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Designer: Michael Schacht
Publisher: Piatnik
Players: 2-4
Time: 15 minutes
Reviewer: Greg Aleknevicus

Explosiv is a simple cardgame for 2-4 players designed by Michael Schacht. Players are Chicago era mobsters trying to make off with briefcases full of stolen loot. Each game takes about 15 minutes to play.

Each player is given an identical hand of cards with the values 1-8. The game is then played in a number of rounds. Each round a number of briefcases (equal to the number of players plus one) are laid out in the middle of the table. These cards are worth +1 to +8 points on their positive side and -8 to -1 on the reverse side. Play then goes around the table with each player laying a card in front of one of the briefcases (overlapping any previous cards so that all are visible). The idea is that whoever places the highest total on each briefcase collects it. There are a couple of necessary wrinkles thrown in: You can't play on top of one of your own cards and you cannot play a card with a value that's already been played. So if Al has already played his "3" card on the 5 Point briefcase then no-one else could play their "3" card on that column (the "8" card is an exception to this rule). The final complication is that if a briefcase ever has eight or more cards played on it then it's flipped from its positive value to the negative side, which is always worth nine fewer points. (This represents someone slipping a bomb into the briefcase, which gives the game its title.) You play multiple rounds until you run out of briefcases and the player with the highest score wins.

While translating the rules I wasn't overly impressed, it seemed fairly basic and straightforward and I didn't expect much from the gameplay. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a fair amount of thought going on during play. Not a tremendous amount mind you but enough to keep the interest level high. I'm not sure how the game is intended to play, I suspect that it's meant as a fairly quick and somewhat mindless laying-your-cards-down type of game. My group tends to be quite analytic however and this game worked fairly well for them. As everyone's cards are known, it's fairly easy to see what moves each other player is capable of and plan your play accordingly. (In order to make this easier we played with everyone's unplayed cards face-up in front of them. This didn't give anything away as you could easily figure out the cards they had left but it did make the game play a little faster.) Very often it was possible to ensure that you won a briefcase with a particular card play and this was usually very satisfying to pull off.

If I didn't know otherwise I'd swear that this was a Knizia (generally speaking, high praise around these parts). It definitely has the feel of his games especially in regards to the mathematical nature of card play. Of course the theme also feels entirely grafted on—it has about as much to do with gangsters as Lost Cities has to do with exploration. This is hardly a problem though if the game holds up.

A lot of the game is brinksmanship—laying more cards in a particular column obviously increases your total but also makes it increasingly likely that you'll wind up with a bomb for all your troubles. The trick then seems to be to position yourself so that you've got the highest value in a column but only just barely. This means that if someone wants to lay the eighth card it will also mean that they'll end up walking away with the explosion. This is a little easier to do than you might think as the person that laid the last card in a column has 2 points added to their total.

The card values struck me as odd. As I stated earlier the values run from +1 to +8 with the negative side being worth nine points less. (So that if the +1 briefcase turns out to have an explosive, it's worth -8 points.) This seems a little counter intuitive; it's much riskier to contest the small valued briefcases than the large valued ones. I'd have thought that this would balance out in gameplay. (i.e. Everyone would fight over the high valued ones and leave the little ones alone.) This didn't seem to be the case though. Very often your card play was so limited that you'd have very little choice as to where to play so the +1 and  +2 briefcases were just as likely to blow as the +7 and +8.

While I think the game is a good one I should note that I seem quite incapable of doing well at it. Very often, half way into a round, it would become clear that the only column I'd be able to win would be one with an explosive (containing more than seven cards). Extremely frustrating. Similar to 6 Nimmt! in this regard but somehow it feels far worse as Explosiv seems a little heavier. The really bad thing about this is that a bad round can often put you completely out of the game. This isn't really too much of a problem since it plays so quickly but it can be disheartening. The players who did well seemed to enjoy it a lot more than I. (Just to give you an idea of exactly how bad I fared—my combined score for the first three games was less than the next lowest score in any other single game!)

Ultimately, I'm left with a rather unique view of the game. I personally did not enjoy the games I played but this was largely the result of playing so poorly and knowing half way through a round that I was already doomed. However, the game is good and one that I would recommend. I'm certainly going to keep my copy of it and it'll make the odd appearance around here.

(The game is listed as being for 2-4 players and it seemed to work fine with 3 or 4. I did not try it with 2 and I suspect that the game might be "solvable" played this way.)

(This review originally appeared in Games, Games, Games magazine.)

- Greg Aleknevicus

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