If He Dies, He Dies
Okay. Deep breath. Whew. Gotta shake out these trauma wiggles.
The thing about Russian Roulette is that the stakes are just too high. I mean, I won, and still I’ve been staying up nights just thinking about what could have happened. One in six doesn’t seem so bad at first. That’s only about a sixteen percent chance. But after you pull the trigger the first time, you just keep on pulling. That second pull, your odds are more like twenty percent. Then twenty-five. My buddy Chris, we’ve been friends since high school, and he… well, I won.
Russian Roulette, Final Score: ★☆☆☆☆☆
World Championship Russian Roulette, on the other hand? Even if it sucked, I’d give it an extra star just for letting us survive the hour.
Designed by Anthony Birch, World Championship Russian Roulette does pretty much what you’d expect — but then it keeps going, doing more and more, until you’re locked in a surreal struggle where very occasionally you’re hoping that the barrel of a revolver will belch its jacketed lead payload into your cranium. Yeah, someone on your team is going to bite that bullet, but you need that extra action card, man.
The basic concept should be familiar to anyone who’s played Russian Roulette and lived to vow to never play again. Here, you’re given a deck of clicks and one bang. The cards are shuffled together, you make a wager on how many times you’re willing to pull the trigger this round, and there you go. Points are doled out for surviving and for each pull. Last team standing or first team to reach a certain number of points takes home the gold.
As I said, those are the basics. There are also a handful of twists that prevent the game from being the outright luckfest of its source material.
First of all, you’re free to cheat. Each round begins with the pocket phase, where you’ll slip a single card under your player mat. Much of the time, you’ll follow the rules and deposit a harmless click. Every so often, though, you might feel like dropping your gun’s bullet into your pocket instead.
The catch is that once everyone has declared how many times they’ll pull the trigger this round, it’s time to challenge anyone you suspect of cheating, forcing them to empty their pockets and potentially get their brains dashed against the wall by the championship judge. There are real stakes to this, and not just because cheating might cost you a teammate. Catching a cheater means you’ll pick up a wad of action cards — and trust me, you want action cards — while fingering an innocent means you’ll be forced to add an extra bullet to your revolver. All per regulation rules of the most recent Russian Roulette Enthusiast’s Handbook, naturally.
Just this one twist means that not only are you playing literal mind games by pointing a loaded revolver at a place that no firearms instructor would approve of, you’re also playing figurative ones. Revealing a wager of four or five trigger pulls is a great way to convince everyone that your weapon is dry, which in turn might worsen someone’s day when they falsely accuse you. Conversely, sneaking in two or three safe pulls might not sound all that sexy, but might be just enough to get you to the finish line. Who’s going to bother leveling an accusation at somebody who’s only going to pull the trigger once?
Further convoluting the purity of a major superpower’s favorite pastime are the action cards. And boy, do these change everything. A well-timed action card might let you aim at another player while the judge is looking the other way, or squirrel a bullet into someone else’s gun, or bribe the judge to ignore whatever he discovered when he turned out your pockets, or peek at your revolver’s cylinder before making your wager. There’s even a card that briefly transforms World Championship Russian Roulette into a round of Ca$h ‘n Guns, a freewheeling shootout where nobody has any idea what the outcome will be.
Sure, cards like these are just one more dose of zaniness in a game where you never have all that much control. It’s entirely possible to play everything right — the right bluffs, the right wagers, the right timing of your action cards — and still wind up shooting yourself in the head round after round.
But in a game this fast and this silly, that doesn’t make for much of a downside. While überspieler nerds who can intuit a winning strategy by passing within a nautical mile of a new board game won’t find much to appreciate here, that’s also the sterling upside — that it’s goofy, gets people laughing, and lets everyone take a breather in between more serious fare.
In short, when it comes to World Championship Russian Roulette, matters of life or death are about as weighty as a breeze.