Let’s face it, most competitive games come down to combat in one form or another. Whether it’s troops moving into your territory, aliens vying for prime planets, or animals battling over the best den in the meadow, there’s something fundamentally satisfying about beating your opponent in a brawl! Losing? Not so much, but you can’t win if you aren’t in the fray, right? The dice chucking game Kapow! from Wise Wizard Games boils down not only all competitive games to their essence but also pulls out one of the most satisfying aspects of comic books too: The fights!
Designed by Doug Hettrick, Kapow! is fundamentally a player vs. player battle to the death where you roll an increasingly large pool of special dice and assign them to attack, defense, or pool-building tasks, as your opponent does exactly the same. As with all dice chuckers, be warned that there’s a lot of randomness to this game; a few bad rolls and you’re kaput, with your opponent inevitably crowing about their superior strategy (which is really just them being luckier than you!)
The game also supports two vs. two teams and a solo mode where you play both your own hand and an automaton built upon some very simple rules. To review this game, I opted to try the solo rules, though my friend and I played a few one v. one games in advance. The base game includes a Hero and Villain player board, along with specialized character boards that give you special powers to mix up the game, and there are additional expansions that include even more character boards for hardcore players. Basic solo play is Hero vs Villain, but for more advanced solo games you can add a character board to your own player, with the automaton playing just the character board. It makes ’em darn tough to defeat!
KAPOW! SETUP AND COMPONENTS
The artwork and design of the game make it easy to get started, and if you remember those classic DC and Marvel comics from a few decades ago, you’ll love the design. Here’s my Hero board and character board, all set up for solo play:
The Hero board is the tri-fold on the left. Notice it has three columns of possible actions: Attack, Defend, and Immediate/Power Up/After Power Up. The character board, “Victor Kane”, is far simpler with just a few additional capabilities and, most importantly, a starting setup with 20 health, and one each of the yellow, purple, green, and blue trait dice, along with two of the bigger action dice, along with two “faces” that have been added.
One really cool, and simultaneously somewhat frustrating, aspect of the game is that you build the action dice and can even tweak what faces are on the die as you get further into the game. The frustration? Each and every action die in my set had one side that didn’t retain its inserted face upon rolling; the faces fell out. The company says that’s just the way it is, but it can definitely be frustrating when the going gets tense! Here’s a closeup of the trait dice and an action die:
Each color has a corresponding most likely icon that will appear, with red featuring the fist (“might”) icon, yellow with the bicep (“energy”) icon, green with the flying (“agility”) icon, purple with the disc (“toughness”) icon and blue (not shown) with the atomic (“x-factor”) icon. Notice that the black action die has two faces inserted, yellow (energy) and white (lightning = wild), while the third face is blank.
The automaton’s setup is fast and easy since it’s just a character board: Start with the health marked on the Health Tracker and the mix of dice shown on the front of the card, then flip it over for the solo face. I have the opponent on my left and you can see the spare dice and dice faces along the top, along with the First Player token:
I’ve already rolled for both players and placed dice in the above.
GETTING INTO THE GAMEPLAY
Let’s have a closer look at my Kapow! player board since I’ve already placed some dice thereon for my first turn:
Your goal is always to match the best possible dice combinations shown, so this time I have matched might & energy for a base attack of 4 and am using a single agility as an “any die” for a base defense of 1. Notice if I had a toughness die in addition, I could instead have a base defense of 3 and gain a non-wild dice face for my action dice later in my turn instead.
Once you’ve rolled and placed all your dice, it’s time to roll and place for the automaton. This is done by trying to match pairs and combos from the very top of their board to the very bottom. Generally speaking, the top powers are far stronger but sometimes a relatively random set of dice dropped at the bottom can add up to trouble too. For example:
The three colored dice on the board are going to add up to 1 attack + 1 non-wild action die face + 1 new trait die + 1 defense + 1 non-wild action die face. The two blank action dice above it mean that the player (us) will lose health commensurate to any trait dice and action dice faces accumulated. This can be quite devastating if you’ve just picked up a half-dozen new faces! The purple die and red & yellow dice faces on the left are what Tough Nut, the automaton’s character, has earned this turn, in addition to attacking us for 1 and defending our own attack for 1.
Each round the First Player gets to attack first, which can be critical when you’re near the end of the game: Once the other player goes to zero, the game’s over, regardless of how amazing their turn would have been! The token bounces back and forth based on who has the stronger defense each round and that’s the game: roll dice, place dice, attack, defend, take actions and suffer the adverse consequences of those actions, if any, until someone goes to zero.
FURTHER ALONG IN THE GAME
A few turns later Tough Nut is proving well-named and I just don’t seem to be having much luck with my rolls. Here’s where it stands after all dice have been placed for the fourth round of play:
This one’s going to hurt because Tough Nut has a 4 attack + 3 attack + 2 attack and a 4 defense + 3 defense + 1 defense, along with him gaining two new non-wild faces. My dice placement (which is done prior to the automaton placing dice, of course) has an attack of 6 2 and a defense of 1 + 2, along with a non-wild face. The result: I hit him for 0 damage (sigh) and he retaliates for 6 damage!
There’s no Thanos snap, but it doesn’t take much longer for Tough Nut to take out Victor Kane. Going into the last round, he had 17 health while I had 5, and here’s how the dice laid out:
The lightning bolt is wild, so the three matching dice on his board are counted as a might attack: 10 attack points! The two green dice give an additional 3 attack and 3 defense, and the lone yellow strength die adds another point to the attack: He’s going to be attacking me with 10+3+1 = 14 points, and me with a meager and insufficient defense of 1 + 1. Net loss: -12 points. I died. 😥
THOUGHTS ON KAPOW!
Like all games of this type, so much is dependent on dice rolls. If instead of three wild trait dice, Tough Nut would have rolled three unmatching faces, I might have survived that last round and been able to mount a more effective attack of my own. I like a certain amount of randomness, but this game takes it to an extreme, particularly with the action dice that you can rebuild and reconfigure as the game progresses. You can also play a far more balanced solo game by playing either hero board versus villain board or adding a character for yourself but not the automaton. After being trounced, I did play a quick hero v. villain game and won handily.
Where Kapow! shines, however, is in human v. human. When my buddy and I played through a few games, we really had a great time, and even found ourselves narrating in the style of cheesy 80’s video games. “Kane attacks with a zap and a wallop! Tough Nut defends but takes four damage!” Honestly, narrating your turns adds at least 10% to the fun level of the game, as does some trash talk, particularly when you’re trying to mislead your opponent on your strategy. When you’re playing against another human, there are shields that allow each of you to work out your move in privacy too:
The other player must be able to see your health board and initial roll, but deployment is up to you and when you’re both ready, you lift your shields simultaneously, shout “Kapow!”, and the battle resumes!
Ultimately, I’m not sure that solo is the way to play Kapow! unless you just want to experiment and try to brush up on the strengths and weaknesses of each of the characters. Grab a friend, however, and it’s a really fun two player game. Except for those darn dice faces falling out. Perhaps the next edition will use a different mechanism like magnets for these customizable dice, but even with this hiccup, Kapow! is a fun and entertaining two player game with a functional “bonus” solo mode.
Kapow! (Volume 1) from Wise Wizard Games. Designed by Doug Hettrick. $49.99 $40.00 at WiseWizardGames.com
Disclosure: Wise Wizard Games sent me a copy of Kapow! for the purposes of this review. Thanks!