The latest sensation sweeping the young adult best-seller lists is Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. This is no twee, sparkly tripe, though. Wizkids’ Training Days game lets you step into the roles of post-apocalyptic teens prepping for their day in a one-on-one death arena.
In The Hunger Games, teens are selected from districts within a depleted, brutalized U.S. to compete in death duels that are broadcast on live TV. The Wizkids game focuses on a narrow slice of the trilogy of novels — the period the selected teens, known as Tributes, spend learning to fight and look good doing it for the audience at home.
Each player controls one Tribute. Each Tribute has a special skill, along with a specialty based on his or her origin district, and a set of attributes: Strength, Agility, Cunning and Charm. Three cards are drawn and turned face up, showing specific events or benefits. Events are won based on the skill of the Tributes competing for them — for example, the Wrestling event is won with a high Strength score. You also have three effort tokens which you secretly bid on each event. Winning events earns you Approval Rating points, tracked on a large scoreboard. Audience approval is not only your ultimate goal, it can provide additional bonuses to future events for well-loved Tributes.
One of the most important cards that can be won are allies. Winning an ally card gives you another Tribute to team up with. The Tribute cards have an interlocking shape, and new allies link to your Tribute card, showing a special bonus to certain events or abilities. It’s the kind of elegant design touch I really like to see in a game — it’s aesthetically pleasing, simple to understand, and captures one of the underlying themes of the source material (the teens have to work together even though they’re competing against each other).
Like most bidding games, Training Days is somewhat lackluster as a two-player game, but offers all kinds of opportunities for interesting interactions, bidding wars, tricky plays and double-crossing for three or more players. When I demoed this at Gen Con, I was especially pleased with the high-quality components, with vivid colors and thick, durable cardstock. With a retail price of $19.99, this seems like an interesting game if you’re into weird sci-fi deathmatch scenarios, even if you aren’t a fan of the novels. I’ll confess I hadn’t heard of them until I saw this game, but Wizkids Product Development Manager Drew Nolosco spoke highly of the series (and I can smell PR talk a mile away — he was genuinely enthusiastic about the novels).