Devil Bunny Needs a Ham - Gameplay Case Study
First of all: This game costs $2. Let's take a moment and let that settle in.
... Ok; let's begin.
While the write-up above certainly captures the spirit of the game, it should also be noted that the game is in emulation of the Dadaist art style. So, if Dadaism is anti-art, I suppose we could call this game an anti-game. What does that mean? Well, if James Ernest's other games give any indication, he is likely trying to point out that abstract games, and really any board game based in reality (eg wargames, Monopoly, etc.) are in fact nothing but aesthetically and topically appealing sets of arbitrary mathematical nothingness models. Or maybe he just wanted to make a cool game.
Devil Bunny Needs a Ham is perhaps one of the more interesting board games I have played, not simply because of its ridiculous premise but also its combination of simplicity, mechanics, and gameplay. The game's novelty is the game board and how your pieces climb "up" it. The board itself is rather narrow and cramped, making movement somewhat difficult, as you can't move through other pieces. To further frustrate your race to the top is the fact you can only move diagonally and horizontally, never straight up or down.
Each player has 2 or 3 sous-chefs under their control. Your ability to move is randomized by rolling 2 or 3 dice depending upon the number of players in the game. Dice are allocated in their entirety to one piece (that is, their value cannot be split); one die equates to one move. Moves can be made which are less than the die the move is associated with, but any one move must be in a straight line, meaning no "faking" vertical movement by alternating diagonal moves.
So far, sounds pretty boring. Which is where Devil Bunny comes in. Every time a 6 appears on a die (50% chance when rolling 2 dice, 33.3% chance when 3), the villainous hare brutally attacks the highest sous-chef on the board (think Monty Python and the Holy Grail), knocking him from his position, causing him to fall. Once a character falls, she drops onto the next piece beneath her, and that player gets the choice of placing them where they would like beneath their piece, or passing them on to another player's piece. If there is no one to catch a fallen piece, that piece hits the ground. If a piece falls from a certain height, the piece is dead. Finally, the satanic rabbit takes the place of the last piece knocked off, making the board increasingly cramped.
The goal of the game is to have the most sous-chefs achieve the building's peak the fastest. The trappings of all of this are arbitrarily numbered victory spots, which the sous-chefs grab and earn the corresponding number of points. The first one there gets the highest value, and it goes down from there. And above all, the diabolical pseudo-rodent MUST NOT GET A HAM, which, thankfully, is impossible.
The gameplay which results from all this is undeniably interesting. All the players tend to move in one large clump, since if any one piece tries to move too far ahead, the Devil Bunny will certainly knock him back down. Also, players are dependent upon each other (or, at least, their own pieces) to catch them if they fall. Finally, the tight board and movement rules make it difficult to travel upwards, not to mention the inevitable board clogging which occurs.
In the end game, when players leave the board and fill in the top, the remaining pieces are suddenly in danger; there are no pieces to catch them if they fall! In fact, in one game I played, there were 10 sous-chefs in the beginning, and only two made it to the top; the other 8 died not-so-tragic, meaningless, though humorous, deaths.
Mostly, deciding how to move is fairly limited, the only choices being playing it safe at the back of the pack (likely to lose), playing it safe at the front of the pack (you'll be lucky to win), and not playing it safe and trying to break off from the group (difficult to pull off, since you have to move in a group, lest fall back to the main, and also doing so allows everyone to catch up fast.) Strategy basically consists of optimizing your moves and deciding when to play your odds. In a game with 5 players, in 3 rounds the devil bunny has a chance probability of coming up 5 times. That's quite a bit.
Ernest is emphasizing simplicity, and how making a small amount of novel and clever rules, an extremely satisfying game can result.
The game takes place in "Happyville".