Reload: The Kotaku Australia Review

Reload: The Kotaku Australia Review

What is the most important thing in any board game, the thing that makes or breaks the whole experience? Interesting mechanics? Nice art? A variety of ways to play, so you can play it over and over without getting bored? All those things are important, but they mean nothing without a well-written rule book that clearly and plainly lays out how the game works so you can actually play the damn thing. It’s at this most basic step that the new Reload board game (US$49.99) falls apart.

If you’re not familiar with this Kickstarted board game, Reload is set in a battle royale training reality TV show. It’s reminiscent of The Hunger Games and Fortnite, and the concept behind it had it well-positioned to take the world by storm.

The mechanics and set-up, too, are loving homages to successful classics of the genre. The board set-up is reminiscent of Settlers of Catan, with the hexagons that can be set up in a variety of ways to change how the game is played. There’s a toxin mechanic that slowly poisons the board in a way that brings Pandemic to mind. The combat step uses dice comparison in a similar manner to Risk.

It’s also a really intricate game with five different decks of cards, lots of different coloured bits of cardboard to put in your “fame track” (how you keep track of your victory points), lots of different things you can do during each turn, and several different conditions that end the game. It’s a video game that’s a board game. And on the face of it, it seems like a really interesting game with the potential to be a lot of fun.

There’s just one problem.

How on Earth are you supposed to play this thing?

We spent three hours playing the Reload board game with friends. Technically, the game is only supposed to last 60 minutes, but that doesn’t factor in the amount of time you spend reading the most convoluted and poorly-explained rule book I’ve ever seen. That three hours was just one game.

At the end of that three hours, we determined that the most enjoyable way to play Reload is as a drinking game: take a shot every time someone has to consult the instructions for something that should be simple and then die of alcohol poisoning to free you from having to finish the game. Which is a real shame because there are the bones of something great in there. But those bones are perfectly preserved in a leathered corpse buried in a peat bog. We may never find them.

The rule book is 12 pages long, with double pages dedicated to the two kinds of combat, broken out into smaller steps with pictures. I still have no idea if I’m playing combat correctly. There is a two-player mode, and a team mode, both of which I have attempted to play, and I have no idea if I’ve done that correctly either.

Most of the cards in those five decks are positively covered in little symbols that have important meanings that affect how they’re played. What do half of them mean, particularly when combined? Who can say?

This game was originally written in French, and it’s probably incredible if you speak French. The French instructions are included, so that’s a plus. But whoever was in charge of localising this did a really bad job.

However, I don’t think all the confusion can be directly blamed on the localisation. There are 30 dice included with this game, but not all of them are for rolling. As previously stated, there are approximately a billion cards, each with overly complicated symbols and meanings. Granted, if they were well-explained, there is a much better chance that it would work. There are some utterly brilliant, complicated games out there. But from the perspective of someone who has “played” this game a handful of times, a lot of Reload is just pointlessly overcomplicated.

In a board game like this, every new symbol and mechanic needs to earn its place. Each new element needs to add enough interest and enjoyment to be worth learning, and I’m not sure all of these complications need to be there. This game would have benefitted from a strong editor in so many more ways than one.

And that’s before we even get to the sexism inherent in the characters. There are four characters you can play as in the Reload board game. There are three male characters and one female, each with their own special backstory and ability. For example, there’s a fast guy who can assign an action die to take a run action, and a cybernetic guy who can reroll one of his dice for defence. The one female character is the only one wearing an outfit that hides that she’s even human, her back story is that she’s the producer’s daughter, and her special ability is literally named “Gift From Father” and gives her extra equipment. What the actual fuck?

Reload Board Game Review Verdict:

Buried deep within the Reload board game, possibly written in French, is a potentially good and enjoyable game. But as it stands now in English, it’s an overly complicated, vaguely sexist game where the rules are more open to interpretation than any religious text. If you end up owning a copy, you may as well use the instruction manual as a template to make up your own game, because that’s what you’ll have to do anyway. May as well formalise it.

Or, better yet, don’t.


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