In the PC gaming world, you have to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on hardware and software to deathmatch effectively, and you have to sign NDAs up the wazoo to review a beta. In our world, a beta version of Frag cost us $12, and we don’t have to sign a damn thing to tell you what we think.
For those who missed the hype, Frag is designed to be a boardgame take on Quake, Doom, and their first-person-shooter ilk. The board is a grid spattered with weapons and gadget pick-up spots, walls, doors, and the occasional pool of acid. Each player’s pawn runs around shooting and getting shot, and “respawning” whenever it dies. There’s no penalty for dying a lot, apart from losing your stuff. The point here is not realistic combat; it’s realistic simulation of an unrealistic gaming genre.
Frag’s rules are just complicated enough to give you that old-timey boardgaming feel, without being so complex that you can’t tear through your turn like a skiing scout in Tribes. A turn-based board game can only take the simulation of a deathmatch so far, but generally, we found the mechanics to be fair and plausible in our two games. Shooting a rocket launcher felt about like shooting a rocket launcher in Marathon, for example. There’s a very healthy amount of luck in the actual mechanics of taking a shot at someone – most of the game’s real strategy probably lies in the card play. And that’s pretty random too. That’s not to say that there’s no tactical play on the board, though. Hell, we only played a couple of games, what do we know.
If we have a complaint, it’s that being the guy who keeps getting shot and never gets ahead is a little less fun when you slow deathmatching down to the pace of a boardgame. In Quake, you can at least crash around really fast, enjoy the graphics and scenery, and have a laugh even if you suck. We had a laugh when we sucked too, but something about having cards in your hand and having to wait your turn makes you feel a little more ripped off when you lose at the last second. But PC deathmatching is more of a sport than a game in many ways, and I suppose that’s the difference.
Steve Jackson Games has now sold out of the beta edition of Frag.