Titans Tactics is a streamlined battle game in a small box. The idea is to have a small game that satisfies the tactical battle itch in around 30 minutes. To that end, the game is extremely portable, very easy to teach, and avoids a lot of excess complexity. The question is: Can the game do this and still maintain its tactical gameplay goal?
I would say the answer is almost certainly yes.
In Titans Tactics, each player picks a faction then drafts three characters from that faction for his forces. Each character has one special perk and three abilities. Each ability is a specific color and to activate any ability, you play a matching color card from your hand.
The command cards are an interesting dynamic, replacing random die rolls and complex possibilities into a planning element, allowing players to formulate strategies without complete knowledge of what their opponent is attempting.
To keep the game from being a He Who Hits First Wins contest, none of the characters are destroyed by any damage they take. Instead, a balance token is shifted back and forth as a result of damage taken. If you manage to reach your end space, you win the game immediately. If you have the balance token in your favor at the end of a round, you gain momentum. Win three rounds like this, and you win the game.
Design-wise, it works well. It encourages confrontation but also tactical maneuvering. Some characters charge into the fray, some strike from range, and some are more support oriented. Each faction has their own theme, keeping the game from being an exercise in memorization.
There are a few unique elements to the game that might not immediately make sense. There are no Line of Sight rules, for instance. If you're in range, you're in range. Walls block movement, but not attacks. For some players, this might seem strange, but I think it's a simple way of keeping things interesting without having to slow the game down.
The fact that a character is never destroyed means tactical planning is different than in many games like this. You aren't worried about losing one of your characters as much as you are about putting them in a weakened position.
For example, in one game, I was attacking one of my opponent's champions with all three of my own. His response was to have another character use his Nuke ability on his own character. The result was that while his character took a hit, my characters took three. It was a smart move, even if it might seem a bit odd.
And here's where the game will fall apart for some. Though it is a very tactical game, Titans Tactics is still an abstract in many ways. Players who love watching their enemies perish will be sorely disappointed. In the end, it's all about the balance token, and, yes, the balance tokens moves based on how well you're clobbering your opponent, it can still feel a bit anti-climactic if you like dominating your opponent.
Furthermore, the game is quite brutal at times. Because it is designed to be short, a mistake can be incredibly costly. However, because the game is so short, it just means setting up another round is easy. Still, players who want to formulate long term strategies will probably be disappointed. Not that I see a way to get around that in a short game like this.
One stumbling block worth mentioning is the art. The box is a bland black square with dark, underwhelming art on it. The game inside has decent art on the cards, but this is largely a matter of taste. I like monsters and weird creatures, and while it's not my favorite style, it has a certain charm to it. However, a lot of people will probably be turned off by it.
Also, despite being an easy game to carry and teach, I can see it being difficult to introduce to casual gamers, who might see it as bland or even perhaps off-putting. It's one thing to draw a weird monster. It's another to draw that monster in such a gritty, dark style that a lot of people might find it uninteresting.
That's a real shame though because Titans Tactics could be a great gateway game for players looking to get into a tactical skirmish game. It's simplified rules might be abstract now and then, but they manage to capture a lot of the elements of such games. Maneuvering, gain versus loss, pushing your luck, and planning are all present. And the game is easy to pick up and play.
Overall, I think Titans Tactics is a nifty game to add to my collection, and I'm always happy for an interesting, easy to teach, portable game like this. The design choices might be a turn off for some, but the game itself is pretty cool.
I'd recommend it to anyone looking for something unique that not many other games can manage.