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Goblin Grapple Preview

Quick Look: Goblin Grapple

Designer: Travis Hoglund
Artist: Lloyd Hoshide
Publisher: Silver Gaming Company
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: 20-40 min

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Goblin Grapple. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.


tl;dr: Mix War and Stratego together, add goblins. Bake until the result is a golden brown  pocket game.

Getting to the Game: If you've ever played War, you understand the basic concept of Goblin Grapple. Teaching the game is simple enough--if your card beats your opponent's card, you take them both into your scoring area (Garrison, here). If not, your opponent takes them. If you tie, the defender can choose to commit an additional goblin to the fight, or lose the war. Then, the attacker can either continue their attack with another of their goblins, or concede the battle. A round ends when one player gets to 21 or more total points. When a round ends and a player has 100 total points, the game is over.

Goblin Grapple is contained entirely within a single deck of cards, so setup is simply a matter of shuffling and dealing 5 cards to each player. It's Grapplin' time.

Playing the Game: Cards in Goblin Grapple range in value from 0 to 8. With the goal being to accumulate points from successful grapples, you want to maximize your high value gobbies, while making sure your opponent only takes the wimps. The 8-value goblins are the Kings, who win every battle except those against the 2-value Assassins. The most common goblins are the 3-strength Mages and Knights, so you'll find these competing most often in the press-your-luck combats. 

On your turn, you'll draw a card, then take as many actions as you want: You can either play a card into your army by placing one of your goblins face down on top of your existing stack, challenge an opponent's army by playing one of your goblins face-up next to theirs and resolving the combat there, or you can play a zero-value goblin Spy into the discard. That last action is by far the most valuable--there are five spies in a 52-card deck, and getting one (or two--that's one of my first-turn hands on the right) in your opening hand is a huge play. By spying, you can look at all of an opponent's hand, choose one card from it for yourself, and then give them one card from your hand. Now do you not only know what's in their hand, but you can take their King or Assassin and give them a far less valuable Knight or Mage. There were several games we played where one of us had two Spies in their opening hand, or we each had one, which is just as good. After several games, we determined that spies aren't necessarily broken, but getting one early pretty much guarantees you'll win the round. As you'll need to win an average of four rounds to win a game, losing one to this isn't awful and there are ways to mitigate the point losses. But still, we wondered if there was a way to make them less impactful.

Your army stack has a first-in-last-out mechanic; it's attacked from the top card down. You get to decide, then, if you play your Assassin on top of your King to protect it from an attacking King, or if you play the mind game of "My opponent thinks I'm going to do that, so I'll do the opposite, unless they think that's what I'm going to do, so then I'll do it backwards, but then they know I'm doing that so..." you can order your army in all kinds of weird ways. When attacked, as you eventually will be, your opponent will play one of their goblins face up in front of your army. You then must flip over your top goblin, and whichever has the higher value (again, Assassins automatically kill Kings) wins. If there's a tie, you don't progress further down the stack, instead you start playing goblins from your respective hands. This can quickly escalate out of control in the best possible way, as you can see at left, with each of us playing our entire hands until the defender ran out of cards, giving the attacker the entire stack.

In practice, Goblin Grapple plays pretty quickly, and isn't deep by any means. However, it's a very satisfying game that fits in a backpack pocket for a quick match between other games, or at a con, or any other place where you could jam a quick game with an opponent who has a working understanding of War. Just when you feel like you're too far behind in a round and can't come back, one of your opponents has scored 21 or more, and it's time for a reshuffle. It's fun, quick, has a good amount of potential for dramatic moments, and by value per square-inch is well worth a space in your collection.

Artwork and Components: While the art in the photos is just placeholder, Hoshide's artwork of the various goblins is fantastic (I was given a preview of it). It's similar to what you see here, but more detailed. The theme isn't cutesy or playful, but it's also not brooding or foreboding. These are noble creatures who want to be taken seriously. The game itself is simple, but the art is complex and interesting. The goblin assassin in particular is eye-catching.

There aren't components to speak of, which is actually a drawback here. One opportunity for a great addition would be a score tracker. Grapple is played to a score of 100, but each round ends when a player scores at least 21 points. So as it stands, players are keeping notes on scratch paper. One of my playtesters recommended a cribbage board-type scoring track, which was a brilliant idea. My test copy of the game came in an absolutely gorgeous wood-burned box, and the inside lid would be the perfect place for such a thing. I imagine the wooden box is a KS add-on, so keep an eye out for it if it's your style. It's well-made and very, very pretty.


The Good: Goblin Grapple plays tightly, and doesn't overcomplicate. Rounds end exactly where they feel like they should. The art is catching, and you can throw it in your pocket. The numbering system leaves room for expansion, which could be very interesting.

The Bad: The lack of a score tracker is noticeable. Goblin spies are overpowered just to the edge of being broken. Maybe one more mechanic shy of having the perfect amount of depth.

Score: Overall, Goblin Grapple is light enough for quick explanation and anyone who's ever played War will understand it immediately. The art and gameplay are enough for a long look, and the feel of tossing goblins at another player with some level of deception feels very, very good. I'm giving Goblin Grapple a score of Gobs of Fun.


Goblin Grapple is on KICKSTARTER between now and June 10, 2018.

About the Author:

Nicholas Leeman has been a board game evangelist for over 10 years now, converting friends and family alike to the hobby. He's also a trained actor and works summers as one of the PA announcers for the St. Paul Saints, a professional baseball team. He lives in Minneapolis, MN with his board gaming wife and son.
Goblin Grapple Preview Goblin Grapple Preview Reviewed by The Madjai on May 07, 2018 Rating: 5

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