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Subject: Brief Review and 2 player variant suggestions rss

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Mark Mokszycki
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I expected this game to be light, silly, stupid. It's actually a real strategy game with a fair amount of depth. However, it is marred by a few design elements (but not fatally).

I'm not going to go into detail about the mechanics or components, but in brief: this is like Star Craft in board game form. You gather resources (pods) which you cash in to buy units, buy cards, or increase your liklihood of winning battles. Each team has a fortress, and the goal is to destroy the other players' fortresses. The terrain is made up of hexes which can be placed in millions of combinations. The players build the map before the game by alternating placing hexes so that each new hex placed touches 2 other hexes. Nice touch. The hexes themselves are attractive, even if some of the terrain types are a bit simplified (water is solid blue. Clear terrain is solid flesh color). The circuitry design of the futuristic cities is nice, as are the photo-realistic mountains.

Each side takes one Bioborg- an all-powerful and all-silly mutant robot animal, as their "leader." The bioborgs can never be destroyed, but they can lose battles and lose weapons (and pods, and factoid cards) as a result. The bioborgs and their associated artwork are very cool in a retro-sci-fi sort of way.

The majority of a player's forces will be "popcorn" units- the hovertanks, soldiers, and gammajets that each lend their strength of 1 point to a battle. Each popcorn has its own special ability. Soldiers move slowly, but they can pick up pods and carry them. Hovertanks can go over water, but not over mountains, and they can attack at range from 1 territory away. Gammajets can fly over enemy units without stopping, and they can move any distance per turn. Certain factoid cards give the popcorn units special powers, such as making them faster, stronger, or allowing jets to harvest and carry pods.

Certain territories are orange pod fields. Each has a number from 2-12, and each turn each player rolls 2 dice and places a newly sprouted pod in the appropriate pod field. I really like this element. It means that pods are most likely to pop up in fields closest numerically to field number 7, due to the bell curve effect of rolling 2 dice. That means it is advantageous to guard fields 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, and to build your fortress near at least one valuable pod field. Since each player rolls for a new pod each turn, the total number of available pods is proportional to the number of players. Very simple mechanic, yet very effective. Well done, TSR.

Players move in order of their Turn Order Cards, drawn at the start of each turn. Each card has a number from 1 to 6, with lower numbers moving first. If you draw a bad card, you can cash it in for that number of popcorn units and/or new cards. Again, this is a very nice and creative mechanic.

Combat is a simple matter of rolling a single die, plus additional dice for carried pods that you opt to burn, and adding to it the rating of one weapon, plus one point per popcorn unit. It sounds complex, but it's not. This formula means that, overall, there is not a lot of randomness involved in the battles (except where multiple pods are burned). You can usually tell beforehand whether or not you will win a fight. If you outnumber him by 7 or more, and he has no pods to burn in the combat, you will win. Plain and simple.

Losing a battle means you retreat your bioborg one territory, lose the weapon card which it used in the battle, and lose one additional card at random out of your hand, which goes to the winner. The player also loses popcorn units equal to the difference in combat totals. Pretty simple. What it means, in effect, is that a beaten Bioborg will likely get pounched on again and again, turn after turn, as it retreats toward its base (until/unless it gets a low numbered turn card). But since the Bioborgs themselves can never be destroyed, I actually liked this touch.

The rules also cover alliances and multi-player attacks. For example, you can ask others to join in on an attack against a common enemy. You can also grant other players permission to move through territories which you control. This is yet another nice touch, and encouraging this kind of cooperation between players goes a long way towards eliminating the "runaway leader phenomenon" that plagues certain other games.

Now let's take a quick look at what's good vs. bad about the game.

PROS: Great components and theme. The terrain hexes create a new map every game. Involves some fairly deep strategies, and there is a nice resource gathering subgame which adds even more depth, making scouting and guarding likely pod locations highly profitable. Some of the mechanics are interesting, such as the random bell-curve likelihood of pod appearances, and the dual function of turn order cards (use them to move/attack, or cash them in for cards and army guys). The weapons cards are cool and interesting, even if they have little impact on play. The bioborgs themselves are inspired and terrific. The artwork scores an A+.

CONS: All-or-nothing combat results. Silly ranged combat rules (an opponent with non-ranged weapons still fights back as if he was toe to toe with you). There are a few holes in the rules that require some house decisions (such as: can you leave an area that contains enemies during your movement? Or are you "pinned?"). Some of the Factoid cards wildly imbalance play and make strategy null and void. For example, there's a card that reverses the outcome of a combat! This makes for some very gamey tactics. And there's the uber-annoying Slugnoid Raid card that eliminates 1-6 of your opponent's pods. And for all their originality and cool looks, the weapons cards all basically do the same thing. What's worse, you can only use one weapon in any combat.

Worth pointing out is the play time. The back of the box says 1-2 hours. This is ludicrous. Maybe if you are just charging around blindly and randomly a game could end in that amount of time. Playing from a wargamers' perspective and actually putting some thought and planning into our moves, our games lasted 2 to 3 times that long. We gave up one game after about 4 hours. Which brings me to another point- this game is not ideal as a 2 player, as the rules stand.

With only 2 players, there is a built in system of checks and balances that makes it too hard to get a leg up on your opponent (assuming you are both of roughly equal skill). Charge base, get repulsed, fall back, rebuild, they charge your base, get repulsed, etc. etc. ad nauseum. This isn't an issue with multiple players, since the person sitting back and watching has a chance to build a powerful army and advance on the loser's fortress.

Maybe a variant version whereby the game ends after a (random) number of turns would be better for 2 players. For example, after playing the game for 15 turns, roll for game end at the end of each turn. Roll 2 dice, and the game ends on a roll of 12. Otherwise, it continues. The person in control of the most pods + pods areas at the game end wins. This is just one example of how the game might be modified to make it actually playable for 2 players.

Another 2 player variant might be to keep score. Each victory over a bioborg is worth 5 points, and each victory over popcorn (only) is worth 1 point. The game ends when a player reaches 30 points, or ends in a sudden death decisive victory when your opponent's fortress is destroyed. Adjust the points requirement as desired for longer or shorter games.

Note that neither variant has been play-tested at the time of this review. They are merely suggestions.

Another 2 player suggestion: Before play, remove all factoid cards from the deck that refer to rebuilding or destroyed fortresses. Since you're only goal in a 2 player game is to destroy your opponent's fortress a single time, these cards are irrelevant. Alternatively, you can do what we do- simply show your opponent such a card when it is drawn, discard it, and redraw.


For all it's faults, taken as a beer and pretzel style wargame, Gammarauders is close to being a real gem. I say "close" because the rules could use a few minor tweaks and clarifications (I cannot locate any official errata) and the game certainly needs some house rules to make it work as a 2 player game- otherwise the game can go on forever!


MY RATING, which may go up over time (with 1 = lowest, 10 = highest)

As a 2 player game: 6.5/10

As a multi-player game: 7/10
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Michael Mitchell
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duckweed wrote:
Maybe a variant version whereby the game ends after a (random) number of turns would be better for 2 players. For example, after playing the game for 15 turns, roll for game end at the end of each turn. Roll 2 dice, and the game ends on a roll of 12. Otherwise, it continues. The person in control of the most pods + pods areas at the game end wins. This is just one example of how the game might be modified to make it actually playable for 2 players.

Another 2 player variant might be to keep score. Each victory over a bioborg is worth 5 points, and each victory over popcorn (only) is worth 1 point. The game ends when a player reaches 30 points, or ends in a sudden death decisive victory when your opponent's fortress is destroyed. Adjust the points requirement as desired for longer or shorter games.

Note that neither variant has been play-tested at the time of this review. They are merely suggestions.

Another 2 player suggestion: Before play, remove all factoid cards from the deck that refer to rebuilding or destroyed fortresses. Since you're only goal in a 2 player game is to destroy your opponent's fortress a single time, these cards are irrelevant. Alternatively, you can do what we do- simply show your opponent such a card when it is drawn, discard it, and redraw.


For all it's faults, taken as a beer and pretzel style wargame, Gammarauders is close to being a real gem. I say "close" because the rules could use a few minor tweaks and clarifications (I cannot locate any official errata) and the game certainly needs some house rules to make it work as a 2 player game- otherwise the game can go on forever!



Nice review BTW.

Try the expansion pack: Revenge of the Factoids. It contains a nice concept called gamma death, where parts of the board disappear, one at a time. We use it all the time! (And it really makes the game speed up!)
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