Review of board game Devil Bunny Needs a Ham by Pevans

Cheapass Games produces sharp lightweight games with minimal production values - and hence minimal cost - and usually a joke. Some work, some don't: most are funny. The games consist of desk-top printed paper and card to make up the main components of the game. In the style of Victorian games, you have to provide pawns and dice (as specified on the outside of the package). Devil Bunny Needs a Ham takes this approach to new heights. Inside the envelope are three A5(-ish) sheets of white card printed on one side in black. One of these is the rules, the other two form the board. The whole thing costs a couple of dollars (US).

The game is essentially a race - the board portrays the outside of a skyscraper, which players' pawns are climbing. Each player has two or three pawns, rolls the same number of dice and moves their pawns. But when a six is rolled, the topmost pawn is knocked off his perch - by the eponymous "Devil Bunny". The good news is that falling pawns are caught by pawns below them and re-attached to the building. Besides, pawns only die if they fall directly to the ground from above a certain height: "The Line of Death".

The probabilities of dice rolling ensures that the climbers gradually ascend the tower - though it may take a while to get started if the players roll a lot of sixes at the beginning. So the tactics of the game are pretty obvious. There's no point in getting too far ahead, as Devil Bunny will just knock you back again. Try to keep pawns below you to block your fall - especially once you're above "The Line of Death". Apart from this, it's just a question of plodding up the tower round the other pawns until you're close enough to make a dash for the finish, er… top.

A neat touch is that a caught pawn can be passed to a pawn below by the catching player. A chain of pawns will often mean that a leading pawn ends up at the back when it falls. As pawns reach the top they are placed on scoring positions - the earlier they get there, the more points. The game ends when no more pawns can reach scoring positions. The player with the highest points total wins.

This is a quick, lightweight race game with a little tactical decision-making, a bit of player interaction and lots of luck. It's fun to play once, even twice, but I don't expect it to be coming out of the cupboard on a regular basis.

One thing that's not made clear in the rules is whether players continue rolling dice when pawns are safe or dead. Having played the game a few times, my analysis is not. Rolling more dice than you have pawns is an advantage, so the first player to get a pawn safe has an increased chance of scoring again. Secondly, if a player is rolling dice when all their pawns are out, there are more chances of Devil Bunny pouncing for the number of pawns on the board. Thus, the last few pawns are pretty much certain to die - mind you, this does make for a fast end game.

Finally, there is the question of the title. In most Cheapass games, the theme is obvious from the title (for example: Bleedin' Sherwood, Before I Kill You, Mister Bond) and the joke is an integral part of the game. But Devil Bunny? As far as I can see, it provides a jokey gloss over an abstract game, but has no relevance outside the game. A footnote to the rules implies that this is the first of a series of games featuring the no-good rabbit, so maybe Cheapass are going to make Devil Bunny a feature of their range. However, to my mind this game calls out to be a movie tie-in: wannabe Bruce Willises (Willies?) try to scale the skyscraper, while being thwarted by a demonic Alan Rickman. Mind you, the good guys win in the end.

Devil Bunny Needs a Ham was designed by James Ernest and published (in the USA) by Cheapass Games. It is for 2-5 players and takes 30 minutes to play. Pevans rates it 5/10.
This review was originally published in Games Games Games 132, June 1999.

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