Lucha! Lucha! Lucha!
Up until a year ago, my knowledge of Lucha Libre consisted of, “That’s a Pokemon, right?” Then I watched Nacho Libre starring Jack Black, which Wikipedia informs me was based on an absolutely true story. Now I’m even less sure what you crazy kids are up to.
Luchador!, on the other hand, is much more informative. Its front of the box tells me everything I need to know: it’s about Mexican wrestling! Oh. And it’s a dice game! Got it.
What the front of the box can’t tell me is the really important stuff. Sure, Luchador! is a dice game about Mexican wrestling. I’ll have to take its word for it, because I haven’t got the slightest idea what Mexican wrestling is about. Masks, I guess? Aerial drops? Bulging muscles lubricated with coconut oil? On the other hand, Luchador! understands its board game roots to a weirdly intimate level, almost as though it’s been stalking the dice game genre for the past year and knows its rhythms, habits, and where it picks up its coffee every morning.
It understands, for instance, that dice games are inherently tactile affairs. The instant you plop your laughably zany fighters into the ring, only to discover it’s a fully-realized three-dimensional thing complete with elastic bouncy-ropes, well, that’s the instant you’ll grab your wrestler standee and pounce her from the top rope onto her opponent. From that moment on, I imagine it’s nearly impossible not to act out the fighters’ signature moves, the ones that take a couple rolls to pull off and which describe, in detail, the flips, cannonball drops, clothesline strikes, and strangleholds unique to each wrestler. I say I imagine because I haven’t managed it yet.
Better still, all this window dressing is more than just pretty curtains. Luchador! is a gorgeous game, colorful and painted and full of life, but it’s also a functional game. That big ring isn’t just something fun to toy around with, to look at while you roll some dice. It’s also where you roll them. And since play is simultaneous, it’s a place where those dice clatter and jostle, knocking each other out of play and tumbling over the edge because you got too excited.
It’s a silly thing, frivolous even, and it knows it. It embraces that about itself.
There’s a little bit of what you might call strategy. Just a touch. Each round sees you tossing your personal fight dice, landing blows and sometimes blocking and countering your opponent’s hits. Then you use the results to claim better dice, dice that let you hit and dice that let you pin your opponent (though only if they’ve been weakened enough for you to get a grip on them), and occasionally the hallowed Luchador dice, the ones that let you attempt your signature moves or injure yourself trying.
There’s not much to it. Playing tag-team with a partner makes it a little more involved, tagging out periodically to rest. But by and large it’s a simple game, straightforward from start to finish.
It’s possible some people won’t like that. Sadly, those people are joyless vegetables, because Luchador! is not about strategy. It’s not even really about winning.
Rather, it’s about energy. It’s about getting excited, about feeding off your friends’ joy at the silly setting and the sillier characters, about acting out a move as your opponent reads it off — which is to say, using the cardboard standees to act out the unspeakably painful thing being done by another wrestler to your wrestler. Here’s an example from La Cobra Vuelo:
Standing on one leg, the other knee raised, arms forming the shape of a King Cobra’s hood, La Cobra stares deep into his opponent’s eyes. The crowd hushes in awed silence. As his opponent charges, La Cobra kicks out with his standing leg, striking at his opponent’s head, as the crowd shrieks with horrified delight.
Now picture acting that out with cardboard standees as your buddy reads it aloud. La Cobra stands still. Your own wrestler charges, then flings backwards onto the mat when La Cobra’s plastic stand impacts his face, slamming your guy down with a clunk. “Ahhh,” you whisper together, mimicking the shrieking crowd. Then you grin like a pair of children who just heard that their school burned down.
That’s what Luchador! is about. To emphasize playing it skillfully is to play it poorly, a man without vigor or passion, a woman without humor or enthusiasm.
But to play it because it’s damn hilarious, from rounds that result in silly slapfests to attempting a tag-out and instead being dragged back kicking and screaming into the ring… well. To play that way is to live richly.
I would have written that last line in Spanish but I don’t know how. You’ll just have to use your imagination.