Ten Minutes to Kablooie
Only a few weeks ago, I offered a review of five-minute game Meteor, arguing that it was one of the easiest games to put on the table for its brevity, simplicity, and real-time goodness.
Well, that review was apparently a thrown gauntlet, because I’ve been challenged to take a look at FUSE, another real-time game — ten minutes long this time — which I will never again type in all caps.
Like Meteor’s incoming swarm of, ahem, meteors, Fuse is all about, ahem, defusing the dozen-or-so bombs that have somehow been deposited onto your ship. Unlike Meteor’s cartoony struggle to save the planet, I guarantee you will never once feel like a pack of ineffectual scientists or harried crewmen. At best, you’ll feel like you’re rolling colorful dice and placing them onto cards to fulfill challenges.
Not that Fuse’s lack of an interesting setting is in any way a big deal. Not when the gameplay itself is this good.
Here’s the idea. Everyone starts with a pair of bombs in front of them. As all great bomb disposal experts can attest, having a second bomb to work on while you puzzle over the first is possibly the most important rule of bomb defusal. Gets the blood pumping and the neurons firing. Unfortunately, each player’s two bombs are just the start of your worries, because in the middle of the table are even more bombs, both in row and pile form. Great mountains of bombs, jumbles of bombs, bombs out the ears. And it’s your job to clear them out until there’s nothing left to blow you to smithereens.
Okay, so that’s the mission. Completing it comes down to taking dice from a bag, one per player, and tossing them into the middle of the table. Everyone claims a die, hopefully slots it somewhere onto their bomb card, and there you go. If you manage to fill up your card, you dispose of it and claim a new one. Fail to use a die and back into the bag it goes, occasionally along with some of your teammates’ dice.
There are any number of things that make this deliciously tricky. For one thing, you’re cooperating as briskly as possible to claim the right die for yourself while leaving usable dice for your friends, which becomes nigh impossible once everyone is diving for that yellow four they’ve been waiting for. Learning to communicate your needs becomes a matter of efficiency, a sort of verbal shorthand composed of colors and numbers and grunts of dissatisfaction. Balancing the difficulty of your bombs is also paramount, as you try to strike an equilibrium between bombs that can store almost any variety of dice and those that require trickier combinations, like simple arithmetic equations or pyramids.
Where Fuse really shines, however, is by amping up the difficulty with some minor tactility. Making towers of dice is fun, but if someone happens to elbow your hexahedron skyscraper, it’s back into the bag with all your hard work. Passing the bag of dice transforms players into avatars of the virtue of efficiency, as everyone rushes to spout the correct number of dice onto the table without wasting even a fraction of a second. It goes without saying that rolling too many dice means they all get put back into the bag. Be better next time.
When it comes to our thrown gauntlet, does it beat Meteor? Well, that’s a toughie, in part because my own feelings are split. I love Meteor’s whimsical approach to human extinction. Failure means you simply shuffle the cards and give it another shot; victory means you add in a boss meteor with superpowers. Fuse, on the other hand, has a way of getting under the skin. It feels more urgent, more serious. When panic is involved, don’t let anybody tell you that there isn’t much difference between five minutes and ten. That’s the span of hundreds of heartbeats, every single one present and accounted for when your spouse keeps fumbling one critical roll after another.
In either case, Fuse is a fantastic filler game, stressful in all the right ways. It might not evoke an actual attempt at shipboard sabotage, but hey, it isn’t really trying all that hard to do anything more than provide a heart-racing ten minutes. And for that, it’s excellent.