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Game review: The Battle at Kemble's Cascade brings '80s arcade games to the table
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The Battle at Kemble's Cascade, a new board game from Z-Man Games, brings the adventure of a 1980s scrolling shooter arcade game to the tabletop. - photo by Cody K. Carlson
If you were a kid in the 1980s, you no doubt remember all of those great scrolling shooter arcade games like Galaga, Space Invaders and 1942. The Battle at Kemble's Cascade, a new board game from Z-Man Games, brings that same kind of adventure to the tabletop.

In The Battle at Kemble's Cascade, two to five players each pilot a spaceship on a scrolling board of cards in trays, each containing two space zones. Players also have a player board which measures energy, threat levels and various upgrades to the ship.

On a player's turn, he or she may choose to fight by moving the ship forward, dodging asteroids and enemy craft, and then shooting at them for glory points and resources. Initially, players only have one gun that points in only one direction, and it costs an energy point to move it. A player's ship may move in up to eight directions, orthogonally or diagonally, backwards or forwards.

At the end of the turn, the player must measure the threat level to the ship by seeing how many objects adjacent to it have a threat icon. For every such icon, the player must move the ship's threat icon up on its track. At the beginning of his or her next turn, the player may attempt to destroy units creating the threat. If any threats remain, the player must reconcile his threat with his energy on a one to one basis. If ever the player loses all of the ship's energy, he or she is eliminated.

Players can attack each other directly. A player can also choose to power down for the turn, regaining energy and buying new items like weapons, shields, energy generators, and engines from the store. After everyone has gone, the lowest tray of cards is removed and another is created up top, simulating the scrolling of those arcade games. The deck of space cards is set up to make the game progressively more difficult, and eventually, just like in those arcade games, players will have to fight a powerful boss character.

Players gain glory points by defeating other ships and other objects that come out on the space cards, and by defeating the various cards that make up the boss. Also, players can score achievement cards, and can carry out secret missions for more points. When the boss is defeated, the player with the most glory points wins the game.

The Battle at Kemble's Cascade is a fun throwback to those video games of yesteryear, presented in a wonderfully thematic style. While players might expect this to be an Ameritrash-style game with lots of dice, the game actually feels like a Eurogame, with elegant mechanics like the reconciling of the ship's threat and energy levels. It is an interesting blend of European mechanics and American shoot-'em-ups.

The game is solid, and more importantly, fun. It does tend to go on a bit longer than one would expect, with some players experiencing high levels of analysis paralysis given the number of choices. There is also a bit of housekeeping each turn, which can contribute to its playing time. Still, fans of early '80s video games will have a field day with The Battle at Kemble's Cascade, and no doubt many others will be impressed with it as well.

The Battle at Kemble's Cascade plays in about 90 minutes and is recommended for ages 13 and up.