The Judge is a man of taste and style, and though we know he loves his games, he can sometimes be quite reticent in handing out the praise. Someone must have slipped a little something in his daily Earl Grey though… he’s become rather effusive about Quantum…
Stardate: The Future. Location: Space. Mission: To colonise this planet in the name of florescent green cubes everywhere. Mission Log: Things were going well, we had parked our ships around the target planet in the slightly abstract pattern insisted upon by the Grand Intergalactic Senate that tells us what to do. Then it happened, zooming in from behind a meteor storm – A Giant Red Die! And even worse – it was a ONE!
Quantum arrived in my office last week from Funforge Games, located in the wilds of France. This is arguably the greatest thing to come from that fine country since the guillotine and Eric Cantona. This review isn’t, however, intended to compare board games with dramatically constructed execution devices and Gallic footballers / faux philosophers (despite my lobbying Mr. Fox) Instead, I’m here to tell you what exactly makes Quantum the best new game I have played in 2014 thus far.
Quantum is a space colonisation and combat game. Some have described this as a 4X (meaning Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate) but whilst this game has plenty of expansion and extermination, there is none of the others – so I’m going with the slightly less catchy Colonisation and Combat (or C2 – © The Judge 2014)
The game is a straight race to get all of your Quantum Cubes onto the various planets that make up the solar system. The flexibility offered by the modular game board allows almost unlimited variety – and there are dozens of suggested layouts in the manual. Players control a fleet of three spaceships, represented by large, brightly coloured dice. The number of top of each die illustrates the type of ship that is represented and also its movement speed and (inversely) its ability in combat. So, the Scout ship is a 6. This is fast moving (6 spaces per activation) and very poor in combat – whereas the slow moving but deadly Battlestation is a 1.
Each turn players spend three action points to move their ships into position, change them into other ships (by rerolling) and potentially attack each other through the medium of crashing into their part of space. Combat is quick, dirty and painless (as long as you win) – and encourages attacking at every turn. Simply, both attacker and defender roll an additional dice and add it to that of their ship in the fight. Lowest number wins and attacker wins ties. That’s it! If the attacker wins, the loser is destroyed. If the defender wins, they survive – but there are no other negative consequences for the attacker – so get out there and fire first and fire often.
So you win by colonising, but how do you add your Quantum Cubes to a planet? Well, by spending two of your three actions, you can drop a cube into a sector where the pips on your orbiting ships add up to a requisite number on that sector. So a 3 and a 5 ship orbiting an 8 sector will allow you to dispense one of these precious cubes and move yourself one step towards victory. Each turn in which you play a cube also triggers the claiming of a special power which break ALL of the rules of the game (e.g more movement / more ships / bonuses in combat etc.) offering an increasing array of options and possibilities to get in position to drop more cubes. Play continues until one player puts down their last cube and is immediately declared the winner.
The rulebook is very well illustrated and works as both a teaching guide and a reference guide. The rules themselves are very simple, straightforward, and easily taught to anyone in just 10 minutes. This is a massive plus for me. The wide variety of groups I have played this game with have all been up to speed and enjoyed this game on the first play – quite a feat.
Components are largely another positive. The box insert is one of the best I have ever used. The board tiles and player mats are thick, sturdy card. The dice are brightly coloured, fit in with the other graphic design choices, but are a little warped in some cases. Now, I’m told this is a small issue with a percentage of the first edition copies, but the dice aren’t quite completely cubed – and a couple of the pips are not coloured in. Funforge have been very good about sending replacements though. That said, I’m looking to pimp out my copy with some awesome dice… maybe the Rocket Dice from Alien Frontiers would be good… hmmmmm…
So why did this hit me so hard? Well, the game plays very quickly (almost never longer than an hour) and scales perfectly well for 2, 3 and 4 players. The rules and play experience is very streamlined and straightforward – but the game is as deep / thinky (almost puzzley) as a euro that has triple the play time. The elements of ‘take-that’ (something I usually dislike and avoid) are well integrated, feel very fair and with enough luck mitigation to make your choices really matter. As you get cubes onto the board, you will inevitably garner more attention from opponents who try to stop your progress. To counter this, players collect powers throughout the game which opens up additional opportunities for sneaking in to a sector and scoring. These powers also pretty much guarantee a fantastic ending to your game – which usually goes down pretty much like this.
Sarah, Neil, Hamish and Judge are all down to their final Quantum cube.
Judge inner monologue: “Well, I’ve stopped Hamish and Neil from being able to win this turn. Sarah only has one dice left on the board and I’m in position to get that last cube down on my next go – It’s mine! I can taste it! Mwahahahahahaha!”
Sarah outer monologue: So… this card lets me bring this space ship on for free. Now I can move this for one action. This card lets me turn it to a six for free. Two actions to drop a cube and…… I WIN!”
Judge inner monologue: “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”
Judge outer monologue: “Oh, well done Sarah… well played! I knew you were going to do that!”
Quantum is an exceptionally well designed game. It is also a great deal of fun, crammed into a tight play time. This game will be in the argument for Game of the Year come December, and I can’t wait to see if anything else comes close.
Quantum was released by Funforge in 2013. Designed by Eric Zimmerman, between two and four people can play with games taking (as The Judge said) around an hour or less. You can follow The Judge on Twitter where he’s @Judge1979 – engage in discourse with him now!