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Metal Guru – Guns & Steel review

Guns Cover

Awareness about Tokyo Game Market seems to have grown rapidly over the last couple of years, much of it probably thanks to the awesome guys at Japon Brand. Their regular trawls of the new and interesting titles that are produced in tiny amounts by the most indie of games makers at the twice-yearly event have brought us some great additions to our shelves – Colours of Kasane and Villanex are just a couple that still get regular play around here following their release at Essen 2014, for example, and many more games are on their way for this year’s Spiel. More and more folks are going to the source though, heading over to Tokyo to see what kind of things are on offer.

I’m not jealous at all.

One good thing though – sometimes folks get in touch with me and ask if I’d like to try out a game, and when I got a message asking if I’d like to see Guns & Steel by Jesse Li, how could I refuse?

A couple of weeks later, a small envelope landed on my (temporary) doorstep. Inside was a plastic baggie containing a deck of 56 cards and a rulesheet, nothing more – the boxed version of the game had sold out at TGM. Of course, having come from Japan, everything was covered in kanji and a slight air of panic came over me, but on closer inspection, everything in the game is also in English – it’s just that the print was a little smaller and I’m getting ever more blind as I grow older…

So unassuming, and yet filled with delights!

So unassuming, and yet filled with delights!

Regardless, Guns & Steel‘s graphic design is straightforward and clear, and once you know the symbols used throughout the game you’ll barely refer to the text on the cards. What’s the game about though?

Well, simply put, it’s the most portable Civilisation Building game I’ve ever come across, and it’s a very clever little bugger indeed. As you’d expect, you start off small with a handful of cards (everyone’s got the same to begin with) and are racing to evolve your own wee culture from riding around on horses to zipping around in space, collecting wondrous buildings and sites along the way that will score points. As you’d expect, the player with the highest total at the end is the winner, but Guns & Steel does that whole “you may have triggered the end of the game, but you may not necessarily win” thing – it’s very much a game of paying attention all the time, though it’s not up to the brain-melting level that many other civ games drag you too. Think of it as an introduction to the genre but don’t take it too lightly, for G&S will bite you if you don’t treat it respectfully.

Each Civilisation card in the game is double-sided, showing the Resource it can provide on one side and it’s Development on the other. The Resources are taken from each of the game’s ages (Horse, Gunpowder, Oil, Earth and Space Ages are all represented), and a large pyramid of Development cards is laid out before play begins with the three Space Age cards on top, down to seven Horse Age cards at the bottom (though there’s one less per row if you’re playing head-to-head with someone else). One Wonder card is placed next to each of these lines; these are also double sided but they don’t provide a Resource, just two time-line relevant buildings or events, each of which you and your fellow players will be fighting to get hold of as they bring in the big points. But how do you get hold of them?

As you’d expect, it’s all about spending those resources to pick up cards, and it’s here where the pyramid layout is important. You begin the game with those five lowly cards which can be used either as Developments or Resources, and each turn must be played out in the following manner:

  • You MUST play a card in front of you as a Resource.
  • You MUST play a card as a Development, but you don’t have to you use the effect on it.
  • You MAY buy one of the cards from the ones on the table
  • …and that’s pretty much it, apart from the thinking that you’ve just done the wrong thing and everyone is secretly laughing at you inwardly.

Each Development card has a cost shown on its right-hand side, but you may only purchase cards that are ‘open’ – in other words, the ones that have no other cards underneath them. (Actually, this is something of a fib – you can buy whatever cards you like in G&S, but each card below the one that you want to pick up will cost you one extra resource, meaning that things can get very expensive). As you start off with bugger all, you’ll be looking to slowly work your way through the cards and, thematically, through the game’s technological ages. Food and Iron could combine to get you a Philosophy card, the reverse of which provides a Horse resource (res-horse?). Combine that Horse with another Iron and a Knight could be added to your tableau. Collect a handful of the correct resources and you could be grabbing a Wonder. It’s a simple but beautiful system that works very well indeed where even the whole ‘pay an extra resource for a higher up card’ thing fits into the game’s theme – after all, civilisations make surprising technological leaps all the time, so why couldn’t a people who are still using gunpowder come up with the concept of a tank? Da Vinci did stuff like this every day before breakfast!

Play begins...

The birth of a new Civilisation! Or several, at least.

No civ game worth its salt would forget combat and with a name like Guns & Steel, this one has it there at its forefront – if you want it. Red cards are for attacking your opponents, and a successful battle is determined by who has the higher amount of military strength symbols in their tableau. Aggressors must be careful though, as their opposition can play cards from their hands in retaliation, so even though someone may look weak and a tempting target they could turn the tables on you – another splendidly sneaky way in which G&S works so well. Of course, you may choose a more pacifist attitude which is a totally viable attitude to take too. Once you start pulling in cards from the Gunpowder Age onwards, you’re immediately scoring points, so quiet development of your own part of the world while others all around you are losing their tempers can prove most fruitful.

I must admit that I was somewhat surprised when I saw that Guns & Steel wasn’t in the Essen 2015 line-up for Japon Brand – to me it feels like the perfect match for them. It’s portable yet deeply satisfying to play. It’s simple to get your head around but lends itself to a higher level of thought that you may initially consider. Sure, it’s not the prettiest game on the shelf, but its stark graphical style means – to me, anyway – that you get to see the information you need quickly, and frankly I rather like the way it looks. This game means business, no screwing around. Set it up, improve the lot of your people, and reach for the stars – or, in Guns & Steel’s case, the International Space Station at least. And all in around thirty minutes? Publishers should be biting off Jesse Li’s hand.

Guns & Steel plays with between two and four people with games taking around twenty to thirty minutes . Designed by Jesse Li, it’s available now through the guys at Board Game Bliss in Canada, and according to the game’s translator (the splendid Desnet Amane) there’ll also be limited quantities soon on the BGG Store in the near future. Best of all, the guys will be making their way to Essen 2015, so you’ll be able to pick up a copy there too. And you should. You really, really should.

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The Wave of The Future – Zpocalypse review

Zpoc COVER

I have a curious relationship with anything that deals with an apocalypse of any type, which I suppose comes from being brought up in the United Kingdom in the 80s. With the United States to our west and the Soviet bloc to the east, the dangers that the cold war could suddenly break out into something rather warmer seemed to be a staple of society back then. TV shows like the terrifying Threads didn’t help (seriously, watch it on YouTube, it’s the definition of bleak) as kids who watched it and similar broadcasts very sure that we were going to end up the victims of some nuclear conflict or other. But then we grew up, Russia broke up, and the threats now come from other parts of the world – and for some reason we now all seem to think that we’re all going to be eaten by a horde of zombies. Our relationship with how the world may end has shifted and we’re now reasonably alright with it being part of light entertainment. Life, nowadays, is generally much improved – unless you’re the poor bastards in the world of Zpocalypse.

Nuclear holocaust isn’t the only thing they have to contend with, oh no, for designer Jeff Gracia has decided to throw hordes upon hordes of zombies into the mix as well. Everything has gone to crap, but just as you and your fellow survivors think that all hope is lost, a chink of light appears as a message comes through. Survive a few days more and you’ll be plucked to relative safety by the army. All you need to do is live! And while it would be easy enough to stay inside your fallout shelter, hiding away from the awfulness without, well… that wouldn’t make for much fun in a game, would it?

Scavenging and survival are your two main objectives in Zpocalypse, as you aim to save a group of people under your guidance until the cavalry arrives. This is not, however, a co-operative game. Plenty of opportunities exist to make life even harder for your opposition, as if living day-to-day in an atomic zompocalypse wasn’t tricky enough. Anything you can do to make your life easier is encouraged, even at the cost of the lives of others. Survival of the fittest is the order of the day, pulling in victory points at every possible opportunity, but even the strongest isn’t guaranteed to make it through this game.

Saying that, you’re going to have to be strong if you’re to get through the initial challenge of the frankly abysmal rulebook. I know that a second edition of the rules are currently in the works and will be made available to players soon (I plan to add an extra part to this write-up when I get my hands on them) but for those of us who own this first edition? Well, I’d be surprised if one in ten people who have a copy of Zpocalypse have managed to navigate through the rules and played out a full game correctly. Efforts to get this to the table have swiftly become a festival of house rules where “that sounds OK, let’s do that” is an often heard phrase. Early impressions where that the contents of the box were more like a playset with which you could do whatever you please, with the rulebook acting as a set of general guidelines rather than a ‘this is how you play’ affair. You know, like a rulebook should be. This one, though well written, can easily see you having to skip from page to page and back again in order to work out something that should prove simple.

Anyway, as time wore on and research was done with various groups of players, something good came out of the awfulness. Underneath the mess of instructions, we found something that actually worked. Piecing together a rule change here, an errata there, we somehow managed to come out with the semblance of a working set of rules and ended up having fun with Zpocalypse – which is great, because this is a game that really does deserve a bit of attention.

That's a LOT of stuff. And there's even more available if your pockets are deep enough.

That’s a LOT of stuff. And there’s even more available if your pockets are deep enough.

Beginning with a couple of people, your squad will look to grab as much useful stuff as possible that will not only keep you alive but also help fortify the safehouses in which you’ve made your bases. Exploration of the randomly generated map (something which I love in any game – it adds to replayability) will reward you with new items and people who can be brought on to your team. Of course, more people in the team requires more food to keep them going, but managing to keep their bellies full will mean that more stuff can be done. Things that you find can be kept and used in the way they were meant to be, traded to other players or even broken down into elements that can strengthen the walls and barricades. Some of it will be more useful to others and can prove useful as bargaining chips when you’re over a barrel and in need of assistance, so while I said that this isn’t co-operative, there are chances to work with opponents.

Each round represents 24 hours in the Zpocalypse world and is split into a series of phases. Games normally play out over the course of four rounds, but you’re encouraged to just do a few two-round plays at first in order to get to grips with what’s going on. This is definitely a good call, because although you’ll come to realise the game isn’t particularly complex, there’s a lot of working parts that need to be understood before you can just get on with things and devote yourself to a full-scale play. Players are given their own individual board that allows them to keep track of their squad’s health, armour and weapon skills, all of which are totalled up from your squad members. With every character in the game having their own abilities, it’s a good job that the maximum size is four – it can be easy to pass through a certain phase of the game and miss the opportunity to use them.

You will also have a daily mission that can be attempted while also just staying alive – managing to do so will often provide a very useful boost but are also dangerous things to go for. Getting one of your characters trapped behind a wall of the undead just so you could potentially score a few extra points isn’t worth the loss of their contribution to the group in the end, but sometimes the risk is well worth it! As in most situations, safe is better than sorry, so there’s no harm in focusing on building barricades and holding back the tide of zombies that want to sink their teeth into you. Combat is dice based and happily straightforward; work out whether it’s ranged or melee, add a few numbers and hopefully wipe a bunch of nasties off the board – and that’s it. I like that the focus of the game isn’t just on killing as much as possible, though you’ll certainly have to get your hands dirty if you’re to make it through the nights.

Zpocalypse was originally funded via Kickstarter and did rather well, as evidenced by the huge amount of extras that are available already for a game that’s only been officially out for under a year. Greenbrier Games have since made expansions both large and small available, and throughout you’ll find a very well put together product. You get plenty of good quality zombies in the base box as well as minis representing your survivors (though can get even more of both should you want them), the map tiles are nice and thick, the cards are decent and the custom dice are lovely. The extra elements that are available really add to the game, and I particularly like the accessories pack that turn your barricades from small bits of card into massive lumps of moulded plastic that look like they could hold back a real zombie horde. Or at least cause them to stub their toe quite badly.

All told, this is a decent game that is somewhat crippled by that wretched rulebook. Once you get your head around it, perhaps by using some of the fine resources made by fans of the game to help their fellow players, you’ll find a solidly entertaining experience that’s enhanced if you throw yourself into the storytelling side. I’m delighted that Greenbrier have listened to the owners and are releasing a follow-up rulebook and hope that it’ll streamline play, and with that due to be released soon I think that Zpocalypse will gain a bunch of new converts. Until that is done and made widely available, I can only really give Zpocalypse a cautious recommendation. Put your trust (and your copy of the game) in the hands of someone with patience who is willing to decipher the rules, then devote your playgroup to a couple of shorter games so you can get your head around the flow of things. If you’re looking for something you can just leap straight into, I’d suggest an Xbox 360 and a copy of Left 4 Dead, but if you’re up for putting the time into Zpocalypse, you’ll be rewarded.

Zpocalypse was designed by Jeff Gracia and released through Greenbrier Games in 2013. Between one and four can play with games taking around two hours. Copies of the game are now available through retail, but are available direct from the company in the US for $60. Meanwhile, UK and European folks can get theirs from Gameslore for a splendid £37 – not bad at all!

 

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Big Country – Nations review

Naions COVER

That copy of Nations had been sitting on a chair in my house for a fair few weeks before we managed to get it to the table. Not surprising, really – recently I’ve had limited time to play stuff and looking at the box… well, it’s pretty imposing. Produced by Lautapelit.fi, the folks who brought Eclipse to the world, I was a bit worried that it would prove a beast once it hit the table. A few readthroughs of the rulebook failed to settle my nerves, but soon the time came to bite the bullet, set the damn thing up and play. And my first thought after those first few rounds? “Why the hell didn’t I do this earlier?”

I do not get on with most Civ-style games. Through The Ages is great, but I’ve suffered from mind wandering when I’ve played it. Thankfully, Nations plays out in much less time and (to me at least) still offers a similar level of enjoyment, if not the complexity. That’s not saying that this one’s not a tricky undertaking if you’re looking to play it well, it just feels much less daunting once you’ve got a couple of plays under your belt.

Between one and five can play, though I’m yet to have any experience with the solo play, and in all honesty probably won’t do – too many other games on the shelves! Players select an ancient civilisation and take the appropriate double sided board. The A-sides are all the same, giving everyone the same amount of starting resources, though you’ll want to graduate to the B-side pretty quickly to get the full challenge from the game. Everyone grabs what the board tells them, a combination of Food, Stone, Money, Victory Points and Workers, then chooses at what level they’ll be playing at. With four levels to choose from, the more challenging ones will bring you in less resources through the game’s eight rounds – though you’ll probably want to make life a little easier for yourself and choose to give yourself as much of a chance as possible. Nations is hard enough without you giving yourself even more hassle.

As mentioned, the game plays out over eight turns that split over four ages, so, two turns for each age. Three lines of cards are laid out on the table that can be bought for one to three coins, all of which will help enhance your hopefully expanding civilisation. Spaces on your player board are devoted to the various card types, some of which require workers on them to trigger their effects. Turns work with players taking an action – either buying a card and placing it, deploying a worker or grabbing an Architect that can help you build up a valuable Wonder – then moving on to the next player clockwise until everyone has passed.

Most of the cards you’ll invariably pick up will be the blue bordered Buildings or red bordered Military ones. Buildings, when stocked with workers, bring in resources while Military affect your fighting strength. You’ll also be able to take over Colonies (green) that enhance your civilisation but require hefty military power, or employ notable historical Advisors (orange) who will bestow great benefits upon you. The Wonders (brown) are placed on your ‘Under Construction’ space and require a certain amount of Architects before they become an actual part of your board, but bringing them in will really give you a huge boost – and as you have space for multiple Wonders, you’ll see more and more resources and bonuses come in as the game progresses.

There are three other card types: Battles (grey), Wars (black) and Golden Ages (yellow). Battles are a quick and dirty way of pulling in a bunch of resources. Meanwhile, only one War can be triggered each turn, and once done all players must reach a certain level of military strength or suffer a pretty brutal penalty. Thankfully you can offset a lot of this by ensuring your people have a decent level of Stability; just because you may choose to take a more peaceful path, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get crushed under the feet of warmongers. Golden Age cards offer players a choice: either trade the card in for a few resources or score points by paying some stuff from your stacks, and in a game where points can be hard to come by, this can often be a big decision.

Nations PLAY

Playing workers to your board costs stone, but it’s a necessary thing to do – an unused worker is a useless one, as they’ll bring in much needed resources and have an effect on your Military and Stability. You have a choice to bring another worker in at the start of each round instead of claiming resources, but doing so can be expensive. As with many things in Nations, there’s a fine balance that must be maintained – it is very easy to screw yourself over and watch your civilisation crumble if you make a couple of poor decisions, and for me, that’s where the joy lies. For those couple of hours when you’re sat at the table, there’s a quiet focus and intensity shared between the players. You’re all desperately trying to build your own Nation up while keeping an eye on what everyone else is doing. If you boil it down, this is a fine example of multiplayer Solitaire but it still manages to feel like a well constructed shared experience – that’s a rather impressive achievement.

The game progresses through it’s four eras: Antiquity, Medieval, Renaissance and Industrial (essentially taking us up the the start of the First World War) and as you’d expect the available cards get stronger as time moves on. You end up building this extensive tableau with a surprising amount of cards laid out before you as you struggle – yes, this is a struggle, but an enjoyable one! – to carve out as many points as possible to grab that first place position. You’ll have to deal with an Event card at the end of each turn that brings in bonuses and punishments for players, depending on whether certain conditions have been met. With these, the good stuff is very good and the bad stuff… well, let’s not think about that, shall we?

Every card is based on an actual event, person, place – you know the deal – and it’s interesting as you create this alternate history. Who’d have though that the Roman Empire could last through to the twentieth century, claim the Phillipines for their own and be responsible for the invention of the railway system? There are a huge amount of cards for each of the four eras and it’ll be a fair few games before you manage to see them all, so there’s a good amount of opportunity of replayability with Nations. Of course, each card has its own individual artwork, and while most of them are fine, this is where my only real criticism of the game rears its head – some of the images are laughably poor. Mostly I’m talking about the Advisor cards which feel like they were the last things done for the game and just had to be put together to hit a deadline. If there’s ever a second edition of Nations, I’d love to see some consistency in the art, perhaps getting just one person to do the lot rather than going for the team-based approach we’ve got with this version.

Aside from that (admittedly small) issue, Nations is a bloody excellent game. You’re tested from the very start, and every decision you make is important – even which board you pick up at the start of the game. It’s certainly not something that I’d bring out for a group who were just getting into gaming, but for players who have a bit of confidence in them and fancy being a little brave, it’s ideal. Nations is not a difficult game to play, but it’s certainly a challenge if you’re going to play it well. For those who are looking to add a great civilisation building title to their collection that’s not going to take an entire day to play, I’d say that Nations is an essential purchase. For everyone else, try before you commit, but I reckon you’ll love it.

Designed by Rustan Håkansson, Nina Håkansson, Einar Rosén and Robert Rosén, Nations was originally released by Lautapelit.fi in 2013. Between one and five players can take part with games taking around the two hour mark for three players. A copy of the game will cost you around the £60 mark, but you can get yourself one cheaper from Gameslore for a mere £48! Bargain!

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This Is Hardcore – Craftsmen review

Craftsmen COVER

We’ve had a couple of weeks sabbatical here on the site but are back with a vengance. First review this week, Emma checks out Krzysztof Matusik’s Craftsmen.

When a copy of Craftsmen, this season’s newest Polish cubefest, hit my proverbial desk (Michael, can I have a desk yet? [No Desk For You! – Michael] ), I’ll admit I was worried. I’m not usually huge on Euros, especially the more hardcore ones, and even those I do enjoy I’m usually terrible at, so I was foreseeing hours trying to grasp all the intricacies of some arcane system and coming out at the end of the evening with like three points (an experience anyone who’s played Caverna with me will recognise). Then I spent a while trying to get a preliminary idea of what the game was like by reading the rulebook and checking it out online, and I was orders of magnitude more worried. Everything I could find advertised it as incredibly long and complicated and horrendously counterintuitive, with first games taking upwards of four hours if even playable, and the rulebook didn’t do much to dispel this feeling of dread. I’ve read a lot of rulebooks of varying levels of dodginess, but the awful translation from Polish puts Craftsmen’s firmly among the worst.  Between examples that make things more complicated without actually explaining anything, dizzying levels of confusing nomenclature (the game is divided into three turns, which are divided into four rounds, which are divided into three phases (except every fourth round only has two phases) of which the second is divided into six stages, and if you understood that you deserve a medal) and joyously incomprehensible sentences like “NOTE: Meat is a special kind of half-product.”, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that, if you go into it armed only with the words inside the box, Craftsmen is more or less unplayable.

While it was tempting to give up there and go and do something less taxing (like a graduate degree), a little bird told me I was meant to be reviewing games, rather than rulebooks, so I decided to persevere. Armed with a new understanding of the game courtesy of Rahdo’s remarkably informative run-through of it, I sat down with my brother/part-time guinea pig to try it out. And six hours later, we emerged from the game, brains leaking from our ears and only able to speak in monosyllables, even…

What? Two and a half hours, including learning it? Alright then.

Seriously, coming out of my first game of Craftsmen, my main thought (alongside my usual one of “Wait, I need to play that again and do fewer stupid things”) was “Was that it?”. I don’t know if I’m just peculiarly suited to the challenges of administrating the economy of a small Central European town, but the whole thing really didn’t seem that challenging. Sure, there’s a learning curve, but that’s to be expected from any game where half the weight is made up of multi-coloured wooden cubes.

“But Em,” I hear you cry (and you’re talking to your computer again, I’ve warned you about that) “You’re 500 words into this review and you haven’t actually told us anything about the game yet!” You’re right, of course, but that was kind of the point – as I’ve been describing thus far, there’s a good game here, but there’s a lot of words to get through before you get there. So that was what I was doing there. Parallel structure. Literature degree. Nailed it.

Craftsmen is a fairly hefty Euro for 2-5 administrators, in which you try to revitalise the economy of a small nondescriptly-European town by convincing its six guilds to actually work together and make things. These are:

-The bankers, where you can collect money cards (a neat little set-collection mechanic where sets of money of the same colour are worth more than they would be otherwise)

-The builders, where you can add buildings to your part of the town (everybody starts with a lumber mill, and can expand from there depending on a surprisingly punishing colour-matching mechanic)

-The notaries, where you can buy building plans (provided your money is the same colour as the plans you want – I’ve had far too many turns where my plans were dashed by my apparent inability to simultaneously count to six and recognise the colour green)

-The titular craftsmen, where you can use your buildings to make products (as suggested, this is where the meat of the game is, as your basic buildings make products that go to other buildings to make more advanced products, which go to other buildings to make finished products, which get loaded onto the ships – an extra area-control game which generates most of the points)

-The merchants, where you can buy advanced products from the storehouse to fill any gaps in your production chains

-The town hall, where you can change turn order or buy tokens that do various things (seriously, this is pretty much just the ‘everything else’ space)

This sounds simple enough – get money, buy buildings, build buildings, make things, export things, profit – but the important thing to remember here is that, after you’ve done your worker placement for the round, the actions are always carried out in that exact order, so you’re always buying building plans the turn before you can build them, necessitating a bit more forward planning.

And that’s pretty much it. Sure, there are a few more little rules – some worker spaces are worth extra benefits, there’s a market so you can trade your basic products for other ones, you get bonus points for completing production trees – but I just summed up the overall flow and idea of the overcomplicated game that everybody’s been freaking out about in like half a page. And that’s including sarcastic asides.

So I guess what I’m getting at is that Craftsmen really isn’t as scary as you might think. Sure, there’s a decent amount of stuff to think about, but if you’ve played Agricola or Caverna (and statistics suggest that applies to literally everybody in the world) it’s really no more complicated than that. And the board is lovely and elegant (my usual gripes about insufficiently-long victory point tracks notwithstanding) and efficiently manufacturing candles for export has never been this satisfying.

So sure, if you don’t like big Euros or anything that’ll stay on your table longer than an hour and a half (I could see games of this with more players lasting at least four hours), this probably won’t change your mind, but if anything in this review sounded interesting, don’t let Craftsmen’s intimidating reputation and horrendous rules put you off giving it a go.

Craftsmen was designed by Krzysztof Matusik and published by G3 in 2013. Between two and five people can play with games taking around two to three hours. This review is of the multilingual first printing which was provided by the folks at G3. Thanks for reading, and be sure to follow Emma on Twitter for more of her desk-less writings.

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Here, There and Everywhere – Quantum review

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…

Quantum COVER

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.

Quantum is a very pretty thing to see. (Image from Daniel Thurot - BGG)

Quantum is a very pretty thing to see. (Image from Daniel Thurot – BGG)

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! 

 

 

 

 

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