Are you tired of sprawling games crowding your shelf and your psyche? Are you even more weary of games that squander the opportunity to add awesome superfluous umlauts to their title suffixes?
Then mister, have I got a game for you.
It slices, it dices, it fits right in your pocket. It has more borderline rulings than playing 40K with a dude in an eyepatch. It’s Knifetank: The Shüffling! And it’s trundling your way.
World of Tanks got you down with its predatory need to accumulate miniatures and startling lack of studded mace and/or flick-knife based ordinance? Do you baulk at Memoir 44’s boomer-engorging vanilla historical dressings? Does Uno fail to thrill with its paucity of potential for stab wounds?
If you screamed “yes! Oh God yes!” to any of the above then Doctor Popular might just have the right prescription for your next tabletop fix.
Arriving in a box of surprisingly manageable dimensions at the same time as the latest Awaken Realms behemoth ‘Etherfields’ landed on my doorstep, Knifetank allowed for a pretty pervasive lesson in contrast as I was confronted by both the prog rock and punk spectrums of the industry in one fortuitous afternoon.
Both prospects set me all aflutter – but guess which one I’ve played three times already?
You Stabbed My Battletank
Part strategic hand management affair, part gonzo dexterity game- Knifetank is the epitome of small box throwaway fun. The work of the singularly demented Doctor Popular, in the grimdark future of Knifetank, there is only war. War and cool heavy metal fonts.
A singular deck of playing cards and a near postage-stamp sized rulebook is the entirety of what you’ll receive when you sign up for the proud ranks of the Knifetank Corps, a realm where war is hell but it comes with rad artwork.
Two to four swiss army generalissimos will face off in an attempt to either stab their opponents into oblivion or reach the opposite end of the table with their tank intact, all the while beholden to the wilful winds of fate as the draw deck conspires to stutter your advances, and a fudged flick, drop or blow can send your mechanised cutlery drawer teetering into oblivion.
Drawing from a selection of asymmetrical war machines, players are gifted a starting hand of five cards with which to stab and slice their way to glory. Ranging from slothful, heavily armoured titans to fragile yet responsive low-altitude drones (with cool tentacled aberrations and Mad Max panel van conversions inbetween), players will place two cards face down on the table before revealing their first play simultaneously to usher in the orgy of stabbing that we all undoubtedly came for.
In order of magnificence they’ll then either move, stab or perform a special action, which is where the games dexterity elements come flying cack-handed into play.
Inked upon each awesomely illustrated card, every titular tank comes with its own turret and turning circle, helpfully indicated by markers on their representative rectangle. To move or unleash bladed hell, one aligns the corresponding markers on their activation cards, laying them down atop the tank and either adjusting their positioning or measuring their assault as a result.
Get your Tank off my Lawn
Whilst this is a remarkably simple and intuitive system, the results are wont to be…imprecise. If you’re playing this thing with the kind of opponent who gets all heated and pernickety about lineball rulings in skirmish type affairs it may escalate to swearing, fisticuffs and the colourful maligning of your mother’s virtue. But why would you play with those kind of assholes anyway? The fate of the universe is not resting on the outcome here. The fate of your afternoon however is entirely dependent on your ability to embrace the spirit of the game being laid down. The spirit of a game called Knifetank. You get it right?
Further gleeful imprecision is thrown into this particular bubbling cauldron by way of the special actions that call upon players to drop, spin, flick or blow their cards onto the field of battle/kitchen table. These interludes tend to have all the grace of a pissed up gorilla but can lead to some of the most satisfyingly unbalanced gotcha moments or cataclysmic fuckups, as you bruise your cuticles on the edge of the table or send wads of expectorate arcing in a dismal spray rather than finalising that crucial pincer-movement you had envisioned. Hints of nuance are present in the appearance of mines or repair kits that can be dropped into (hopefully) strategic positions atop the battlefield, adding further strategy as players marshal their scant hand of directional options to best navigate the playfield.
Dusted in around twenty minutes, each bout commences with a coy advance of sorts, and if the first few turns feel unremarkable its only because they’re busy sowing the chaos and tightrope trajectories of the game’s concluding arc. As your opponent crowds your space and the opposing table edge draws near, there is a remarkable tension to the juddering pragmatic ballet that ensues as each player wrestles with how best to maintain even a perfunctory plan let alone outmanoeuvre their opponent with any kind of practiced and deliberate grace. Contingent response is the order of the day here and as it comes down to the wire, you’ll be near to agonising over your decisions as you grin ruefully with each unfolding response. It’s not too agonising, mind – this game is called Knifetank dude.
That 20-minute tussle will tumble by really swiftly too, and its only moments before you’re either returning to the fray for a rematch, or tucking the slim box back into the rear pocket of your dirty denim so you can ride into the sunset on your skateboard adorned with a grinning cobra or some shit.
Whilst more variety in terms of your range of attack options and battlefield terrain features would have been appreciated, there is a quick and dirty ethos of simplicity at play here that wins in its slimline charm.
It’s a compression blast. I dug it.
And if you grab a copy, the next time some dude regales you with a tale of their epic eight-hour bout of Twilight Imperium, you can say “yeah man, I was busy playing 23 games of Knifetank!” Then they’ll say “what the fuck is Knifetank?” And you’ll grin enigmatically before doing a sweet handlebar spin wheelie on your BMX.