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Reviews - Run For Your Life, Candyman!
by Allan "Sven" Sugarbaker

Run For Your Life, Candyman boxRun For Your Life, Candyman!
Published by Smirk & Dagger Games
Game Design by Curt Covert
Artwork by Curt Covert
6 Gingerbread Tokens, 68 Dash 'n Bash cards, 30 Special Treat cards, pad of Gingerbread Status Sheets, & game board
Release date: 2005

This review was originally posted at Game Cryer, where I serve as editor. I've made slight revisions to this version, and added pretty pictures.

"Run, run, as fast as you can. You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man." Most of us heard these words at least once growing up, and may have had the passing thought that the cookie character looked rather tasty. In Run For Your Life, Candyman! the frosting shoe is on the other foot, as 2-6 players race through an enchanted candy landscape as gingerbread men, trying to flee those who would devour them. As they flee the candy kingdom, each player tracks the damage dealt to him by other players, using the supplied status sheets to mark hits taken on each body location. The winner is either the first gingerbread man to escape the board, or the last cookie left standing, whichever comes first.

Run For Your Life, Candyman boxMake no mistake – this game is Candy Land with its guts pulled out and reassembled in reverse order. While this makes for a highly amusing parody, it still builds upon the gameplay of one of the worst games ever – Candy Land is a purely luck-based, and potentially unending, game designed for kids too young to play anything else. But while Run For Your Life, Candyman! is broken in the same ways as its source of inspiration, it still gets the nod for two reasons: player interaction (read: violence) and add-on effect cards (read: amusing attacks and equipment to augment the aforementioned violence). For these reasons, Smirk & Dagger Games should be commended for taking an awful game design and making it fun to play without regressing the participants to diaper-wearing age.

To explain Run For Your Life, Candyman! we have to look at Candy Land first, as the two are nearly identical at their core. Bear with me, here – this will only hurt a little.

Most gamers, or even casual game players that rarely touch a game board, know what the Candy Land board looks like: a track of colored spaces in a repeating pattern, that winds its way around and through a country filled with candy-themed locations. A deck of cards determines movement, each showing the colored space (or spaces, in the case of doubles) to move to. A couple of short cuts allow kids with just the right lucky card to jump ahead, but being in the lead in Candy Land is such a transient state it's hardly worth celebrating. Here's where the problems start.

The card deck contains a card corresponding to each special board location, and merely drawing one of these will send the active player forward or back on the path to that spot, magnifying the game's random nature. Worse yet, these location cards are recycled when the deck gets reshuffled, allowing the magnified random movement of the game to be repeated endlessly. Thus the momentary thrill of "I'm about to win!" becomes "Please, please, please let someone win and end this torture!" More often than not, adults, who extol the virtues of playing fair, will distract their impressionable children for long enough to rearrange the cards and make someone win ASAP, just to be done with it.

Candyman gangBeing a near duplicate of Candy Land, Run For Your Life, Candyman! is still a flawed game design – the special location spaces still exist, and the cards that lead to them still don't go away after the first time they're drawn. However, the movement, which is still dictated by the cards, is slightly less random – players can choose to go forward or backward with each card draw. Why would moving away from the finish line be an attractive idea? To beat the gumdrop buttons off of an opponent, of course.

One look at the Run For Your Life, Candyman! game board will reveal the twisted, deliciously vicious nature of this parody. The "candy castle" that represents the final space in Candy Land is merely a film prop here, hiding the king's candy factory behind it. The special board locations are marked by the foul candy-eating foes that lurk there, including the dominatrix-like Lady I. Scream, the Grisly Gummies, and Molly and Pop, a too-quiet-looking father and daughter holding rather large weapons. The game certainly looks enjoyable, and not at all aimed at preschoolers – the game box cover shows a grand melee of cookie carnage, complete with bazooka and dismembered baked goods. This carnage is the game's best feature.

That's how the cookie rumbles
Combat is at the center of this parody, and players who ignore it are missing both the point and the fun. Anytime one player moves onto or through a space occupied by another player, he can make an attack, even if he won't be stopping there – in fact, players can attack multiple opponents in a turn. To make an attack, the active player draws an extra movement card, which will show one of the six candies that mark the game path. Each player has a status sheet that shows his gingerbread man with six checkboxes on each of six body parts – the head, torso, both arms, and both legs. Each body part has also been assigned one of the six candy types from the movement cards – a mint candy is a headshot; a gumdrop signifies a body blow. If a special location or other card is drawn during an attack, it counts as two hits to whatever body part the attacker chooses. After being attacked, the defending player marks damage in the appropriate spot by checking off a box. Once all six boxes are filled in, that body part is destroyed (the game encourages players to tear that portion off entirely). The cookies can keep moving and fighting no matter how little of their body is left, so total eradication is the order of the day.

Dismembered CandymanTo aid in the destruction, each player can gather Special Treat cards. At the game's start, a random card is drawn to pick a candy type. Throughout the game, when players land on that type of space, they draw a Special Treat card. These cards provide all sorts of exceptions to the regular rules, from ranged weapons like the Licorice Whip, to brutal attacks like the Jaw Breaker or Ju-Ju-Jitsu, or defensive maneuvers like Lifesaviors, which cancels any attack. A few cards can be used at any time, but most are limited to use in regular combat. Much of the candy-coated flavor that makes the game so tasty is within these cards, so if players aren't seeing enough Special Treat action, I'd recommend drawing another card and adding a second Special Treat inducing space.

A couple spaces on the board are Candy Cage Match spaces, where the real beatings take place. A player that lands on one of these spaces, or is directed to one by a card, can summon any other player to come join him there and begin exchanging attacks, blow for blow, until a candy matching that space is drawn. If another Candy Cage Match card is drawn during the Cage Match, a third player can be pulled into the brawl. Special Treat cards can't be used during these epic candy ass-kickings, but players will hardly miss them in the frantic exchange of damage.

The last nine spaces on the board are marked as the table of the Twins – two ravenous sugar fiends in the guise of school children. Any gingerbread man in this zone will be attacked four times at the start of each turn as the Twins try to devour him. If a player can survive these attacks and get past the Twins' table, he wins the game. So, if being the last cookie standing doesn't look feasible, making a run for it could work – or you could end up as dessert.

The rules aren't completely clear in all situations. For example, if a gingerbread victim's head is already destroyed, does another hit to the location do nothing, go to the next nearest spot, or require a redraw? However, any group of players willing to sit down and pummel some crumb-covered combatants could easily decide to houserule the situation and keep the chaos going.

In the end, Run For Your Life, Candyman! isn't about strictly following the recipe and reaching the conclusion of the game. The finish line at the end is merely there to give players a reason to move, and not merely group up into a mass of frosting-covered fists. The ability to move either forward or backward is a huge improvement on Candy Land, making hit-and-run attacks and revenge for same an easy matter. Yes, the same flawed rules exist in this parody, which could potentially keep the finish line out of reach. But you won't care – you'll be too busy trying to smash the last bit of life out of the other gingerbread men, and laughing about it all the while.

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