The old saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Well, in dumpster brawl, players are trying to rummage around a giant stack of garbage in order to find matching sets in order to win the game. The game has several variants, but they’re all variations of rummy-style set collecting. The first one with three sets and no extra cards is the winner. The game is currently up on Kickstarter and looking for some funding love.
Time to go dumpster diving.
In Dumpster Brawl, the object of the game is to collect matching sets of trash cards while fending off attacks from others. The game has several variants, but I’ll mainly focus on the “standard” style from the rulebook for this review. The set they sent to me is a prototype, so I can’t really comment on final product quality. But I can still tell you how the game plays so you can decide if it’s something you’ll want to back (Spoilers: I found it to be pretty fun).
The components for the game include the Trash Deck, 6 custom blue dice and 6 custom green dice, 6 character cards, and the rulebook. There will also be little counter spinners (like maneuver dials from X-Wing) to help you keep score in one of the variants. The Trash Deck consists of 13 types of trash, each one having 7 copies of their card in the deck. You can also add Booster, Blocker, or Slug cards to the deck, if you want a bit more advanced play. My prototype didn’t come with any Slug cards, but they’re essentially “dead” cards. You can’t form sets with them, even if you have multiple, and must be discarded before you can win. I’ll discuss Booster and Blocker cards in the game variants section below. The Dice have two sides (essentially). There’s the sword, which also has a minus sign on it, and a shield, which also has a plus sign on it. There are an equal number of swords and shields on each die. The character cards have the character’s artwork on it, as well as telling you what trash that character has an affinity for (more on that later). But otherwise, the characters are the same (there’s no other special rules for any particular character).
Play starts in Dumpster Brawl by having each player pick a character card. This can be done either at random or players can pick for themselves. Next, shuffle the Trash Pile (the deck of cards) and deal out cards to each player equal to the number of players (I.E. – 4 players = 4 cards in your starting hand). Randomly determine who gets to go first and get ready to play.
A player’s turn consists of essentially two phases. In the first, a player can either draw up to 2 cards, discard up to 2 cards, or draw 1 and discard 1 card from their hand. Discarding is always done face-down. This portion is rather straightforward and much like many “standard” Rummy games. The second phase is the “brawl” part of Dumpster Brawl. The player picks one other player who they are going to attack. The attacking player picks up 6 of the dice, while the defender gets 5. Both players roll. The defender is looking to roll shields while the attacker wants to roll swords.
If the attacker rolls more swords than the defender rolled shields, two things happen. First, the attacker can either draw one card at random from their opponent’s hand, or they can discard one of their own cards into their opponent’s hand (a great way to get rid of slugs). After they do that, they roll 6 dice. For each plus they roll, they can draw a card from the Trash Deck. For each minus, they can discard a card from their hand. You don’t have to draw or discard the total number of symbols you rolled, though. So this is a great option to reconfigure your hand and find sets. However, if the defender rolled an equal or greater number of shields than the attacker rolled swords, the defending player can draw or discard up to two cards from or into the attacker’s hand.
Why go through all this card drawing and attacks? Why to collect sets of trash cards, of course! A player wins the game by having 3 sets of at least 3 cards of at least 3 types of trash (so a set of three apple cores, old boxes, and teddy bears, for example) without having any other extra cards. You can have sets that are larger than three (so, 5 apple cores, for example), but you can’t have any cards in your hand that aren’t part of a set. This is also where affinity comes in. Usually, you need at least 3 cards to make a set. But the trash type your character has an affinity for only requires 2 of to make a set. So if you’re playing Iscratchu, for example, who has an affinity for takeout boxes, you could win with a hand of 2 takeout boxes, 3 apple cores, and 3 dead fish (or whatever combination of other trash types).
Variants and Advanced Play
If you want to up the variety of the game, there are several methods via the booster and blocker cards, or trying one of the several game variants.
The booster and blocker cards are shuffled into the deck at the start of the game. Booster cards give you some sort of buff during certain situations. They’re discarded (out of the game, not into the discard pile) upon using them. The two included in my prototype allow you to reroll all of your dice during an attack, keeping the second roll. Pretty nice when you’ve rolled all the symbol that you don’t need. The Blocker cards hinder you while drawing from the deck. They literally “block” your draw. In each case, the Blocker card has a number at the top. When you come across one, you roll 6 dice and are looking to roll swords equal to or greater than that target number. If you do so, you get a minor bonus like drawing an extra card or two. If you fail, you discard randomly from your hand.
You can also play different varieties of the game. The first in the rulebook is the King of the Heap style. In this version, one character is set as the King of the Heap. Every other player, when they attack, attacks only the King of the Heap. If the King defends his hill, he gets to dive into the dumpster, rolling 6 dice and drawing/discarding cards as if he’d won a combat. If the King is deposed, the new King takes his place and instead gets to go dumpster diving.
The other style of game in my prototype was the Round Rummage style. This variant plays like the standard game, but has a different scoring system and way to end the game. Instead of having to have all your sets at once, players can lay down sets of 3 or more cards in front of them after every battle they participate in (so if they attacked or defended). If a player has a set of 3 cards of a certain type played, players can play single and doubles of those cards in front of them as well. They can also add to sets they’ve already played. Scoring is then based on how many cards you have played in front of you, minus the number of cards you have in your hand when a player “goes out” (that is to say, has no more cards in their hand). The player with the most points at the end of the game wins. This variant can also be played with cumulative scores over a certain number of rounds, or play until a player hits a pre-determined points total.
Dumpster Brawl takes your average Rummy game and gives it a bit of a dice spin. I can appreciate wanting to add a bit more interaction between players via the brawling. A “traditional” game of rummy can sometimes feel it’s just a race between to player to get a certain card. Dumpster Brawl lets you go and rip that card out of your opponent’s hand (if they have it and you pick right), or go digging faster through the pile in order to find what you need. I found most games started with players building up to rather massive hands to get their sets, as well as have some extra “dummy” cards in case they lost a battle. Later in the match, players would start to quickly toss these errant cards in order to slim down to just what they needed to win. I also like the idea of Boosts and Blockers, though you’d need more than just the two of each I got in order for them to really make an impact on a game (what with how big the Trash Deck is to begin with, with its 91 cards of just trash).
If you like rummy-style games, but want one with a little more complexity, give Dumpster Brawl a try. The art, theme, and mechanics are family-friendly, so you can get your kids or parents involved if you want, as well.
Don't forget to check out their Kickstarter campaign that's going on now.