Preview: Moonshine Run

What’s a little bootlegging between friends, am I right?  Well, in today’s preview, Fairway learns there’s apparently a lot: goons, gats, and “good guys” to just name a few.  Fairways takes the upcoming Kickstarter game, Moonshine Run, from A Madman or Two for a test drive.

Moonshine Run is a two- to four-player press-your-luck card game set in Prohibition-era Tennessee. Players take on the roles of moonshiners trying to deliver the most and most valuable moonshine while avoiding the law and interfering rivals. I previewed a pre-production version of the game so some of the art and assets could change.

Initial Impressions

  1. The art is an instant draw. The cards are all beautifully illustrated in a manner that fits the theme’s time and place perfectly.
  2. The rules are simple enough and the game is very accessible.
  3. The press-your-luck aspect of the game is very swingy and doesn’t seem very well-calibrated. Most of the time, it’s not like asking whether to hit on a 11 in Blackjack, but more like a 16. The odds don’t seem right and aren’t evenly dispersed.

Game Play

In Moonshine Run, each player is given a round tracker and a starting amount of money.  Over the course of a week (seven rounds), the goal is to have the most money by the end of the game.

To play, the deck of Moonshine Run cards is shuffled. The deck contains four main things: moonshine jugs (stash cards), hazards, and perks. You earn money by collecting the jugs and keeping them out of the hands of the police by the end of your run.  Certain other cards (quality cards) can improve the value you receive from your stash after a successful run.  The deck is also stacked with hazards like police and rivals that will disrupt a day’s run.  Finally, there are perks in the form of equipment that you can use to thwart the hazards.

Each round (or day) starts with players will draw a number of cards from the Moonshine Run deck and place them face down in a line in front of them.  The number of cards depends first on the day since your “runs” get longer with each passing round. Players can also use some of their money to buy additional cards to add to that day’s events.

Once the cards are all lined up, one at a time, players reveal the card.  If it’s a jug or equipment or other “safe” card, their day will continue.  Players continue revealing cards until either: there are no more cards to reveal (completely successful journey), the player elects to stop (voluntarily ending their day), or the cards make the player.  In the last case, this happens when a player reveals an obstacle card and can’t overcome the obstacle. For example, you’re stopped by police and can’t bribe them.  Or you run into rival gangs and don’t have the Tommy gun.

In cases where a run was successful or voluntarily stopped, players add up their moonshine jugs and multiply by the quality and get that much in money.  Money and any unused item cards received are taken into the next round.

This continues until the last day of the week.  The player with the most moonshine dollars at the end of the game is the winner.

On the green.

Art. The art is great. While it’s a bit on the dark side, this might just be a result of the print run. In any case, the art is in tune with the theme. It has a vintage feel that feels consistent with the 1920s era.  The cars and guns are very nice.

Theme and mechanics.  There is a very good fit between the theme of moonshine runner and press-your-luck game mechanics. There’s definitely a tense feeling with each flip. It kind of feels like making a blind corner and not knowing what you’re going to see on the other side.

Play time and ease of learning.  There’s nothing to this game. It’s the kind of game you can quickly learn as you play. And new players can watch previous players to get an idea of what to do. With the exception of a few card rules and references to the rules book, the game is mostly intuitive.

Where it comes up short

A very bad day for a moonshine run. Pulled two police cards in a row.

Press Your Luck.  Many “runs” were fine: players were able to complete their day for a reward. By the end of most games, players had reasonable amounts of money.  The probabilities seem to find a reasonable chance of flipping things that made you money compared to the round ending hazard.  This feature largely saved the rounds.

But Moonshine Run’s flipping cards was not quite Blackjack-style press your luck. This game is missing something in the form of player control. The difference between making it down the hill or not is totally out of the players’ hands. Even “buying” cards to add to a day really just worsened your chances. The reality is whether any of your cards on a day was even moonshine is totally luck driven. Similarly, whether you had any of the items to counter certain effects was also luck driven.  It’s not like you’re choosing to hit knowing the chances of going over.

The mechanics were solid enough that we played with two changes to see if we could fix these issues.

  • Items purchased, not random. We removed many of the item cards from the deck and sorted them.  We made them purchasable for money at the start of the day.  That way you could invest your winnings into things that helped you down the mountain to counter rival gangs or road hazards. This change alone was a huge improvement.  It made it possible to at least “prepare” and gave another use for moonshine dollars.  Think of it as an investment strategy.
  • Constructed days.  We also constructed “runs” for each day. First, players drew from a deck of moonshine and quality cards and set one aside. We drew a total number of cards using the game’s suggested number for each day. Players could use money to draw more cards from the moonshine deck, thus increasing the positive chances.  Second, players drew from a deck of hazards and speakeasy cards.  It was one of these cards for every three moonshine cards. These were then shuffled into the player’s moonshine cards. Finally, the set aside moonshine card was placed on top to form the first card of the day.

With these two changes, it was a more interesting game and players felt more in control.  There was some balancing and changes necessary, but players controlled their destiny.  The rest of the game largely remained the same including letting the player stop flipping cards if they earned enough.

In the hole

Moonshine Run has a lot of potential. The game is packed with outstanding illustrations and a great pairing of theme and mechanics. Playing moonshiners racing down the mountain got me to back the original campaign.  With simple and fast game play, this game could be a nice addition to a game night for wannabe outlaws and card players. The press your luck mechanics felt a bit unpolished, and it really hold the game back. But with some polish and love, this game is definitely one to watch.

Moonshine Run is in the hole for Par.

Fairway was provided a pre-production copy of this game in order to write this preview. He was not otherwise compensated for his opinion.

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