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Regimen: the Lions of Bukit Chandu» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Regimen: A good cooperative filler game rss

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Elijah Lau
Singapore
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Regimen is a cooperative boardgame for 2-4 players with a playing time of 20-25 minutes. It is designed by Singaporeans and published by a Singaporean boardgame company.

Introduction

The key to designing a good cooperative boardgame is to create tension and give players enough ability to manage the game's challenges together. Players must have the sense they are helping one another to win the game. It's a cooperative game, after all. This is mainly done through the mechanics but also through having a compelling enough narrative that players can be invested in. One of the biggest problems of designing a cooperative boardgame is that you are going up against the ultimate cooperative game there is on this planet. Reiner Knizia's Lord of the Rings is brilliant both in game play with its clever use of mechanics in creating tension while keeping players invested in the rich narrative. And the narrative doesn't get richer with LOTR. It's Tolkien after all.

Regimen avoids going head-to-head with LOTR (and Pandemic, another brilliant cooperative game) by going into a different genre. It is less a gamer's game and more a fun filler. As such, while it lacks the nuance and interactivity of LOTR, it does hold up well to expectations and does a good enough job of being a filler game which you can break out and have fun with non-gamers.

What I like about the game

First, I like that the game is simple and has a short playing time, 20-25 minutes. The rules are really easy to teach and there is no bloat. And players really need to know only that their action points can be used to do only two things: move or fight. Of course, the game is all about knowing where to move and how to fight in the most effective way. Players must decide when is the best time to change the defeated enemy tokens for Respect Tokens and who should do it. Although gaining Respect Tokens is the path to victory, lots of players having Respect Tokens is a bad thing as the number of Respect Tokens also determines the number of enemy appearing in a turn. So more Respect Tokens means more enemies appear. And players only need one of them to get 5 Respect Tokens for the win, so not everyone should go for the 5 tokens. Anticipating the Japanese and positioning yourself in the critical locations is also important as players deal +1 damage for every other player in the same location. Sometimes, players move not to fight but to give a +1 to the next player in that location. Knowing when to fight is important.

Second, the games do come down to the wire. That's good. You don't want a cooperative game that is impossible to win or too easy to figure out how to win. And success does come from knowing where to move and how to fight in the most effective way. Of course, there is an element of bad luck that can throw a game even when players do their best. This is not a dealbreaker as the games are short and the fun filler nature is such that if you fail, you want to immediately start the next game so you can beat the game.

The last point above segways nicely into my third point, which is that the overall narrative of defending Bukit Chandu against the hordes of Japanese soldiers does come through in the game. So much so that if players fail, they want to start playing again to beat the Imperial Japanese Army. I can also see where the designer has incorporated elements of that battle into the game, like the fire that overwhelms parts of the playing area. Admittedly, the historical theme of the battle doesn't shine through very clearly in the game but this is probably a problem of the lack of historical material about the battle from which to construct a compelling narrative. That is, until someone does for the Battle of Bukit Chandu what Michael Shaara has done for the Battle of Gettysburg with his Killer Angels novel.

Weaknesses of the game

While the overall narrative of fighting Japanese soldiers comes through in the game, some of the game's mechanics don't make a lot of sense and that detracts from the narrative. The victory condition of one player getting 5 Respect Tokens adds a useful layer as a game management tool but the lack of a team victory condition detracts from the cooperative feel. Soldiers don't say in the middle of the battle, "Hey Ahmad, you're the hero so although I've killed all these Japs, I'm not going to get any glory for it. Only you can take glory, ok?"

Another problem is that player powers can only be used by the player on his turn. This reduces interactivity between players. One of LOTR's most powerful tool for creating a sense of team was to make player powers one-use only but they can use it at any time, even when it was not their turn. So the tension is huge as players must decide if it's really the best time to use the power, and this sense of 'sacrificing' for the team generates a powerful narrative. Although things don't have to be so drastic for similar effect. In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, players' powers once used return after the players complete an adventure or through special powers.

Conclusion

Overall, Regimen is a simple filler-type game and it's fun without wearing out its welcome. Kudos to the game designers for resisting the temptation to add too much chrome and bloat to the game. The result is a game that falls into a niche of filler-type cooperative games where the competition is less stiff and where Regimen can hold its own.


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