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Fzzzt : The perfect filler

When ever I switch on’ Britain’s Got Talent’ I expect to be wowed by the opera singing, super dancing , multi instrument playing candidates. But it’s always the cute young contender warbling their way through ‘My boy lollipop’ that gets my vote - and the same thing happened at the 2009 UK Games Expo. Expecting to come away star struck by the big hitters one gem stood out for me and that was the new card game Fzzzt! from Surprised Stare.

Fzzzt! is a card game about a futuristic production line as imagined by a bunch of 70's computer programmers. 2 -4 players compete over five rounds to assemble a deck (Dominion comparison coming up later...) of point scoring robots, and to produce widgets from machines of varying complexity.

Each player starts with the same hand of a mechanic and three robots. These cards will be used to bid in auctions to buy new robots which will form part of the players deck, production cards which the players place in front of them which will give them bonus points (or negative points) at the end of the game and Frzzt! cards which give minus points at the game end but are useful for bidding for new cards in the mean time.

The robot cards have four values on them. The first is their worth in a auction (they range from zero to five , the second is there victory point value at the end of the game, the third is the component (or components) they can produce for production cards and the fourth shows how many cards are revealed at auction.

After each player has received their four starting cards a random start player is decided. He becomes the 'Chief Mechanic' - the rule book recommends that a spanner is given to the 'Chief Mechanic' - failing that the game box will do. The remaining cards are shuffled to form a draw pile and eight cards are drawn and placed in a row (the ‘Conveyor Belt’). The first card in the row is turned face up and the fourth value is checked - additional cards from the Conveyor Belt are turned up depending on the value and the range is from 0 to all 8.

All players simultaneously bid for the first card on the conveyor belt with one or more of their hand cards placed face down on the table. The winning bid is the highest total value of power symbols. Ties are broken b in favour of the player holding the 'Chief mechanic' spanner, otherwise by the closest player clockwise to the chief mechanic. The losing player in the tie becomes the new ‘Chief Mechanic’

All cards used to bid, and any card won, are placed in a players discard pile - ala Dominion. Unlike Dominion players, at this point, don’t draw a new hand of cards until all players have run out of cards. You want that uber robot a lot? Well use three cards to bid and you will end up missing out on later auctions as you won’t have a card to bid with. When all players have run out of hand cards they shuffle their discard pile and draw a new hand of six cards (or less if their discard pile contains fewer than six cards). These card auctions continue until all eight cards from the row have been won. If the next card to be auctioned in the row is face down it is turned face up and it’s Conveyor Belt value is checked to see how many cards are revealed.

If the card won is a production card it is placed in front of the player. The production cards have component symbols on them (that match symbols on the robots) that are need to produce a widget at the end of the game and the victory points value of producing a widget. They range from the basic one oil needed for three points to the advanced which needs all four types of components (Oil, Cog, nut , bolt - I did say this was the future as imagined by COBOL programmers) which gives thirteen points.

After the eighth card in the conveyor belt has been auctioned all players can place one of their robots from their discard pile and hand on a corresponding production card. Only one card can be placed per round on each production card and they can not be switched around later. From this you will gather there is no point hanging on to your hand cards towards the end of an auction and that placing low power cards on a production unit is a good way of thinning out the weak robots from your deck. But beware! - if you can’t produce a widget from your production card you lose victory points equal to the bonus points of the card (think Ticket to Ride).So you might really want to get the zero power robot out of your hand because it is no use for auctions, however it can produce any one of the components and might be best saved till the end of the game when you can place it on any production card where you are short of a component.

After everyone has placed robots on their production cards they shuffle their discard pile and draw six new cards. Eight more cards are placed on the conveyor belt and the auctions start again. The game ends when the last card of the last conveyor belt has been auctioned.

Players then allocate Robots to their production cards to produce bonus point widgets. A production card can produce multiple widgets if his has multiple, sets of robots on it. Players score points for the value of their robots and the value of any widgets produced and takeoff the value of any production card that has not produced a widget (i.e. has an incomplete set of robots on it).

The game plays in about half an hour and provides some difficult choices for the players, on the one hand you want to have as powerful a deck as possible to win auctions but you must balance that with the need for less powerful robots which help you produce victory points in the end game. The auctions are quick and tense and require you to second guess the needs of the other players as much as your own requirements. Because there are a lot of ties in the auctions use of the ‘Chief Mechanics’ ability can be a boon or a disaster. As some one who feels that Dominion is multiplayer solitaire the auctions in Fzzzt! really work well to create engagement with the other players. More over there is no repetitive shuffling injury!

Fzzzt! Is a perfect filler; quick to learn and play with some depth to the game play. I thoroughly recommend it.

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