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TRENCH

Reviewed by Herb Levy

TRENCH (Outer Limits Games, 2 players, ages 10 and up, 45-60 minutes; $50)

 

World War I was a war of tremendous destruction. Opposing armies faced each other, emerging from the cover of their dug out trenches to try to claim the territory between them, making “No Man’s Land” a land drenched in blood. But inspiration can come from even the most unlikely sources and this “trench warfare” serves as the inspiration for the two player abstract game designed by Rui Alipio Monteiro: Trench. 

Trench is played on an 8 x 8 spaced board, played as a diamond, divided into two opposing halves split by a horizontal line. Each player commands forces poised in identical starting positions opposite each other consisting of 16 pieces:  6 Soldiers (valued a 1 point each), 4 Sergeants (worth 2 points each), 3 Captains (3 points each), 2 Colonels (4 points each) and 1 General (5 points). The goal of the game is to either capture the opposing General or capture enough pieces to amass a total of 25 (or more) points.

On a turn, a player must move one piece. The higher the rank, the more movement flexibility a piece has. The Soldier, for example, can only move ONE space in four directions, the General can move up to FIVE spaces in eight directions! Pieces can only move in a straight line and may NOT jump over other pieces. Landing on a space occupied by an enemy ends that piece’s movement (even if it is capable of continuing on) and results in the enemy piece being captured and removed from the board. But what elevates the play is what gives the game its name: the trench. 

The horizontal line in the center of the board, separating the initial deployment of forces, is the trench. Any piece, friend or foe, on that line is considered to be “in the trench” and this opens up a whole slew of options.  In fact, the pivotal role of the trench here creates possibilities not often seen in other abstract games, giving Trench its unique character. 

A piece in the trench can NOT be captured by an enemy attacking from its own side of the board. This is a strong defensive position since no frontal assault is possible. Offensively, a piece attacking from the trench can capture MORE than one piece as it continues its movement and need not stop upon a first capture. But there are some restrictions too. 

A piece in the trench can NOT capture an enemy in that piece’s home territory. (Conversely, the piece in the trench is vulnerable to an attack by an enemy piece coming from behind!) And pieces may NOT capture other pieces that are also in the trench. 

The trench shifts the focus of play to the center of the board; command and control of the trench is critical. To maintain any such control, players need to guard against being flanked to avoid capture from attacks launched from the rear while making the most of the ability to make multiple captures. Multiple captures can inflict a veritable death blow to an opponent.

Because this is an abstract, theme is negligible. Its “war” theme (with soldiers, colonels, generals etc.) is on a par with Chess.  (It should be noted that its minimalist theme has not hurt Chess in its popularity over the last several hundred years!) Some sort of grid notation to keep track of game moves (as in Chess) would be something worth exploring. The game’s black and white motif is both striking and stylish, making it something that looks good on a coffee table. From a more game-oriented perspective, the more powerful the piece, the taller it is so discerning which piece is which is not difficult. To make things even more user-friendly, the directions a piece can move can be found on the bottom of the piece itself, a sort of “in game play aid”.

So, what’s black and white and red all over? The answer to that chestnut is a newspaper. But, in this case, black and white can describe the good looks and good play of Trench, a quality abstract game in the review you have just read! – – – Herb Levy


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