Friday 22 June 2012

Review - Small Soldiers: Big Battle Game

Small Soldiers: Big Battle Game

Small Soldiers: Big Battle Game
Published by Milton Bradley
Designed for MB by top secret government officials as part of a nefarious conspiracy
For 2 or 4 players, aged 5 to adult

Small Soldiers: Big Battle Game box

Recently, I have been reviewing games based on movies. I never realised how many games I had based on movies. Makes me wonder why, when they are all so utterly awful...

Tonight's offering, Small Soldiers: Big Battle Game, does little to disprove the theory that all games bearing the name of a movie (or book) are likely to be shameless cash-ins, knocked out quickly by nameless designers paying their dues while they try to get their real game to market.

This game is out of production, but it turns up on ebay all the time; and that's where I got my copy. I paid more to get it posted to me than I actually paid for the game (a cool 99p). It is based on the children's film, and is, of course, a children's game. That being the case, you would probably be within your rights to mock me and say, "It serves you right." After all, how many men in their 30s buy a board game for children and expect it to be good?

The truth is, I never expected this to be a good game; but it had 12 cool little miniatures based on the characters from the film, and I am a real sucker for toys. As I would eventually find out, using the term "miniatures" is something of a misnomer for these things: They are massive. Much bigger than any playing pieces I have seen in other games.

Small Soldiers: Big Battle Game - Gorgonites
The good guys.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Before I talk about the game, I want to spend a few moments talking about the box. I wouldn't normally talk about a box in a review, but this box is one of my favourites because it features three things that made me smile.

First of all, it has the name of the game and the contents spelled out in three languages. That's the kind of cost-cutting and tree-saving techniques I like to see employed in games. Hell, why did they stop at only three?

The second thing I enjoyed was the contents list, which reads (and I quote): "Contents: 1 game (see instructions)."

The third thing, and the thing that really made me laugh, was the tag line that says, "Exclusive! All 12 collectible figures available only here." Honestly? Where else would they be? And how collectable can they be if you get the full set at once?

Once I'd stopped laughing and had composed myself enough to open the box, I was presented with said collectable figures. They are huge. Even as someone who collects games that have nice miniatures, I was embarrassed by these pieces. Setting up the game was like playing with action figures. The board is also three-dimensional and needs to be put together. Seriously... I had to play Sylvanian Families with my daughter afterwards just to feel more grown up.

Small Soldiers: Big Battle Game - Commando Elite
The bad guys.

However, the miniatures are nicely sculpted, and they look like the characters from the Small Soldiers film. I am sure they delighted children when the game first came out, and I suspect many of the pieces ended up being used in the sand pit for playing war games rather than being used for the frankly awful game they shipped with.

The aim of the game is to capture the enemy's flag or send all of the enemy fighters to the "toy store" (i.e. kill them). This is achieved using everybody's favourite randomiser: The spinner. In this case, a spinner that is actually integrated into the board. Ohhhh.

Small Soldiers: Big Battle Game - the spinner
Spin when you're winning.

On your turn, you spin the spinner, and then you do what it says. If you spin a number, you can move one of your figures the full amount. If you spin the "draw a card" result, you draw a card. If you spin the "recruit" result, you can bring one of your dead fighters back to life.

The cards you can draw are not actually cards at all, they are little hexagonal tokens that get stacked up next to the spinner. The tokens provide the second level of randomness, for those people who didn't find the spinner random enough to begin with.

Small Soldiers: Big Battle Game cards
Cards? Tokens? Whatever...

The tokens come in a variety of exciting flavours, but most confer a bonus to the fighter they are allocated to. Weapon +1, Weapon +2, and Armour +1 all give a bonus when rolling a dice to fight (and yes, Weapon +1 and Armour +1 are exactly the same thing with different names), while Move +1 and Move +2 give you a movement bonus. All such tokens are discarded after the fighter is involved in a battle, or is removed from the board for any reason.

There are two other kinds of token which are used and then discarded immediately: The first is "GloboTech Recall" which hilarious allows you to pick an enemy fighter to kill instantly, because random death is fun. The other token reads "launch catapult" and allows you to do something slightly less boring.

Small Soldiers: Big Battle Game - catapult
The catapult - as useless as it looks.

Oh yes, didn't I mention? This game features a dexterity element. Every time you draw a special token, you take the plastic catapult, bend it back, and then fling the plastic wrecking ball across the table. If you knock any fighters down, they are removed from the game. This actually sounds a lot more fun than it is, mainly because, in an adherence to the theme that is above and beyond the call of duty, all the characters on the "good" side have really wide bases that hardly ever fall over (one has a massive triangular base, for goodness sake!), while all the characters on the "evil" side have tiny bases, and fall over if you breathe too heavily. This makes it almost impossible for the "evil" player to rely on the catapult to kill anything.

Luckily, there is another way to kill your opponent. You can battle an enemy fighter by standing next to him and rolling a dice. Your opponent gets to roll too, and the person who rolls lowest is removed from the game (if both players roll a skull, then both fighters are removed from play). Yeah, that's right. It's a good old fashioned dice off; for those people who didn't think the spinner and the cards were random enough.

Of course, if you have randomly spun the chance to randomly draw a card that might randomly be a power up you might have a marginally better chance of randomly rolling a better result than your opponent. The only thing that won't be random is your level of interest in the game by that point, which will have bottomed out shortly after putting the three-dimensional board together for the first time.

Small Soldiers: Big Battle Game - board
The board, with 3D "toy shop."

You win the game by killing everyone, or placing one of your fighters on the same space as your opponent's flag.

The good news is, the designer realised these rules might be a little lightweight for some gamers, so some variant rules were thrown into the back of the rulebook to spice things up. These rules include (a) starting the game with a hand of five cards, of which you can play a single card before taking your turn as normal, and (b) allowing you to move all of your fighters when you spin a movement result rather than just a single fighter. These variant rules don't really add any strategy, and don't really reduce the level of luck involved, but they do make the game mercifully brief.

Small Soldiers: Big Battle Game - rules
The rules - crap, regardless of which language you read them in.

You may have noticed that this sounds like a game for only two players; well, fear not. If you have four willing victims, everyone can play in an exciting team variant in which each player will control three fighters. This variant adds extra enjoyment in the form of player elimination: If your three fighters are killed, you have to sit out until the game ends, or some mean bastard revives one of your dead fighters.

And that's your lot.

Yes, it's a children's game, and perhaps I shouldn't expect too much from a children's game; but, damn it, I've played other children's games that have been really good. I play Crossbows and Catapults all the time and I have a blast.

No, I don't think the fact this is a children's game excuses the sloppy design. I guess this is a set of small soldiers destined for my daughter's sand pit after all. A bunch of monsters and soldiers should give those Sylvanians something to worry about...


  1. I think your review is quite lame. My son and I played this game constantly while he was growing up, (he's 20 now), and I still have the game. It's great, a lot of fun and well designed. You sound more like your looking for, (or making up things), to bash.

    1. You sound a little bit like you've taken offence because I insulted something that you have an emotional connection with due to your fond memories of playing with your son. I assure you, my opinion in no way diminishes those memories, or implies you and your son were "wrong" to enjoy the time you spent together.

      Over the years I have played some truly terrible games with my daughter, yet I have still loved and enjoyed them, because they gave me that time with her. You can see my reviews of games such as Pooh Goes Home to Bed and Don't Worry! on this site for two examples of games that I don't actually like, but which have given me countless hours of joy.

      I am glad to hear you enjoyed this game so much, and I appreciate you taking the time to read my review (even if you thought it was lame).


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