I thought I'd take a break from reviewing new stuff this week and take a dive into my long-promised review of the Avalon Hill classic, Wrasslin'. Someday I plan on working up my own Ameritrash Essentials list, and I expect this one to securely find a place there. It's a game "simulating" the best of the 80s era of wrestling--when Hulk Hogan and his prayers and vitamins ruled the world, when mustache-twirilng "heels" would get their comeuppance at "Wrasslemania", and when wrestlings storylines were the simple "They're fighting because they HATE each other." Man, I miss those days.
The gameplay of Wrasslin' is deceptively simple. Each player chooses one of several different characters included with the game. All have varied individual stats, and all are clearly knock-offs of prominent 80s wrestlers--ie. Hulk Hogan as The Champ, Andre the Giant as Babyface Harpo, and so on.
The communal deck may need to be tweaked based on the type of match being played. In on-tag matches, for example, one would remove all tag-related cards from the deck. The cards range from basic attacks such as Punches and Kicks, to heavier bone-crushing moves like Body Slams, to aerial maneuvers from the top rope, everything you'd basically expect to see in an 80s wrestling match. Other cards simulate the nefarious interference from managers, to going for pinfalls, to tossing your opponent over the top rope to the outside floor.
Each player places a die on their topmost spot on their health marker track, each player draws their opening hand of seven cards, and randomly decide who goes first.
Players may choose to either play one of their cards from hand, or discard a card. To play a card, you merely check the required statistics to play it. Some, like punches, only require you to have 1 Strength. Others, like high-flying moves, may require not only strength but some degree of Skill/Agility. If you don't have the required stats, you can't play it. Also, if a card is "blue", such as chokes and foreign objects, then it's only for the bad guys to use (whose names are also underlined and highlighted in blue on their cards)
If you choose to play a card, you put it on the table. The opponent then has a choice, either take the move, or play a Block or Reversal from hand. Blocks and Reversals also have a requirement to be played, but if you have any Strength at all, you'll be able to do either. Blocks cancel the move being played; Reversals actually inflict the damage on your opponent. Think dodging out of the way of a charging opponent who goes flying into the turnbuckle and you'll get the idea.
If your opponent can't block or dodge, then they place the card near their character and move the die down a number of spots equal to the damage printed on the card. This damage value generally ranges from 1 (punches, kicks, basic moves) to 3 (particularly devastating maneuvers.) On your character card you'll note that as you take damage, your stats begin decreasing in order, with Strength being the first to go. So basically, as you get worn down and take damage in the match, your options begin decreasing, and eventually you can find yourself "immobile"--unable to do anything or respond to attacks until you find some Recovery cards to get rid of some of the damage taken.
Recovery cards can bit a bit confusing for new players, but basically you can play one to remove a number of damage cards up to the value of the Recovery card, but not more than your wrestler's current recovery value. It's easy to get confused and think you're only healing points of damage, but you're actually removing damage cards, so playing Recovery and removing two Damage 2 cards will heal you up 4 spaces on your health track, not 2.
Basically, each player takes turns either crafting their hand or beating on their opponent, until they've weakened them enough to go for the Pin. By playing a Pin card that isn't Blocked, this begins the count. The die you're using for your character card can be turned to track the count. Your opponent then gets three chances to get out of the Pin. Note though that it does require Strength to play a card to get you out of the pin for the most part, so if you're worn down you'll need help from the stat-boosting Power Surge as well. If you can't reverse in time, it's the 3-count--and game over.
There's also all sorts of other things going on that I barely touched on. Other cards include tossing your opponent out of the ring, playing combination attacks, tagging in your partner (in the appropriate formats), charging the ring to help out your partner who's in a jam, locking on continuing submission holds like Bear Hugs, doing Tests of Strength, and even executing "Specialty" moves unique to each wrestler. There are Specialty cards in the deck, and you can play those by referencing your card and seeing if you meet the requirements. These are the flashy finishing and signature moves for a wrestler, and landing them is usually bad news for your opponent.
I ain't gonna lie. The components for this game aren't terrific, though they aren't bad considering when the game was produced. You get a large deck of cards, an impressive array of 24 different character cards, 2 six-sided dice, 2 sets of rules that break down the game into waaaaaaay more detail than you'd expect (but hey, this is Avalon Hill we're talking about here), all in a much too large bookshelf-sized box. I understand the rationale in keeping the outside of the box the same to fit in with the other titles, but the components of the game do not justify that sized box. It's a mixed blessing though, as I just took the time to sleeve all the cards and toss in lots of extra dice for multi-player battles, so the extra room did come in handy.
I sleeved the cards because they are a bit on the flimsy side. They're not the worst quality cards ever or anything, but don't expect super-high quality linen-finished cards. The graphics on the cards are all black-and-white and done in the same cartoony style as the character cards, adding to the game's charm. The character cards are a nice, conveninent size, large enough to fit the picture of the wrestler, all their vital stats, their health bar, and their signature moves.
There are those who would knock the components for being sparse or cheap, and I'll agree with the fact that the cards could be better, but you are getting 24 characters and a rather large deck of 192 cards. True, you don't use all the cards in every matchup, but there are a LOT of them.
This is one of those cases that while I have knocked games for having poor components in the past, all of that can be forgiven if the gameplay is good. And this is one of those cases.
I've played a lot of wrestling games over the years, and they always miss the mark somehow. Take WCW Nitro TCG for instance; it was possible to win the game by just dinking around, buidling up a card combo, and then busting out a single move from nowhere. WWF Raw Deal started out very promising but then became bogged down in too many reversals and eventual emphasis on action cards, to the point where games no longer resembled ANYTHING like a "real" wrestling match. There was a WWF RPG in the late 80s that was nearly unplayable as "name" wrestlers had like a 95% chance of succeeding at moves, making trying to play it a boring, one-sided affair.
It leaves me wondering, then, how this great game has never truly had its core concepts, gameplay elements, and sheer flexibility lifted wholesale into a more "modern" take. Seriously, the game is a virtual toolkit in putting together whatever kinds of matches you want. There are included rules for tag team, battle royal, and many others, and from fan variants on the web you'll find rules for Tornado Tag, Steel Cage, Royal Rumble, and more. And it's not difficult to engineer your own rules for any matches people haven't touched yet, such as Elmination Chamber, Ladder Matches...the sky's the limit.
You can play in huge brawls with every man for himself, or in teams. In fact, teams do help with the one legitimate criticism of the game--the presence of "dead hands." Dead hands happen when you don't draw anything your character can play or use right then. It's bound to happen, as smaller wrestlers won't be able to play the big slams on their larger foes, and the big guys won't be hopping off the top rope anytime soon. In one on one, dead hands can be extremely frustrating as your opponent pounds on you while you try to dig for cards to play, all the while your stats decreasing along with your options. Dead hands can cause some rather one-sided ass-whippings, but as the game plays quickly, just scoop 'em up and deal 'em out again if this happens. With a partner, you can tag them in and nuture your wounds--and craft a better hand--from the outside as you take a breather.
There are some who would howl about the radical imbalance between characters. To me, this is a strength, not a weakness, and is heavily thematic. Hulk Hogan, simply put, rarely looked weak and if a wrestler was ever in the ring with him that wasn't in his "league", he'd toss them around like a rag doll and never let them land a single move. For multiple reasons--whether it was drawing power, charisma, technical skill, the ability to move merchandise, or just good ol' backstage politics--wrestlers were not 'equal', nor were they meant to be. You were going to get your 'squash' matches on free TV, and expect to see some of them here if you pick two wrestlers that are not well-matched together. It's a good handicap for players of more experience, and it is fulfilling to take the underdog and sneak in a win over the more powerful superstar.
There are lots of things in this game that just bring the theme, the flavor, right to the surface. From taking a pounding, digging for that Tag card, reaching for the ropes....to your partner rushing in to help you, only to be stopped by the referee (yes, this can happen)....to finding a surge of strength and reversing that power move that would surely have finished you...all the different cards, characters, and match types are going to let you have the time of your life, beating your foe stupid and pulling off those crazy "this only works if your opponent is cooperating with you" suplexes and slams.
* Lots of wrestlers to play
* Match types and ways to play are nearly endless
* Interactive gameplay lets you punch your co-worker in the face without getting fired
* Tons of cards
* Goofy cartoon artwork perfectly fits the theme
* Really captures almost every aspect of "real" wrestling
* Cards could be of better quality
* Getting stuck with a dead hand of cards you can't play
* Trying to eliminate Baby Face Harpo over the top rope from a Battle Royal. Seriously, there are only two chacters who can lift him, and they need to be at full health and have a Power Surge to boot. Your only option is to beat him into a stupor. Be warned.
The Verdict: 4.5 (out of 5.0)