When I was a kid in secondary school, there was really only one game available: Chess. On rainy days, you could read some comics, draw or play Chess… and I was terrible at it. Still am, in fact. My worst moment was when I was somehow convinced to attend a tournament to make up numbers and was destroyed by a six year old prodigy. Aside from the occasional foray into iOS play (which I’ve long since abandoned) I’ve barely played it since.
However, there’s one thing I really like about the game and that’s its relative simplicity. Each player has a set amount of pieces, they know how they move, and from there you’ve got an almost infinite amount of options – it’s got a very pure feeling. That’s a very hard thing to get right. It’s like the Three Bears and their porridge. Too simple or too complex and it’s just not as much fun…
Total Strategy-Z is a new release that aims to hit that spot and – for the most part – does pretty well. The designer has tried to make a game that balances strategy with simple play mechanics and… well, it’s not a bad little game. It’s not going to change the world, but it’s certainly a fine way to pass your time. Here’s how it works.
Strictly for two players, Total Strategy-Z sees them take the roles of generals in charge of an army with one aim – to destroy the opposition’s leader. Each army consists of different units, all of which have (according to the rules) “their own strengths and weaknesses”. In reality, this boils down to just three attributes: Attack, Defence and Movement. Each turn, a player must move one of their units around the hex board then (if they end up adjacent to an enemy) can choose to attack.
The way combat is resolved is probably the most interesting part of the game. Everything centres around The Pot, a noble vessel that to the untrained eye may look suspiciously like an eggcup. The players will place beads into the pot determined by their Attack and Defence ratings, then the aggressor closes their eyes and draws out a single bead. If it’s their colour, the defending unit is destroyed and removed from the board. If not, the defender has successfully staved off the attack and lives to fight another day. Sadly, there are no rules in the game for multi-unit fighting – everything is strictly one on one, meaning that you’re getting a slightly less battlefield-orientated experience than you may expect.
It’s a very simple system and one that I think is fun, but it does kind of go against the whole concept that the game is based on strategy. You could be the best commander on earth but still manage to lose every single battle by drawing poorly, and I feel that this will totally infuriate people who demand that any element of luck is factored out of their games. As someone who rather enjoys a bit of chaos in their play, I don’t mind it; after all, even a giant can be brought down with a single lucky shot. Defence can be bolstered by retreating back to marked Fortress areas on the board, but don’t rely on them – eventually you’ll be wiped out by having your opposition picking your units off one by one.
Next up, this ain’t the prettiest girl at the dance. The whole presentation can probably be best described as “functional”. Unit tokens are marked with simple icons, and the playing area is pretty much a field of green hexes. Players are given tables to help them remember the attributes, but they’re printed on standard paper. Players each receive five tokens for the combat pot but could at some point require six (should a Pikeman hole up in a Fortress, for example). Basically, if you’re looking for incredible production values, this isn’t the game for you.
However, if you’re happy to play a simple little wargame, Total Strategy-Z could well tick enough boxes for you. It’s an entry-level affair, one that would be ideal for people who’ve never played a wargame before but fancy giving them a try at an affordable price. While I don’t believe it’ll tax those who enjoy a more hardcore experience for too long, it’s an entertaining enough way to scratch the itch. Oh, and it’s way more fun pretending an elephant is rampaging through a battlefield than trying to imagine a castle that moves around…
Total Strategy-Z is produced by Total Strategy Games and can be bought directly from their site for £20.