Monday, July 25, 2011

Board Game Review: Anima

A friend picked up the game Anima: Shadow of Omega recently, and I was able to try it out with him. It reminds me a bit of Arcadia: the Wyld Hunt, if you combine it with team-based RPG video games like Chrono Trigger. But I get ahead of myself. Let's start with the ratings:

Strategy: 2
Randomness: 4
Complexity: 4
Humour: None.
Attractiveness: Pretty.
Expected Length of Game Play: An hour.

The Anima game (which is actually a card game rather than a board game) consists of several types of cards: Character, Mission, Advantage, Encounter, and Area. In a nutshell, you have a team of up to four characters, trying to complete mission cards by moving to specific areas and using your advantages to defeat the encounter cards.

Turns work in phases: each player goes through the reset phase (resetting your party from the previous turn, but there are certain effects that can occur at this time) in order of their party's Speed rating, then each player goes through the movement phase (choosing which area to visit) in the same order, then the encounter phase (fighting or trading with other players, or facing monsters) in that order, then the explore phase (reap the benefits of your encounter; if you weren't defeated by the monsters in the encounter phase, you get to choose one of the rewards listed on the card. The most common rewards are recruiting a new character to your team, drawing one or more advantage cards, or attempting one of your missions).

Once you've completed at least one of your missions, you can attempt the 'Final Mission.' Whichever player first completes the Final Mission wins the game. However, there is a time limit: if no one completes the Final Mission within a specified number of rounds, then the 'Crisis' occurs. Everyone must roll to try to survive the mission, the first one to succeed wins. If no one succeeds, then the game ends without a winner.

My biggest complaint with this game is that it favour strong characters over fast ones. I had a party of characters with high speed scores, but low strength scores. Despite the fact that I drew the one Final Mission card that requires a Speed test instead of a Strength test, I was obligated to remain in a specific area for at least two turns. I was completely unable to do that because each turn I attempted the mission, another player came in with his low speed/high strength party, attacked my team, and evicted them from the area. We've since discovered a house rule that allows you to add the difference in the parties' Speed scores to your combat value, rending Speed as a more worthwhile trait to have.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Board Game Review: Hive

Here's a review of a really interesting and innovative board game. Part of the innovation is that there is no board. It's called Hive, and if you're interested, you can play it online. And let's not forget the ratings:

Strategy: 6
Randomness: 0
Complexity: 2
Humour: None.
Attractiveness: Pretty.
Expected Length of Game Play: 30 minutes.

The basic Hive set consists of twenty-two hexagonal tiles, eleven each in black and white. Each tile is embossed with a representation of an insect (technically, with an arthropod, as spiders aren't insects): one bee, three ants, three grasshoppers, two beetles, and two spiders. There are two expansions: one adds two ladybug pieces to each side, and the other adds two mosquito pieces to each side.

The game is, at its most basic, sort of like chess on LSD. Each piece moves in a specific way, and although you can't capture enemy pieces, the goal is still to 'checkmate' your opponent's king (or in this case, queen: the 'queen' bee). This is done by causing the opponent's queen piece to be completely surrounded (it doesn't have to be surrounded by your pieces; as long as there's a piece of either colour on all six sides of the bee, it counts). Each piece moves in a specific way.

The game starts out with each player taking turns placing pieces on the playing field. You must place your queen on the field within the first four turns. Other than that, on any turn, you can either put one of your pieces into play, or move one of the pieces already in play. When placing a new piece, it cannot touch an enemy piece. When moving, you cannot move a piece that would cause the hive to be split into two separate parts; all pieces must be connected to all other pieces at all times.

Queen Bees move one space in any direction around the outside of the hive. Ants can move any number of spaces around the outside of the hive. Spiders move exactly three spaces around the outside of the hive. Beetles move exactly one space around the outside of the hive, or climb onto an adjacent piece. Grasshoppers jump in a straight line over any intervening pieces to the first empty space across the hive. If using one of the expansions: Ladybugs move like the grasshopper, but are limited to moving exactly three spaces (jumping over exactly two pieces), however they do not have to move in a straight line like the grasshopper does. The mosquitos move as any piece that they are touching at the beginning of the turn.

And that's pretty much it. If you'd like to know more, you can check out their US or UK website or just go straight to the tutorial video. But I think it's a neat idea, a fun little strategy game that's easily portable, challenging, and imaginative.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

3 Player Chess

Some years ago, I saw an advert in a catalogue for a 3 Player Chess Set. I thought it looked really nice, but I didn't want to spend the money to buy one. Instead, I came home and made my own. It looks a little like this:

I didn't bother with the labels on the edge, and the pieces don't look exactly like that, but otherwise, it's a pretty good comparison. However, the disadvantage to making my own board was that I didn't have the instructions for it. I tried a few times to get people to work out the details with me, but it never really quite happened.

Until recently.

I had a couple of friends volunteer to try it with me. We started discussing the permutations. For one, how do you handle diagonal moves through the centre point? What happens when one player finds himself in checkmate? Do his pieces remain on the board as obstacles, or are they removed? How do you win? Do you need to checkmate both your opponents, or only one?

At their urging, I googled 'three player chess.' It wasn't the first time I'd done it, but we decided to try again anyway. As before, I found no rules for a board of this set-up, but we decided to borrow the rules from a version that had this arrangement:

The short version is: Each player is attacking the opponent to his right, and defending against the player to his left. To enforce this, if one of your pieces is in the 'kingdom' of the player to your left, that player gets (within certain limits) two moves per turn until the offending piece is removed. As such, moving on a diagonal through the centre point always takes you into the kingdom to your right. The game is won by the first player to capture a king (checkmate isn't enough; because of the dynamics of a three-player game, you must actually capture the king), regardless of which king he captures.

The game we played was very bloody, in part because none of us were chess masters to begin with, and adding the three-player rules made us all a bit more unsure, plus the unusual geometry of the board... and it didn't help that we were all sleepy, as it was pretty late when we decided to play.

In all, though, I think it worked very well, and I'd love to try it again sometime.