I've gotten a few requests to review this game, and oddly enough, almost none of the people who sent in these requests had any idea that said game was still being produced. Oh yes, it is. The glory days for Milton Bradley's "Crossfire" are over, but it's still nestled amongst Scrabble and the eighty versions of Trivial Pursuit at most toy stores. If you've forgotten, or have never experienced the majesty that is Crossfire, trust me, there's a reason people requested this review. Save for a few kinks that render the game a complete nuisance, it's a Hell of a lot of fun to play. Here's my tribute...
It's the "rapid fire shoot-out game," where two players viciously battle each other in an effort to be the first marble-knocker to slam alien pucks past the goal line. Sort of has that whole "Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em" vibe to it -- while you're playing, there's absolutely no downtime. You just keep shooting your marbles, loading your marbles and yelling obscenities that double charmingly as battle cries until finally, one of the players scores three goals and raises their tired fists in victory. Crossfire enjoyed an immense ad campaign during the early 90's, complete with an unforgettable jingle ("You'll get caught up in the... Crossfire!") that kept its popularity up high for quite a while. Marketing mostly towards little boys who preferred to cause as much damage as possible, Crossfire was a testosterone-laden beast that left many a sad defeat and grand champion in its neverending path of destruction. That's how my seventy-year-old Aunt Sadie described it when handing the game over to me eight Christmases ago.
You'll rarely find an entity in the board game aisle with a big time feel, but Crossfire's got it. The box is immense, as is the plastic playing field itself. There's a recurring theme of fire and flames, basically reiterating the point that Crossfire is meant to settle differences when mere battles-to-the-death or pillow fights just aren't good enough. Above all else, Crossfire is what I'd call a "dick size" game. When people play this thing, there's a lot riding on winning the competition. If you lose at a game like Connect-Four, you just kinda say "damn" and chalk up the loss to not paying attention. If you lose in a game of Crossfire, the person you're playing against has a dick twice as long as yours, and he won't mind telling you about it. Having me explain it with a few pictures can't really do this creature justice -- it's only after seeing two perfectly normal kids degenerate into intestine-eating Orcs will you realize the true power of... CrossFIERRR.
They made it all sound so convincingly happy on the box. Blast the pucks, reload your marbles, shoot shoot shoot, shake hug kiss. It's nothing like that, not in the slightest. Crossfire is a game of war. I don't know how many of you have played "Risk," but if you have, you'd know that there's times when you just want to smash your fists on the board and identify your actions as "winning the game." Crossfire actually lets you cash in on those desires. Essentially, the winner is only the person who can muster up more rage and insanity than the other player. Seeing that smiling little boy on the box paints an incorrect picture. The only time you show your pearlies in Crossfire is when you're striking a fanged battle stance at your opponent. Occasionally, you might even bite them.
Don't chomp on your foe's skin for too long, though. A game of Crossfire can end in the span of seconds -- it takes a certain concentrated passion to truly master this unearthly playing field, but once you have, you're one step closer to a plastic trophy if someone ever sets up an official competition for a game that hasn't been even arguably popular since 1993. Cross your fingers.
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Shown above is the Crossfire arena -- over two feet long from pistol to pistol, the battlefield mocks all would-be contenders with its unholy combination of marble-shooting and a level playing field that's not quite so level. Alas, it's the one nuance that keeps Crossfire from being one of this era's truly great games. No matter how well you connect the plastic pieces while putting the game together -- no matter how hard you try to do it right -- it'll never be perfectly level. This gives one player a distinct advantage over the other, as the marbles shoot much better from the "downhill" side. It's like how Boy Scouts always had to deal with their opponents drawing the "fast lane card" in a pine box derby race. Crossfire isn't a particularly fair game, but then, what is?
There's the alien pucks -- the heart of the game. Using the pistols, players load, aim and shoot dozens of tiny silver marbles at 'em, trying to drive the pucks past the other player's pistol-side goal chamber. It's not a difficult process, but since your opponent is walloping back with just as many top speed marble bullets, scoring a goal can take a considerable amount of time. Maybe even a whole minute!
Each of the pucks plays by its own set of rules. The triangular puck is a misleading monster, as there's really no way to tell what direction it's going to fly in upon being smacked in the ass with a little marble. Could go right, could go left. Sometimes, though rare, it'll fly straight up in the air and perform a Rodney Dangerfield triple dive before crashing back into the Crossfire arena and pretending it didn't just do what it did. The flat sides of the puck also cause it to sometimes become stuck at certain points of the board -- it's here where a Crossfire battle truly shines, as both players will unload more rounds at that trapped puck in the span of fifteen seconds than anyone could ever count. I'll admit that I see humor where there is none, but c'mon...there's nothing more entertaining than giving six-year-olds a game that'll have them screaming "shithead" at each other over the skewed direction of a two-inch, triangular puck.
The second puck, either sun-shaped or ninja star with extra arms-shaped, is obviously more eye-catching and foxy than its boring cousin. It's also a lot easier to score goals with. A misfired marble will often cause the puck to furiously spin in its place, and if you're able to land a center shot while it's doing that? BAM -- the shit'll fly all the way across the arena and just about make your opponent explode upon impact.
You wouldn't think so many adventures and stress could find their roots with two little pucks, but there you have it. Crossfire traps players with its seemingly simple and easy directions -- you think this'll be an absolutely mindless way to kill a few minutes, but it'll end up being one of the most intense competitions of your life. When you're finished playing, trumpets will sound and wives will cry 'cuz their babies are coming home.
The pistols work adequately enough. They'll get jammed a lot (Milton Bradley even mentions this in the instructions), but it just takes a few jiggles to get 'em back in working order. I guess this explains why Crossfire's meant for kids. I'm a little stronger (just a little) than I was at age eight, so upon jiggling the jammed pistol, I found myself slowly chipping the plastic gun and paving a path to one big waste of a twenty dollar bill. Actually, it costs a little more than twenty bucks, but I didn't feel like saying "a big waste of a twenty dollar bill and three one dollar bills and thirty-eight cents worth of loose change." I sacrificed for the sake of a good flow, yo.
In the end, I found myself in the unenviable position of playing Crossfire from the "uphill" side, where nobody ever wins and lots of yearlong bouts with depression begin. Seriously, it's hard for me to keep this 80,000 word Crossfire testimonial on the up and up when I know very well that the game can't be played correctly 90% of the time. I'm not saying that the unbalanced board is a universal trait -- I'm sure there's a few good ones out there -- but from my experiences and by what I've gathered from other Crossfire enthusiasts, this crap is pretty common.
Even after utilizing the lame plastic bumpers (they're adjustable, and can help decrease the goal area for any idiot three-year-olds who want to play), I found myself getting my ass handed to me round after round. It'd be understandable if I wasn't the best Crossfire player in history, but you know what? I am. I'd file a complaint with Milton Bradley, but the last time I did that, Pressman wrote back and told me they were "in cahoots." Thank God I didn't use my real name. These game companies are pretty militant when it comes to dismembering anyone who complains. Why else do you think Mouse Trap's lasted for so long?
I finally realized that the game couldn't be fixed. After hours of pounding on top, renegotiating the plastic parts and praying to a higher power, I admitted defeat. Crossfire is fun, but it's not so fun if you have absolutely no chance of winning. While still passable if I was playing against a newbie who wasn't aware of these design flaws, I searched for other avenues of improving an otherwise failed experiment. Couldn't come up with much, so I just added a few Ninja Turtle "Mighty Beanz" as extra pucks...
Perhaps shooting marbles at a Donatello-themed Mighty Bean would help offset the fact that my side of the board wasn't conducive to winning the game.
Oh well. At least I won't have to spend any money on my brother's Christmas present come next December. I'm on the fence with this one -- Crossfire is a great game, really it is, but these design flaws are way too across the board for me to recommend it in good faith. If you're fortunate enough to buy one of the rare versions with a completely level battlefield, you're in for a wonderful experience. If not, you're going to do stupid things like adding Mighty Beanz and eating plastic in an effort to justify the money spent, ultimately causing more stress than anything stamped with a Milton Bradley logo is really worth.
Still, when it works, it's really something. As mentioned earlier, Crossfire rocked the charts in the early 90's mainly because of a clever series of commercials that made the game seem a hundred times more epic than it actually was. In these ads, kids would fly around on hoverboards across the charred landscapes of distant planets, hurling fireballs and marbles at each other while fans cheered 'em on. It barely talked about how Crossfire was played, but since half the shit in the commercial was either on fire or singing along to a song Stan Bush smacked himself for not writing first, kids understood it to mean that they absolutely had to own the game. Click the pic below to download one of those commercials -- the sound is pretty grainy, but the general consensus amongst the three readers I polled during a daydream earlier today was that you really don't mind grainy audio. Good for you!