Wednesday, March 28, 2012
After years of staring longingly at the mammoth and expensive Twilight Imperium boardgame I finally got a chance to play it. Happily it turned out to be one of the most awesome games I've played. It takes forever to finish, there are a zillion components, and requires a massive board and lots of players. Having said that, it is an epic space game with lots of ways to play and win and leaves you feeling like your time spent playing was worth every moment. Recently a sister game called Rex was released and we played it last week.
Rex is a rebadged edition of the old Dune game. Dune is stuck in license purgatory and the publishers of Twilight were able to obtain the rights to the game system and release it as Rex. The game depicts the final battle at the galactic imperial capital. Various races struggle to grab power or join a winning alliance and walk away the new rulers of the galaxy. Each race is different in how it plays and also in it's victory conditions. One race, for example, wins if no one else wins. Another can win just by guessing the winner before the game begins.
The principles of Rex are pretty straightforward. Players have troops which can move around the game board. They can generate income and use it to buy more troops or special weapons. When players fight they total up their number of troops committed plus any special weapons and the winner is the one with the higher total. Some regions of the board have special properties but the number of special or fiddly rules is remarkably small.
Two rules elements stand out. The first is that each race has significantly different special powers. The powers aren't complex but they do give each race a vastly different feel in play. One race has access to hidden information, one rakes in the income, one can swarm onto the boar from one location. They all seem balanced and they tie into the other exciting element.
Players can win the game in a number of ways. They can occupy key territories. They can formally ally with other players and win as a group. They can potentially ally with other players and then betray them at the last moment. "Betraying" is risky and can either win you solo glory or send you plummeting into defeat as a loser and a traitor. Much of the fun of the game is planning how you hope to win and then making that happen.
I enjoyed Rex. The components are fabulous. The board looks great. The rules are pretty simple. The only downsides are that the components are initially pretty intimidating and that the theme is tied into the Twilight Imperium universe. As a science fiction fan I don't mind that but I could imagine someone saying "who are these people, what's Mecatol Rex?" and if you have a player who needs to know every detail of the theme they may not enjoy Rex. Otherwise it's a great politics and strategy game and we have a blast with it.
Years ago I heard about a new game called Dungeon Lords. The idea was that each player would develop a dungeon and stock it with monsters and then compete to see whose dungeon was most effective at defeating pesky adventurers. For me this was a no-brainer and my wife pre-ordered it for me for my birthday. Well it finally arrived and I unpacked it and read the rules. What a mess. I didn't understand the dynamics at all. It seemed random, fiddly, and the play strategy was completely unclear to me. Sadly, Dungeon Lords has sat on my shelf unplayed for years. Although not discarded, since it's obviously crazy to get rid of games, miniatures, or toys of any sort.
Last week game player Joy brought Dungeon Petz to board game night. Again, this seemed like a no-brainer. In Dungeon Petz you purchase and raise crazy dungeon animals and sell them to vampires, trolls, and witches as pets. The theme sounded great, the game was colorful and well illustrated, and the title made use of zany spelling tricks. Spelling things with a "z" instead of an "s" is only slightly less entertaining than using multiple "x's" to show how Exx-Treeeeme a product is.
Sadly, Dungeon Petz is almost as complex and fiddly as it's forbear Dungeon Lords. Each player has a troop of workers and in each turn you can assign each worker a particular task. There are a finite number of tasks available each turn and some are going to be wildly more desirable than others so much of the game revolves around getting your workers in the right place at the right time. Over time each player buys baby pets and then raises them until they can be sold to various dungeon dwellers. A vampire may want a very scary pet, while a troll queen may want a cute, small pet. The buyers appear in random order and if you're lucky enough to have raised the right kind of pet you'll score lots of points.
I suspect that serious board gamers manage Dungeon Petz well and have lots of fun. For me, I struggled to get any sense of strategy and somehow most of my pets died of illness before even being sold, which was remarkably depressing. I hated the limited worker placement options (which I know is a hallmark of this sort of game) and the few pets I managed to keep alive turned out to be the wrong types for the buyers who appeared randomly.
I found Dungeon Petz to be weirdly complex and overall kind of sad, at least for any player who can't keep their pets healthy and happy. It's a shame because the illustrations and theme are really appealing. I rarely play a game that just leaves me cold but this one did.