Table for Two: BraveRats

BraveRats

Table for Two is a series focusing on two-player board games. Today’s game is BraveRats, a tiny game about battling clans of rats.

The 13th century was a rough time to live, even if you were a rat in Scotland. The battling clans, the Yargs and the Applewoods, struggle for control of the crown—but the princes also happen to be in love with the enemy princesses. Who will win the title of King of Rats?

At a glance: BraveRats is for 2 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 5 minutes to play. It was published by Blue Orange Games and retails for $9.99. I think it could be played by kids younger than 8, but too much younger and they will need some assistance resolving some of the abilities.

Components

There are just 16 cards in the game (8 red and 8 blue), plus a summary card. The whole thing comes in a cute metal tin, though if you ditch the tin the whole game could almost fit in your wallet.

BraveRats components

The artwork, by Christopher Swal, is very fun. I like that, although the two clans have the same types of rats, there are different illustrations for the blue and red clans. The card abilities are pretty easy to understand, but just in case there’s also a table that shows how to figure out who wins a battle in any given match-up.

How to Play

The goal of the game is to win four rounds of battle.

Each player takes the eight cards of their color. Each player secretly chooses a card, places it face down, and then both players reveal simultaneously. The higher number wins the round—except that each rat has a special ability that can come into play.

Here are the various rats and their powers:

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  • 7 – Prince: You win the round.
  • 6 – General: The next card you play gets +2 strength.
  • 5 – Wizard: Nullify your opponent’s special ability.
  • 4 – Ambassador: If you win, it counts as 2 rounds.
  • 3 – Assassin: The lower strength wins instead.
  • 2 – Spy: Next round, you choose a card after your opponent reveals theirs.
  • 1 – Princess: If your opponent plays the Prince you win the whole game.
  • 0 – Musician: This round is on hold.

There are a couple of clarifications that explain some of the interactions—for instance, the Prince’s ability (“win the round”) trumps the Assassin’s ability (“lower strength wins”). When a Musician is played, it means the winner of the next round gets both victories.

The game lasts until one player wins four rounds, or both players are out of cards—in which case it’s a draw. But since it’s such a short game, if it’s a draw you can just play again.

The Verdict

I mentioned BraveRats in my post earlier this year about the rise of microgames. It’s designed by Seiji Kanai, a Japanese game designer who is becoming known for tiny games. He’s also the designer of Love Letter, another fantastic game that consists of only 16 cards, and it’s pretty cool how he manages to cram fun gameplay into such a tiny package. BraveRats is a rethemed version of a game originally called R, but it plays pretty much the same way.

It’s a very short game, and the strategy is really centered on predicting what your opponent will play. For the first round, that can be a total guess, but the more rounds you last, the more information you have—both about what cards you each have left, but also whether something played previously (like the General) will have an effect on the choices both players make next. Because of that, it can be a little bit like Rock Paper Scissors, but with more choices and planning.

I like BraveRats a lot. The short length means that it’s perfect for those in-between moments when you’re waiting for another longer game to finish before starting something else. It’s cute, and even though it’s simple enough for my kids to play, it’s also good for a quick battle of wits against my adult gamer friends. Don’t be fooled by the packaging or by the fact that it’s from Blue Orange Games, which typically sells games for kids. Kanai’s games are casual, but tend to be a hit even with hardcore gamers.

Disclosure: Blue Orange Games provided a review copy of BraveRats.

Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, who loves to read, is always up for a board game, and has a bit of a Kickstarter habit.