Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Friday 11 May 2018

The Game Shelf Previews:- Goblin Grapple

Game: Goblin Grapple

Publisher: Silver Gaming Company

Designer: Travis Hoglund

Year: 2018

Goblin Wrestling?

Well not really. Goblin Grapple actually seeks to simulate the power struggle of groups of goblin clans in the wake or their slain emperor. Each player is building an army to defeat all others and see a new emperor rise to the throne.

In Goblin Grapple you'll try to use clever card play to foil your opponents and bluff your way to success. It is a take on the game of War, with some special card powers and the possibility of mounting a defense over time, but can it bring something new and exciting to the table?


At thew start of a game of Goblin Grapple each player will be given a hand of 5 cards. Each turn a player can use as many actions as they wish to; play a card to their army, use a card to attack an opposing army, or play a spy card. Cards added to your army go into a face down stack, or which your opponents will only be able to attack the top card.

When you choose to attack someone you place one of your cards face up on the table, they then reveal the top card of their army, the card with the highest number will win. Should you draw then both players can play a card from their hand face down to continue the fight, should a player refuse to do this then they surrender and lose the fight automatically. Should you win then both the attacking units and the defending units will be added to your victory pool. When someone has a victory pool numbering 21 or more then the round will end. At the end of a round players will add together the value of all of their surviving army and any card in their victory pool to create their score. Should anyone have reached 100 points then the player with the highest score wins the game, if not then another round begins with players armies and victory pools cleared and new cards dealt out.

The two major exceptions to this gameplay are spies and assassins, spies allow you to look at an opponent's hand and swap one of their cards for one of yours. Assassins are cards with a value of 2, they lose in fights against anything but spies, but due to their sneaky ways they are able to kill kings (the highest value cards) despite being a lower value. Clever use of these cards is key to winning a game of Goblin Grapple.

To see the full gameplay, you can check out the Youtube video from the game's designers.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Goblin Grapple is a simple, quick filler game, but it does have some noticeable flaws, unfortunately these are most apparent in a 2 player game. Firstly there is the matter of luck: the majority of cards are value 3 (which come in two flavours for some reason), so if you are unlucky and your opponent draws a ton of wyvern riders or kings (values 5/8) then you may as well surrender the round. No strategy can compete with sheer luck. Fortunately bad rounds like that are often over quickly, so it often balances out over a number of rounds.

A second flaw is that being the first player offers you no choice on what to do (unless you drew a spy). You either add cards to your army or attack, and when there is no-one to attack then you are stuck on the defensive. This gives the other players all of the control, if your opponents decide to attack rather than play armies then you can be stuck in this loop of no choice!

The 7 card types, spies, defenders (who can sacrifice themselves instead of another card), assassins, knights, mages, wyverns and kings.
The best part of the game is when you get to successfully use assassins and spies. You can't help but feel happy when you successfully bait out a king to attack one of your assassins - there is definitely an element of bluffing in the game, having a good poker face when you have good cards is important. Alternatively, have a very bad poker face, that way everyone will be too scared to attack you! Overall Goblin Grapple is just okay, it's a filler game which doesn't outstay it's welcome, but unfortunately doesn't deliver as much strategy as I might have liked.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Goblin Grapple adds some unique elements to the very simplistic traditional game of war. The fact that you can play multiple cards a turn allows you to take advantage of an opponent you suspect to have a weak army, or to build up your own army very quickly. However, you're only drawing one card per turn so if you run out of card too early you might become an easy target for others and not be able to fight back, for example in tie break situations. The card powers of the weaker cards also help to balance the game and decrease unlucky cards draws, but for me the deck felt like it was full or threes and they became the unfortunate card to draw.

The game has some interesting moments. In particular, towards the end of each round when you can start to bank cards into your army to try and catch up with the player who is out in front. Also, when you get spy cards at the right time to use them to your advantage and make a play that you know certain opponents can't counter, or keep the information in mind for some of your future plays.

Goblin Grapple is an OK filler game, that would fill a 10-15 gap in a board game session, but it was just nothing special to us and I think two players might not be where the game is at its best. The opportunities to bluff and really deduce your opponent's choices are difficult and that means that a lot of the game feels like it is dictated by luck rather than really out-thinking your opponents.

The Good
  • If you can mind read your opponent, or use spy cards well then there are some opportunities for clever combos in the card play.
  • Based on the prototype and the Kickstarter preview video, the art design is really polished.
The Bad
  • Being first player in this game is a disadvantage and in a two-player game you can get stuck in a cycle if you're first player with a hand full of threes.
  • A multi-player game could result in one player being consistently attacked and others being left out.

The Verdict
5/10 Goblin Grapple is a take-that bluffing game. It has moments of good gameplay, but in between there are a lot of frustrating card draws and there's not a lot of information to allow you to make clever decisions. Ultimately we didn't really care about the outcome of the game.

Goblin Grapple was a preview copy provided to the  Board Game Exposure reviewer collective. It is live on Kickstarter from 6th May 2018.

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