ENNUI AS A WEAPON OF CHOICE
ASSASSIN by CHRIS BAYLISS
from AVALON HILL
16" x 22" mounted board; 252 perforated cards; 6 plastic pawns; Rule folder. Boxed. From TAHGC, 4517 Harford Rd, Baltimore MD 21214 c.$20
Reviewed by RICHARD H. BERG
The origin of the word "assassin" is one of etymology's better items. Seems that back around the time of the Crusades, a sect of Muslim heretics, the Ismai'lis, run by someone called The Old Man of the Mountains, ran a gang of rent-a-killers. To get their hired hands into the proper mood, they plied them with large doses of hash-hish. Pretty soon these Hired Knives became known as Hashishin … or assassins.
I bring this up not to raise your cultural awareness but to point out that the only way anyone is ever going to enjoy Avalon Hill's Assassin will be to get an invite to one of the Old Man's parties and head straight for the Controlled Substance smorgasbord. Assassin is as vapid an exercise in inanity and boredom as we've seen in quite a while.
Shows you how misleading box cover blurbs can be. To judge from the back of the box, Assassin sounds like its going to be a really neat card game, players running around Europe, bumping off other players, hitting a few civilians … all in less than 90 minutes. Turns out that the description on the back of the box is about as exciting as things ever get. And as for the box, itself …
I think its time that we, as gamers, started sending telegrams, faxes, even ticking packages to The Hill, letting them know that "purple" is NOT one of the four major chromatic groups, nor is it a color one likes to see staring up at him every time he or she looks at the AH section in the local store. Once again, AH's art department seems to be under the aegis of someone immersed in a purple haze. (Another hashishin?) It wouldn't be so bad if the cover didn't also feature a full-face close-up of what appears to be a misguided effort at what passes for "cool". Assassins are supposed to be faceless, blending in so as to be invisible. The only place this ersatz greaseball would be invisible is in a meeting of the Trailor Park Troglodyte Association. Then again, it does bear an uncomfortable resemblance to Jack Dott.
The rest of the package isn't half bad, ignoring the Parker Brothers-style plastic pawns. The map is unexciting but clear; it's also quite up to date, especially if you want to know where all those new countries-on-the-block are, such as Slovenia, Moldava, etc. The best thing about the recent rush to Balkanization is that I now know where all those stamps I had as a kid were supposed to go in my stamp book. There are also 252 cards, but they're of the 2nd Class Citizen, perforated kind … and purple pervades yet again. Whoever is responsible for this ought to be tied to a chair and forced to listen to Jane's Addiction singing "Deep Purple" over and over again.
Then there's the game. Remember break time in the grade school yard? You used to play a game where one of you was it - sometimes you didn't know who - and "it" went around tagging kids, most of whom spent the period running away? Well, that's Assassin. It's Milles Borne with a tag game thrown in. Except Milles Bornes was somewhat more exciting.
Players are dealt 7 cards of the following possible types: Destination Cards, Transportation Cards, Hit Cards and Hazard cards. The object is to travel from one city to another using the first two. You play a Destination Card, on top of which you play a Vehicle (Planes, Trains and Automobiles time), followed by mileage cards. You can actually try to bicycle from Paris to Istanbul. If you happen to be in the same city as the Assassin - who remains unknown only until his first attempt - he'll take a shot at you, against which you play some "defense"-oriented cards, several of which intimate our Cook's Tour Killer hits a kid instead. (And you said Plague was tacky, Jack?)
Fly to Budapest … nothin' happenin', so get a few plates of veal paprikash and head to Berlin. No one around, so fly to Madrid (where, unless you're careful, you're stuck for umpteen turns). And so on, until either your eyes glaze over or someone suggests you'd all be better amused watching a Susan Powter info-mercial. (Now, there's a subject for a scary game.) Granted, the rules are very clean, they're easy to learn, and you can get started in about 5-10 minutes. Unfortunately, you'll have more fun separating the perforated cards then you will playing the game.
The game, itself, also has some system cul-de-sacs that can create even more stagnancy than the game itself. For example, each player has seven cards, of which 2 or 3 he's getting rid of/playing per turn. However, there are a fairly large number of "May Not Discard" cards in the decks, which means you either have to play them - which you often cannot because you don't have the other cards needed to do so - or pass them to your opponent, which is most unadvisable, as they're the few interesting cards in the game. This, effectively, reduces your hand to 2 or 3 playable cards. (At one point I had a hand of seven Do Not Discard cards.) Even worse, you can get stuck in some out-of-the-way post, like the aforementioned Madrid, with only a bicycle to get you out. That takes about 475 turns.
It's somewhat of a mystery as to why Assassin was ever published. There's just nothing happening here. The game is so random - which is not necessarily as bad thing - that strategy seems to devolve to simply avoiding everyone else. There's no joy, no humor, no tension … and no game. Someone ought to get a contract out on this one.
Graphic Presentation: Clean, crisp, purple and garish.
Playability: Easy to learn, boring to play.
Replayability: For those who like watching reruns of Safe Driving films.
Creativity: Interesting idea dies aborning.
Historicity: Not applicable.
Comparisons: A stolid Milles Bornes. Like buying a Pet Rock.
Overall: The type of subject John Prados usually handles with panache. Unfortunately, John is nowhere around. Even more unfortunately, the game is.