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NEUROSHIMA HEX

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Portal, 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, 20 minutes; about 45 Euros)

 

The world has grown smaller over the last few decades thanks largely to technological advances allowing communication between vast expanses to become both easier and quicker. Paradoxically, this “global shrinkage” has caused the World of Games to grow larger. Not only do quality games arise from such traditional areas as the United States and Western Europe but Eastern Europe is contributing some intriguing games too. In this issue alone, two of them are featured: Through the Ages from the Czech Republic and, in this review, from Poland, the science-fiction game Neuroshima Hex!.

Neuroshima Hex! is the brainchild of Michael Oracz. The game is based on the roleplaying game Neuroshima, published by Portal, set in a post-nuclear world where humans and machines face off. Against that setting, two to four players command armies with the goal to defeat the enemy forces.neuroshimahex

Neuroshima Hex! comes in small box that holds a small hexagon game board, 140 tiles (35 for each of the four armies), four Headquarters damage counters and a few other play aids. (The rules, it should be noted, come only in Polish! Fortunately, an English language set can be found at BoardGameGeek – www.boardgamegeek.com.)

Each player chooses one set of army tiles, removes the Headquarters tile and then shuffles the remainder to create a draw pile. Everyone also receives a Headquarters damage counter which is set at 20.

The first player (the player who owns the game, according to the rules) places his Headquarters anywhere on the board. The next player does the same. (There is no placement restriction here; his HQ may even be placed in an adjacent hex.) On a turn, players draw tiles and must discard one and play one or hold one (for later use) or discard another. (In order to minimize the advantage of going first, the first player only draws one tile on his first turn while the second player draws two. After that, players draw up to three tiles on a turn so that they always have three tiles in front of them to play, hold and/or discard.) Discarded tiles form their own discard pile and are visible for all to see.

The four sets of tiles, one for each player, represent the four “races” in the game, each with distinctive personalities and abilities: Moloch (very tough), Hegemony (very balanced attacking ability), Borgo (high initiative levels) and Outpost (very mobile). Tiles comes in two basic types: Board tiles and Action tiles.

Board tiles are marked with an initiative rating from 0 to 3. (There are also tiles with an initiative rating of “X” which go into effect IMMEDIATELY upon being placed.) Board tiles come in three varieties: Headquarters, Units and Modules. The Headquarters piece is the most important, consider it the equivalent of the King in Chess. Lose it and you lose the game. Units (aka Soldiers) are the basic fighting forces of the army and, depending on the unit, capable of a melee attack, a ranged attack, using a net and/or having armor for defense. Some units have extra “toughness” (allowing a unit to sustain a hit without being removed from the board) and additional “mobility” (the ability to move one hex or change direction) too. Modules are “booster” tiles, increasing the power and ability of tiles to which they are connected.

Action tiles are not placed on the board. Playing them causes a specific effect on pieces already in place such as Move (so a tile can move a hex and shift direction), Push Back (to force an adjacent enemy tile a hex away), Grenade (destroy an adjacent enemy tile), Sniper (wound any enemy piece – but NOT a HQ), the powerful Air Strike (which wounds a tile in a hex and ALL tiles in the six hexes surrounding it!) and Battle. When a Battle tile is played, initiative ratings of the various forces on the board are checked. Those with higher initiative ratings act first; those with the same initiative ratings act simultaneously. When a Battle is played, the board virtually “pops” as pieces take hits and are removed from the board.

Throughout the ebb and flow of the game, drawing, discarding and playing tiles, players try to damage enemy Headquarters, When a player has drawn his final tile, this signals the endgame. He finishes his turn and the other players have one more turn to place tiles. Then, the “final battle” commences. As a HQ takes hits, the HQ damage marker counter is adjusted accordingly. When/if it hits 0, the other player (in a two player game) wins! (If the game ends and the HQs of both players survive, the HQ of the player with the fewest sustained hits, wins!)

While branded a science fiction game set in a roleplaying universe, Neuroshima Hex! is in reality an abstract game with a science fiction flavor. The abilities of the different “races” in the game afford different paths to victory. While the game is heavily dependent on the luck of the draw (you know what tiles are available to you but you can’t control when you draw them), some control can be exerted since you can hold tiles for later use for maximum effect. The challenge here, is to maximize the “hand you’re dealt” and minimize your vulnerability to enemy attack. Long range planning is chancy as the game is very tactical in nature. For this reason, although rules are provided for 3 and 4 player versions (including team play with 4), the game plays best with two. The game is chaotic as it is; adding more players ratchets up the chaos quotient to exceptional (and probably unacceptable) heights for many, making any sort of long range planning a forlorn hope.

It is very helpful that the rulebook (at least the translation I used) is very clear and filled with lots of examples of play to help get you into the game. On the other hand, since all four armies are different (albeit with some similarities), there are many icons you have to assimilate. This tends to make the initial flow of the game sluggish; repeated playings are required to solve that problem. (On a related note, the game could have used individual “cheat sheets” for each player and for each army so that “icon assimilation” would be a whole lot easier. Perhaps, when the new edition of this game, scheduled for this year’s Essen Game Fair appears, it will include them.)

Neuroshima Hex! is a fast moving game of tile placement and power with quick hits and violent changes in fortune. It is a positive sign that game design has taken root and is blossoming in a corner of the world that has escaped notice from gamers in the West. – Herb Levy

 


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