Stuart “The Judge” Platt is back once again, this time checking out Myrmes. A Eurogame about the adventures of competing ant colonies, its been divisive to say the least… but which side of the fence will he fall on?
I tend to review games that I feel passionate about – one way or another. I find it easier to convey a strong sense of what makes a game great or dreadful through an overt emotional response. The following review is harder for me to quantify as I have mixed, and somewhat ambiguous feelings. So join me as I explore the good, the bad and the ugly of Myrmes.
There are several good videos and articles on the rules, so I shan’t cover them in detail here. For introductory purposes, however, Myrmes is a worker placement / spatial tile game where players control the fortune of an ant colony as it expands, all the while searching and competing for illusive Victory Points. The theme is novel and relatively unique (though the Fragor Brothers mined similar colonies with Antics) but does feel somewhat pasted over the top of an abstract mixture of mechanisms. Even the very attractive and well-presented board, and presence of small, detailed plastic ants that act as your workers and soldiers aren’t quite enough to make you invest in your troop of insects.
Players will place their Nurse Ant workers on a personal board to spawn larvae (a resource you’ll need along with dirt, stone and food) and recruit additional worker or soldier ants. The workers then either generate resources themselves from within the colony or venture out on a suicide mission into the big scary world beyond. I say suicide, because the worker is guaranteed to perish at the end of this trip, but has the option to kill ladybugs, spiders and other insects along the way. Upon dying, they drop a ‘pheromone trail’ tile (which I think is a boardgaming first) which will generate MORE resources to be harvested each turn.
Let’s look at the mechanisms in that last paragraph: Worker placement – Resources – Spend Resources – add tiles to board – Resources. This is a simple mechanical description, but a neat distillation of how it feels to play. It doesn’t feel like I’m expanding an ant colony – I’m doing A to B to C to make Victory Points, nothing more. Inherently this isn’t a problem as long as the game is captivating. Bora Bora, to quote a recent example, does this spectacularly well. (Actually, Bora’s more like A or B or C or D or E to make points – see my review for more). So it’s rubbish then? Not entirely.
So what is good? Well, the puzzle is interesting. The fact that (by default) you can only store 4 resources per turn is an interesting bottleneck – particularly when you consider that you are FORCED to harvest resources from each of your tiles every round. Without clever planning to use said goods, you will find yourself discarding the very little wooden cubes you were busting a gut to generate. In addition, a major source of victory points are the ‘missions’ which can be solved over the course of the game. The first person to claim a mission also gains a chunk of points any time another player solves the same mission after you. So earlier is good? Well, yes, but to claim a mission forces you to commit one of your Nurse pawns – a sacrifice that can severely reduce your effectiveness from turn to turn.
So things are pretty tight? Yes, actually. Even more so, when you consider that there are only 9 turns in the whole game – so every action counts.
Now, I can imagine someone reading that and saying “Yes! That sounds great – I love tough decisions” and so do I. Agricola often feels like you are pushing a large boulder uphill, and I like those pressure filled situations; that is one of the better elements of Myrmes.
Anything else worthy of note? Well, I like the random “Special event” action mechanic. Each year (game round) a die is rolled for each season (turn.) This provides a special bonus on certain tasks – extra larvae when you collect larvae, bonus workers, access to larger pheromone tiles etc. Planning your turns around these variable bonuses requires medium-term planning to get the most efficient use out of your limited actions. Which would be lovely – if only the game were about 40% more fun.
Which is the single reason why I cannot recommend this game – it’s just not enough fun. Throughout the games 2 hour plus length, I couldn’t help but think of several other games of a similar run-time / depth / complexity which I would be rather playing instead.
Well, this has been a fairly wishy-washy review – which seems somewhat appropriate for such a wishy-washy game. It tries. It tries really, really hard and chucks lots of different ideas against the wall. Loads of disconnected mechanisms – all lightly sprinkled with an interesting theme – that ultimately falls well short of the sum of its own parts. I wanted to enjoy Myrmes. I was charmed by the idea of the theme and developing my own little colony – but it doesn’t hold together. In summation, the game is far too abstract, mechanical and uninvolving to capture my imagination, and there’s not enough here otherwise to allow me to overlook these failings.
I’ll be looking at Myrmes myself next week, but in the meantime if you’d still like to check out the game for yourself you can grab one from Gameslore for £34.99. The game was designed by Yoann Levet and is published by Ystari and Rio Grande Games.