Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Donald X. Vaccarino

Indie Boards and Cards

No. of Players:
2 - 6



Gamebox author Doug Adams writes about the game:

Gauntlet of Fools is the latest game from Donald X. Vaccarino, the designer of Dominion. The theme of this game is a party of heroic fantasy adventurers have gathered at the tavern. Tomorrow, the party is going to enter the "Gauntlet", questing for treasure. The heroes boast about how well they will do, then enter the Gauntlet the next morning.

Gauntlet of Fools was a game I backed on Kickstarter. I decided to back this game as I enjoyed Donald X. Vaccarino's other post-Dominion releases, including Nefarious, Infiltration and Kingdom Builder. The project ran very smoothly and I received my game a few weeks ago. I have played the game ten times, and despite a slow start, I've grown to enjoy it.

The game is packaged in a small yellow box, with the illustration of a Barbarian on the cover. The art on the box cover, and on the dozens of cards inside, is best described as pulp heroic fantasy. It is well done, and fits the theme of the game nicely.


The cards are divided into three decks. There are 20 "class" cards, each representing a typical heroic fantasy character, such as the Warrior, Monk, Beastmaster, and so on. There are also 20 "weapon" cards - including the spiked shield, axe, throwing stars, amongst others. The final deck is the Gauntlet itself, a deck of encounters the heroes will face. Most of the encounter deck are creatures, but there are some special cards like locations, or modifier cards that enhance the next creature drawn.

The game also comes with about 200 tokens, to track wounds, gold, and changes to a hero's status during the game.

Gauntlet of Fools is an unusual game that is played in two distinct halves. The first half is called the Boasting Phase, in which players select a hero to take into the Gauntlet. The second half of the game is resolving the action in the Gauntlet, and attempting to earn gold.


In the Boasting Phase, a hero card is dealt up on to the table for each player in the game. Each hero is then dealt a weapon card, that will be paired with that hero when they enter the Gauntlet. This pairing is fixed for the entire game. For example, you may get the Beserker with the Spear, or the Warlord with the Flaming Sword. Each hero class, and weapon, comes with their own characteristics and abilities, and the random pairing of class and weapon ensures that it is very unlikely any two games will be the same.

Once the heroes and their weapons have been decided for the game, the players take turns drafting one of the pairs as their own. This will be the hero/weapon pairing they will take into the Gauntlet. This selection process proceeds around the table until everyone has a pairing. The interesting mechanic here is that some pairings are obviously much more powerful than others, so players may take a pairing that another player selected, if they add at least one Boast to the pair.

Boasts are rather amusing. There are six different types, and they represent the heroes showing off. "I can enter the Gauntlet with one hand tied behind my back", or "I can enter the Gauntlet hopping on one leg", and so on. Adding a Boast to a pairing penalises that pairing for the rest of the game, and is the game's mechanism in ensuring the pairs balance themselves out.


Once each player has selected a hero/weapon pair, probably with one or more Boast tokens, they take them into the Gauntlet. This is where they fight the creatures, and attempt to recover gold. The heroes and weapons that the players have chosen are likely to have limited use abilities. Tokens are used to track how many times these abilities have been used.

Going through the Gauntlet simply involves revealing the top card on the Encounter deck and resolving it. Most of the time this will be a monster. The heroes attack the monster by rolling the number of dice on their weapon card, attempting to roll a total equal or greater than the monster's defense value. If the heroes manage this, they receive the reward listed on the monster card - usually gold. If they fail to beat the monster's defense, they receive nothing.


The monster always gets to fight back. This is done by simply comparing the monster's attack strength with the hero's defense. If the monster equals or exceeds it, they have hit the hero, who must take the damage indicated on the monster's card. If the monster does not hit the hero, the hero is said to have dodged the monster.

Some monsters are rather dangerous, and the heroes will quickly begin taking wounds. When a hero takes four wounds, they have perished and are out of the game. When all heroes have perished... yes, they all will perish ... the game is over. The hero that recovered the most gold wins the game.

It is in the Gauntlet where the Boasts taken hurt the players. Every Boast token inflicts a penalty on the character. For example, the "Hopping on one leg" boast is a -2 on the hero's defense, while entering the Gauntlet "without breakfast" means the hero starts the Gauntlet with one wound. Other Boasts negate die rolls of 1 or 2, or reduce treasure taken, and so on. It's a clever balancing mechanism.

Gauntlet of Fools is an interesting game, and rather difficult to review. The appearance of the game is a light, Munchkin-like game of random card play. The game can also make a poor first impression, as players do not have any idea of the relative strength of the character classes and weapons. This makes the Boasting Phase of early games rather random, as the players do not understand how to choose the best Boasts for the pairings. In short, this is a game that needs several plays to fully understand the class/weapon pairings, to see how well they fare in the Gauntlet, and thus how to use the Boasts correctly to weaken the strong combinations.

I have played Gauntlet of Fools ten times, and I estimate it was only on my fifth or sixth game that I fully came to appreciate the design. What Donald X. Vaccarino has done here is very clever. There are 400 possible pairings and literally billions of combinations of pairings that could enter the Gauntlet. Given the Gauntlet is shuffled and thus the monsters appear randomly each game, it's safe to say no game will ever play the same way twice. If players can nurse a game group through to five or six plays, this game will come alive, as the players understand how to use the Boasts effectively.

A very good game, if players take the time to play it several times.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany