Dan Smith's rock and roll card game originally appeared in a black-and-white, hand-made, Dan-assembled-it-at-Kinkos version. I wrote a review of it for Pyramid magazine. When the game was subsequently released in a squeekier, four-color version, Smif sent me a review copy. I wrote a review and submitted it to Pyramid -- it didn't make the cut there, so I offer it here for your delectation.

Battle of the Bands

Published by Third World Games, Designed by Dan Smith

Dan Smith's Rock and Roll Card Game has made the leap from being a black-and-white, zip-lock-bag game to being a full-color, ready-for-stores game. I liked this game when I wrote my review of the low-brow version, and I like its new high-brow successor. I still recommend it, but given the higher price (four times as much) and some small problems (I'll get to those in a moment) the new version is no longer a no-brainer must-buy.

In the game, each player takes the role of themselves -- represented by a Band Member card named 'Me' -- and tries to reach Superstardom faster than the other players. A turn consists of adding a new Band Member to your band, giving an Instrument to a Band Member, giving a Reputation to a Band Member, recording a Hit Single, or starting a Gig round. Each of these is represented by a different sort of card.

The winner is the first player to acquire a set number of Superstar points. These points come primarily from recording Hit Singles and winning Gigs. Thus, there are sometimes strategic choices between getting and keeping a Contract so as to play Hit Singles and making your band more Hip so as to win Gigs. This was slightly unbalanced in the first edition of the game: Since Hit Singles require a Contract -- a particular sort of card that you either draw or don't -- it's possible to have a hand full of Hit Singles but to not be able to do anything with them. This happened with some frequency and was very frustrating for the player so afflicted.

(In our games, we adopted this house rule: You can play a Hit Single without having a Contract, but you need to pick three numbers and roll the die. If the roll comes up with one of your numbers, then you get the points for the Hit Single. If not, you discard the Hit Single and your turn is over. Players can choose not to take this gamble with their Hit Single cards, but the rule both alleviates frustration and introduces a further strategic wrinkle to the game.)

The problem is exacerbated in the new version. You now get +1 toward winning Gigs for each Hit Single you've played, so having no Contract hamstrings both your ability to score Hit Singles and your ability to win Gigs. (I suggest playing this a bit differently and giving the owner of a Hit Single no bonus in Gigs. Instead, let the '+1 during Gigs' listed on Hit Single cards apply to players who are willing to play the Hit Single as a Monkey Wrench -- a card that affects the outcome of Gig but is then discarded. This introduces the strategic choice between keeping the Hit Single to get Superstar points for it later and playing it in the Gig for a potentially pivotal +1.)

Although the new version is full color, I confess that I prefer the artwork of the original. Many of the cards have patterned backgrounds which strike me as too busy. Many of the drawings have been reworked and -- I daresay -- overworked. The art and design in the new version is a step down, but decent enough that I probably wouldn't remark on it if the art in the old version hadn't been so good.

The deck is 105 cards, two more than the previous version. There are some differences in cards between the two. Given the old assortment of Band Members, we had a great deal of fun adding Dad to the band and attempting to avoid the humiliation of adding The Twins. These along with the afro-laden Dashiki are gone, replaced by teen lamer Bethany, killer robot X-17, and The King? who has a question mark as part of his name.

This is a fun game. I've found it especially good for playing with friends who are non-gamers but who nevertheless have an interest in music. The rules make it simple enough that anyone can play. Since Band Members can get reputations as sex machines, dope fiends, and satanic cultists, however, the game is not appropriate for the wee members of the family.