KERO from HURRICAN Edition, courtesy of UK distributor David Westridge Ltd, is a 2-player game for the age group 9 and over. I made a 20 minute search for it online, finding it on Boardgamegeek.com (as expected) where it is priced at €25.00 - €40.00 and then on eBay.co.uk for £31.99, in fact it is not easy finding Hurrican Editions games online at all. Like many other gamers I encountered this Swiss company at Spiel Essen and was pleasantly astounded with how good Augustus was, and though the next game I saw, Madam Ching, didn't quite reach the heights of Augustus it was still a good game. Finding that KERO was a 2-player game (as is Mr Jack, another game to be reviewed by GGO soon) after the 2-6 player Augustus and 2-4 player Madam Ching put me mentally against it from the off as I am not a truly good fan of the limitations offered by the majority 2-player games.
Thus with a negativity in my brain I sat down to play.
But first, the box had to be unsealed and the components prepared; the counters carefully punched out, the Brown and Grey stickers put onto the Brown and Grey round wooden tokens. The sand-timers are both already ready for play, nicely designated as a Grey Truck with a Brown Tank and a Brown Truck with a Grey Tank so no matter which colour you choose to play (Grey or Brown believe it or not) you can take either Tanker and be content. Speaking of contents, the Tankers are loaded with a fine sand that runs from the back of the tank to the front through a pin-hole funnel, thus taking a long time to run out but also a long time to refill, both of which are important factors in the players decisions.
It turns out that despite being a 2-player game (and me, well you know how I feel) KERO is actually a very good game. It is more like a multi-player game with its board and components, especially its components, all of which are high in quality and design. The creation is credited to Prospero Hall with excellent artwork by Pierô. Whoever designed the sand-timer trucks deserves a big round of applause for the simple but so clever thought. The trucks, as already noted, are tankers with what appears to be 2 tanks on an HGV lorry base. One of the tanks, the one at the front, is transparent, and shows how much fuel the tanker has remaining; the second tank is enclosed so that you cannot see how much fuel it holds - make sure that you begin the game with a full tank.
Played over just 3 Rounds that according to the designer take about 10 minutes each (we tend to have slightly longer games) and points collected from cards and new territories throughout the three Rounds are added up and the highest scoring player is the winner.
The Grey and Brown markers are the player's Explorers, these are the people used as bids to control and own the New Territories; the majority of markers on each New Territory tile at the end of the Round wins it. These are New Territory tiles may have a points value, may have a special ability or may have both. When bidding you have to assess the possibility of the tile giving you actual physical points at the end of the game, or earning you more points than it is worth during play.
KERO is a dice and panic based game. On your turn you roll all five White dice plus one, two or all of the three coloured dice - you can purchase these for Fuel cans to have the chance of gaining extra resources. The Yellow die is heavy on the Wheat resource, the Green die is good for adding scientists/expolorers and finally the Blue die is good for Metal, all of these are required to take cards, explore New Territories, fill your Tanker with fuel (or as close to full as you can get).
Cards have a resource cost in their bottom section, usually this is two or three of a single resource or a combination of resources. The resources you have to spend are possibly on cards or tiles you already have, but most likely will come from the dice you roll at the beginning of your turn. This is the 'panic' part of the game, but it's also the on edge fun part. Holding the Tanker in one hand and the dice in the other you try to mentally decide what die results you want, and then you begin. Roll the dice that you are holding, definitely 5 White, plus any other die that is given from a Permanent Ability tile or die/dice bought for one Can of Fuel per die. Fuel Cans are very important as they are the monetary system for the game; if you have no Fuel Cans (in the game they are called Jerrycans).
The dice are in your hand as is the Tanker. Roll the dice and as you do you turn the Tanker so that the front of the Tanker faces down, the sand will now run from the back and your time/fuel will slip away. You may continue to roll the dice as long as they do not show a 'flame', those die may not be rerolled. You may stop rolling whenever you want and as long as there is still fuel in the top part of the Tank you can use the dice rolled. If however your fuel runs out then you forfeit your dice and your turn.
The cards that you can purchase are on display in a similar fashion to several other games. You buy a card or cards using the dice resources as already explained; the cards being slid along left to right to create spaces on the display under the Main Deck from which you fill the row left to right. During the die rolling, if more than 2 Flames are on show then the far right card of the display is removed, this happens whether the player runs out of Fuel or hits the breaks on time. Within the Deck are three 'Claim Trigger' cards and immediately they are drawn the Round ends.
At the end of each Round the New Territory tiles that have been drawn (same number of Explorers from each side, or no Explorers at all) are removed from the game, those won in the bids go to the winning players and then a new display of Territory tiles are faced up on the board. It doesn't matter which Explorer you use, they are all the same as far as their jobs go, the publishers have used different pictures to give the game's theme some depth and humanise the Explorers.
The board has been designed with spaces marked for almost every component; Spaces for Claim cards, Spaces for New Territory tiles, a specific Space for Explorers, similarly a specific space for each coloured die, spaces for the Tuarek tiles and the Jerrycans of each player and also marked notches on the games edge for five Permanent Ability tokens (gained from purchased Claim cards). In my opinion, because the player boards are part of the actual game board, actually they are mirror images facing each other, the Permanent Ability notches for one player are in the wrong place, or better still as the 'player boards' are set in the same orientation with the exception of the Permanent Ability tile slots are on the left for one side and right for the other. This is only a small point but it can be a mite disorienting if you play one side and then the other and I only mention it because it caught me out and I kept wasting time looking to the right instead of the left and also because as a reviewer who writes for the companies/publishers as well as the players I noticed it.
KERO has converted me to being more open to 2-player games, at least to those that aren't simply the strategic movement of pieces on a squared square board. KERO has everything a four player game has with the exception of room and components for 4 players (expansion please Hurrican?). It has the feel of a larger, bigger game, it has the look of a larger, bigger game, it has the components etc etc etc
The Claim cards that end each Round are immediately unmistakeable as they show two different head & shoulder shots of Explorers and the aforementioned Tuarek tiles are, or appear to have been, brought to the game to add a little spice by inputting useful bonuses.
The options open to each player are as good as in any 4-player game and better than in most two-player games. The player going before you may take a card you were hoping to get, that's true, but it's true in any game where cards can be bought from a display, but then as the display is refilled you may get another card, possibly even a better card than the one you had wanted, is flipped over into the vacant space. The new card may even change your mind about the strategy you were thinking and then when you roll the dice you may well have a different target for your resources; the game can switch tracks and the players switch tacks in the blink of an eye. So yes you can plan your turn during your opponent's go, but their actions may cause you to change yours, and as you haven't rolled the dice at this point you know what to look for in the results.
I suppose KERO could be overplayed and then its sparkle may dim, but played sensibly there is a heck of a lot of milaege in it. It's a great game to take to a convention where you may have a short break between booked games or to a friend's house (or when they dome to you) when there are just the two of you, and it's also (if you have more than one copy available) a good competition game.
KERO comes with a 40 page rules book, fully coloured, in several languages including French and English roughly taking up 10 pages each. The cards are picto-gram and thus not language dependent and on first glance of it set up to play it is visually impressive. A super game for a very good price that has elements that core board gamers and also non core gamers/family members (if it is played carefully step by step for their first game) will enjoy immensely.