significant and buys time for a weaker team to better itself through drafting or trading.
When a team reaches the final space on the board (Playoffs), the endgame begins. The team in first now battles the team that finished in second. A best of 7 series begins with the first place team given home ice advantage for games 1, 2, 5 and 7. The first team to win 4 games is the winner!
Rules are only four pages long (actually only three as the last page is a roster list) but they do include two optional rules. The first is requiring a player to challenge ALL teams before going back to play a team a second time (you’ll have to construct a chart or pass out tokens unless you have a photographic memory to make this work). The second is limiting the number of drafts or trades to four for the entire game. What the rules don’t specify is what happens to the cards of the OTHER players when the playoffs start. During the “regular season”, players draw from the appropriate stacks to replace an injured player. During one of our sessions, it was suggested that cards held by other players should be returned to their appropriate stacks, eligible to be drafted to replace injured players. Of course, others thought that cards held by other players are NOT eligible to replace injured players during playoffs. Nothing is specified to cover this situation so you’ll have to make a “house rule” to cover this.
Slapshot has a high “family friendliness factor” (as evidenced by the cartoony artwork and the humorous names – Friar Puck, Cheap Skate, Puck Rogers etc. – given to the players) making it quite suitable for family play. Although labeled as for 2 to 6 players, the game works best with more players (4 at a minimum) increasing interaction. While luck is an undeniable factor, you can skew luck to your advantage by paying attention to the cards of your opponents’ teams (they are always revealed when they are in a game against another player) so you can get a handle on who has cards you might want to force a trade for or, alternatively, who is struggling enough to make a +1 goal advantage in a challenge, a risk worth taking.
With the hockey season underway, it seems appropriate to bring back one of the classic hockey games, long out of print. While some sports games deal with actual players, Slapshot keeps things fairly simple avoiding the mire of statistics and, with its hockey theme veneer, gives just enough ambiance of the sport to make it interesting while still keeping the game accessible and fun for even (and maybe even particularly) non-sport fans.