Love Machine – Neuroshima Hex review

I finally got my hands on a copy of Neuroshima Hex a few weeks ago and was pretty shocked to discover that it was originally released way back in 2006. Based on the long running Polish RPG Neuroshima, it’s set in a post-apocalyptic world where technology has run amuck leaving humanity trying to live from day to day while avoiding the murderous machines. Think of it a bit like Terminator mixed in with Mad Max and you’ll get the picture.

Neuroshima Hex is a war game abstracted into the extreme where up to four factions strive to defend their HQ for as long as possible while still being as aggressive as possible. The different armies each have their own abilities and skills, The Outpost being the last of the good guys, attempting to keep humanity going through guerrilla attacks. The Hegemony are their flipside, valuing strength and throwing themselves into close combat as they struggle for power. Moloch, the big bad of the piece, is the machine based army responsible for wiping out most of humanity and looking to finish the job, while Borgo is the leader of their mutant offspring that wants to grab power for itself.

Each player begins with a stack of hexagonal tiles, taking their HQ piece and placing it on the board which is made up of nineteen hexes. Around the outside of the board numbers count down from 20, representing the “health” of your base – should this hit zero, you’re out. At the start of each turn, a player draws three tiles from their stack and must immediately discard one. You may then play them or hold on to them for a future turn, but the most you’ll ever have available to you is two per turn.

There are two different overall types of tile – Units and Actions. Units are the ones that will fight on your behalf. All you need to do is place them on the board and wait… Looking through the tiles in your army, you’ll notice that there’s a fair few symbols to get your head around but don’t fear; you’ll understand them pretty quickly. Attacking will either be melee (signified by a short, stumpy triangle) or ranged (a much longer, thinner one). If you see a net on your tile, it immediately stops any tile the net is pointing to from doing anything. A cross means that your unit has toughness and can take more than the usual one hit. There are even some tiles that bestow boosts to adjacent units, but there’s one thing you really need to pay attention to: the all-important Initiative number.

Every unit that’s able to attack has an Initiative rating and once the fighting starts you’ll see how important it is to consider them. Working from the highest number downwards, all units will attack at the same time – all 3s could go first, then 2s and so on until you get to the bases which are ranked at 0. After each Initiative phase, any units that are destroyed are removed from the board immediately – see why you have to pay attention now? A poor placement could mean that your well prepared plan falls apart in no time at all…

The Actions are much simpler to get your head around, being that they’re one off events that you trigger by discarding the tile. Some are unique, but most of the time you’ll see actions that allow you to move units, push them back or – most important of all – start battles. Throwing one of those into the mix will set off the chain of events that will see countless tiles on the board getting removed. You can also start a battle by filling the board up, so don’t get too attached to any units as it’ll be rare that they’ll actually last more than a few turns!

Artistic! (Photo by blakstar from BGG)

Depending on how many people you play with, Neuroshima Hex can feel like totally different games. With two it’s filled with tense, almost chess-like decisions and small moves; everything feels significant and you’re constantly looking for a chink in your opponent’s armour. Three and four player games are much more chaotic and are often joyously ridiculous – when you see that battle tile get flipped and all of a sudden fourteen tiles immediately disappear from the board, you’ll break down into fits of laughter more often than not.

This latest edition has space on the board for the placement of more tiles (perfect if you’re looking to introduce a fifth or even sixth player into the mix – there are expansions that allow for this) and rules for setting up scenarios. There’s a vibrant community online who create whole new groups and set-ups for other players to experience, so be sure to check them out. The game is nicely produced – the only minor downside is that I’d say the art on the tiles is functional rather than gorgeous, but in all honesty you’ll be concentrating on the icons more than anything else. Every faction also gets its own player board detailing exactly what tiles they’ll be getting which is very useful indeed.

Despite being really easy to get into, I have a feeling that Neuroshima Hex isn’t a game for everybody. When there are a lot of tiles in play it can become something of a brain burner as you attempt to work out exactly what Initiative level each unit is at and in what order things will happen on the board. You really need to think ahead as much as you can, reacting to what the other players are up to and thinking as tactically as possible, so if you enjoy that kind of game experience I’d thoroughly recommend it. Just don’t sit around the table to this one if you know the kind of people who get riled when their long-planned strategy doesn’t pay off! You may well see a table get flipped…

Neuroshima Hex was designed by Michal Oracz and works with between two and four players. The English language version is published by Z-Man Games while Portal handle the original Polish version. Games will take a maximum of an hour (and are way shorter with only two players). If you fancy a copy, get on over to Gameslore where you can pick one up for £32.99.

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