Publisher: Gecko Games
3-5 players, 45-60 minutes
Designer: Ralf Lehmkuhl
Reviewed by: Greg Schloesser
Editor's Note: This review first appeared in Counter magazine.
While perusing the new game offerings after the press conference at the Essen game exhibit back in 2004, several games caught my eye. One of these was Trias, a game from new designer Ralf Lehmkuhl and his own company, Gecko Games. The game's artwork had a familiar look to it, so it came as no surprise when I learned that Ralf was demonstrating and selling the game from the same booth as Doris & Frank. Of course, Doris Matthaus was the artist for Trias!
Later that afternoon, I had the opportunity to play the game, courtesy of Frank Nestel, who taught it to James Miller, Mik Svellov and myself. I enjoyed the game so much that I immediately purchased a copy and subsequently played it two more times during the course of the convention.
The game is themed after the break-up of the super-continent of Pangaea during the Triassic period (thus, the name `Trias'). Players each have pieces (wooden cubes, of course!) representing their dinosaur herds, with the object being to survive the continent's division and become the dominant species on the newly forming continents. Of course, like Evo, the victory will by bitter-sweet as the game ends when a meteor crashes into the earth,
ending all life as the dinos know it.
The board is comprised of 38 randomly distributed hexes, not unlike the hexes used in Settlers of Catan. The hexes come in four terrain types: mountains, steppes, woods and water. The tiles are laid out in a circular fashion around the center `south pole', with the two water hexes being removed once the land is formed.
The components are completed by a deck of cards depicting the various types of terrain. Most of the deck is part of the 1st epoch, while 9 cards comprise the 2nd and final epoch. The dreaded meteor card is included somewhere in the 2nd epoch and signals the final round when drawn. Each player is dealt one card from the 1st epoch to begin the game.
A player's turn consists of 4, relatively quick phases:
Phase 1: Mandatory Drift. The player chooses to either play the card in his hand, or draw the top card from the deck and play that one. The card played dictates the type of terrain that must drift from its current location.
The rules for drifting are fairly simple. Basically, a piece must move from its present location to a new location on the same continent and must be further away from the South Pole than when it began. If when moving the piece it causes a new island to be formed, the piece may be placed either on the new island or the current continent. Further, if any herds
are located on that piece, they drop into the ocean, but don't drown -- yet.
Phase 2: Optional Actions. Each player has 4 action points per turn, which can be used to:
a) Drift. Same as listed in phase 1, but this cost 3 of the player's 4 action points. However, it can be extremely effective when used at a critical juncture.
b) Move. Players can move their herds from space to space at cost of 1 point per space moved.
c) Rescue. Any of your herds that were unceremoniously dumped into the ocean can be moved onto an adjacent land area. Three herds can be rescued for a cost of only 1 action point.
d) Reproduce. A new herd can be placed on a tile that contains at least one of your herds. However, tiles do a have a maximum herd capacity:
Mountains - 2, Steppes - 3, Woods - 4
Players should use care in reproducing, however, as it is often wiser to hold back some of your herds until later in the game.
Phase 3: Swimmers/Overpopulation. Any herds that had been dumped into the ocean and not rescued drown and are returned to the player's supply. As horrible as these deaths are, sometimes it is advantageous as it does replenish your supply of herds, which can be brought back onto the board at more beneficial locations.
A tile can be overpopulated if it has been moved to an ocean space that contains swimmers. Players must move their excess herds out of the space or they will starve. Not a pretty sight.
Phase 4: Hand Card. If the player played his hand card when performing the mandatory drift at the beginning of his turn, he draws a new card to replace it at the conclusion of his turn.
Scoring can occur during the course of the game whenever a new island is formed and the piece that was moved which caused this new island to be formed is placed onto the newly formed island. Scoring in this instance is relatively simple:
The player who possesses the most herds on the island scores 2 points, while the player with the second-most herds scores 1 points. If players tie, they all score the appropriate number of points.
As mentioned, the game enters its final round whenever the card depicting the meteor is drawn. From that point, each player gets two more action points, which is why it is wise to save a few herds for this final round. At this point, a final scoring is held and the winner determined.
During the final scoring, each land mass is analyzed. The players with the majority of herds on each land mass receives a number of points equal to the number of tiles comprising that continent. The player with the second-most herds receives 1/2 the number of points, rounded up, as the first place player received. After all land masses are scored, the player
with the greatest total of victory points becomes the dominant species -- at least until the fallout from the meteor explosion takes its deadly toll!
There is no question that the game has a decidedly abstract feel -- but so does El Grande, my favorite game. This certainly doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the game. The entire game is rich in tough choices and decisions. There are so many choices to be made on a turn and rarely are these choices obvious. There always seems to be numerous options to consider and I am constantly left with nagging doubts as to whether I performed
the most optimum actions or not.
Further, the game provides ample opportunity for clever moves. Numerous times during the game players have commented on how clever a move was, or how a particular set of moves was brilliant. One derives a certain sense of satisfaction after completing such a sequence of moves, especially when it improves your position to the detriment of your opponents!
Although there were several very good games to emanate from Essen in 2004, Trias was the suprise hit of the show for me. It is always tense, exciting and filled with tough choices and clever moves -- all in about 45-60 minutes of play time. That's a winner in my book.
Greg, nice review!
After reading though, my gut feel is that for this type of theme, there are a couple of much meatier games : Dominant Species, and Triassic Terror. What do you say?
Trias is a deliberately lighter game, and far quicker to play. And more elegant. It depends on what kind of game experience you are looking for.
I love Trias for being simple yet elegant, and I like meatier games for when I want something ... er ... meatier.