Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Neuroshima Hex, or The Return of Roopert

Chris hosted our weekly Tuesday night gaming session. The sessions have been spottily attended recently, with this being the best attended in four weeks (with three of us, Mike included). Still, as Chris said, it doesn't matter who shows up, we'll have fun anyway. Well, everyone but Mike.

Chris had set up Neuroshima Hex, a tile placement game somewhat reminiscent (to me, anyway) of the Vortex collectible tile game that Fantasy Flight put out some years ago. Vortex was very popular with our group, with several of us collecting the tiles. I still have all of my sets, enough to field decent decks in all eight factions, and it was a favorite lunchtime game for Laurent and I before I foolishly retired from full time work at the end of 2001. As such, I was very interested in seeing how well NH played, and if it would be a good game for three. I'll note that Chris had *not* set the game up for us, but to play with his sons. Not that that stopped us.

In NH, you play one of four factions in a post-apocolyptic world - who am I kidding, this could be anything. It could be Killer Bunnies, but with an actual game attached. The point is that you have a deck of hexagonal tiles that you place on a five-hex-wide hexagonal map (hmm, could there be a reason the word "Hex" is in the title?), plus some extra tiles that allow you to perform various actions, the most important of which is to Battle. Each player has an HQ on the board that has 20 hit points, and when your HQ goes down, so do you. The various units can attack in different directions, or give extra mutant abilities to units in specific adjacent spaces. Each faction is tuned to a different strategy, so there are six different combinations of factions that you could face off against each other in a two player game.

Since I can't be bothered with a random back story, I took the red faction (Mordred? Morpheus? More More More?) which focuses on just being badass. They tend to have a lot of units that can take hits and do damage, but with only a single move token and four battle tokens you really want to be sure that what you put down is going to stay there. Most importantly, I had the Air Strike, which gives a single hit to every tile in a one hex radius of the target hex (including your own). Since it ignores HQs, I used it at a critical juncture to save my sorry red ass. Mike had the Blue faction, and Chris the Yellow.

Gameplay is pretty simple - you draw enough tiles from your original deck of 36 to end up with three face up tiles in front of you (no hidden info in this game other than the draw order). You must then ditch one of these three tiles out of the game, which I frankly think is one of the two brilliant elements. The other two tiles you can then play to the board, or if it's an action, as that action. Or, you can hang onto them. There may be a point to hanging onto tiles, but seeing as the game is probably about getting the most tiles in play over the course of the game, I suspect that in most cases it's better to play 'em when you got 'em. The exceptions would be things like an Air Burst or a Battle action, which can be key.

The other brilliant element is the Battle. Battles happen when someone plays a (wait for it...) Battle action, or else when someone fills the last space on the board. Believe me, you want to take a few seconds and figure out how the battle will play out, because if you don't you can end up hurting yourself much more than anyone else if you play these at the wrong time. I think all of us made at least one dumb play during the game, but none more than Chris filling that last space and taking more damage than anyone else.

During the battle, you look at every combat unit on the board and figure it's initiative, expressed as a number between 1 and 3. Some non-combat units on the board will improve your initiative if you are next to them and they have an arrow pointing to it. Mike's HQ also gave adjacent units extra initiative, so that at some points he had units with initiative of 4 or 5! That's important, because like the Old West Gunfights, it's the person who votes early and often who wins. Various units have things like the ability to absorb multiple hits, or to even shrug off the first point of damage. What's interesting is that each hexside of a unit has different abilities. For example, I might have a unit that attacks with strength two facing north, one facing NW and NE, and has armor on all three sides, but has no protection or attack on the other three sides. Some units can also fire ranged, hitting the first enemy unit in that direction. Again, some non-com units will boost these values, or sometimes allow you to treat melee strengths as ranged strengths (or vice versa).

From there the battle is simple. All of the units with the highest initiative fire simultaneously. Once units are hit and/or removed, you do the same with the next level down. Battles tend to be fairly bloody, which is good because there are only 19 spaces on the board and everyone has 36 tiles to get through. Once someone runs out of tiles, everyone else gets a chance to play one more turn (with no battles allowed), then you do one last battle. Whoever's HQ has the most hits remaining, if any, wins.

I had borrowed Jesse's copy of the game a couple of weeks ago, and was looking forward to giving it a try. While I've already stated why I'm not convinced that strategic thinking helps out much here, I *do* think that despite the luck of the draw being a huge part of the game it's still a fun exercise in figuring out how to best use the resources you do have. In one sense, you are choosing which third of the deck you *won't* use as you go through the discard mechanism, and you are also getting to decide if you are ready to have a battle or not, at least when it's your turn. It's not ASL, but it's a fun little game that I would be playing at lunchtime were I crazy enough to have kept working for the Man. With three there was a small amount of downtime, but with four it might have become too much. Not to mention that it took us about 85 minutes to play the game, and it does *not* scale - you just get more hexes with four and another 36 tiles that will get played. Chris said he'd heard it shines with two players, and I suspect that's true.

One last note: the board is much larger than the area you'd need even for four players, with the apparent and optimistic intent of adding expansions. Hey, I'd buy one. Of course, I ended up winning - did I mention that the Air Burst I played happened to take out two units threatening my HQ? Oh yeah. Boosh. Boosh boosh. Thakka thakka thakka. Fwoom. BOOM. Good fun. I ended up scooping up a one point win over Chris at the end, with Mike not far behind. Oh, if you don't like foul language the flavor story at the beginning of the rulebook is perhaps more appropriate for adults than the 10 year olds the box mentions, although I'm pretty sure your kids are aware of those words by the time they're eight. Good luck with that.

With it almost 9pm, we decided on a light card game as I needed to get up early the next morning (if you're looking at the time stamp, you'll notice that "early" came about seven hours ahead of time for me), so we pulled out Sieben Siegel, AKA Zing!, still one of my favorite trick taking games. Out of three hands, I managed to go perfect in two, marred only by having a hand from hell (all 9's in balanced suits with mid-level cards below them, a sure recipe for disaster). Fortunately, I took Roopert to minimize the damage and ended up with the four points I took in that hand as the only points I had all game. In the third hand, Mike ended up with one extra token he couldn't redeem and I nosed past him in the score to win the game by a point. Sweep!

BTW, we call the Grim Reaper "Roopert" (I'm sure they spell it Rupert, but it's my story and my joke so I'll spell it however the hell I want to) thanks to a particularly dim drummer I used to know. Dim, as I'll call him, was the kind of guy who didn't want to go into a bookstore when we were in high school because, and I quote, "someone might see us." Ack. Anyway, when he got an NES system and the Paperboy game, which features the Grim Reaper, he didn't know who that was. The Reaper, I mean. Really. Worse, he thought I said "Rooper" and called it that for the rest of the night. Some people deserve to be allowed to continue to embarrass themselves for hours, and Dim was one of those people. When RCG first played SS at Sunriver years ago, I introduced the name, but it was quickly converted to Roopert to get my goat, and Roopert he shall remain. I dunno, the Grim Rooper still has a certain something, but I know when to shut up. Occasionally.

Just in case you are worried that Dim might stumble across this blog and become angry with me for mocking him, don't worry. I don't, and even then I doubt he knows how to spell Google. Or could figure out that this was about him. He probably still thinks it's the Grim Rooper. Dumb as a post.

Anyway, that's it for this week. Next week we're up north at Matt's, where I actually plan to attend. Stop the presses.

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