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Subject: Nika: A Design Masterclass in Refined Mechanics & Theme rss

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and symo
Australia
Northcote
Victoria
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Hi,all. As part of my Misc Musings - Mostly Mechanics blog, I wrote a review focusing on the integration of mechanics and theme in Nica. It was suggested that I post it here to reviews. With the blog focus on mechanics I don't really go into the aesthetic of the board and pieces which are truly in concert with the elegance and simplicity of the mechanics. Anyway enough preamble. Here is the review:


In an age of hidden information, deck building, VPs and rolling a bucketful of dice, Nika, with its 6 counters a side, limited movement and its kinda Ben Hur chariot racing circuit take on a chessboard (rectangular rather than square with the centre area removed from play) feels like a throwback. But let me tell you, I’m in awe of its ability to capture, with simplicity and elegance, the maneuverings of ancient armies.

Nika is checkers re-imagined with Greek Hoplite heavy infantry tactics. The rules are incredibly simple. Units all have the same ability and movement. Strike an opponent from the side or the rear and they are returned to the player’s routed pool where they can re-enter play. The switch up comes when adjacent units with the same facing form phalanxes which moves as one but with a reduced maneuverability but increased strength. That’s it. Now get to the other side of the board.

Nika abstracts then distills the essence of the power but low maneuverability of a phalanx versus the responsiveness of an individual units to break away and flank powerful formations and wreak unholy (or holy for that matter) havoc.


Having grown accustomed to playing games where card draws or dice rolls require mental adaptability and strategic flexibility (Commands & Colors: Ancients, Memoir '44) Nika is a wakeup call. It presents an environment where all the strategic information and its brutal inevitability is laid out before you. The simplicity means permutations and combinations of unit movement and orientation can be processed rapidly like Tom Cruising flicking UI screens in Minority Report. But ultimately it’s you and the board with all your tactical failings laid bare. It’s like a slap in the face with something cold, and a little bit slimy.

So far Nika has proved to be well balanced. The loss of units places them into your home routed pool which, which although far from your goal, makes defending you home easier. It then becomes a balance of defence versus progression. This ‘back to the start’ mechanic can lead to moments of, ‘will this game ever end?’ but it does. More plays will determine whether dominant strategies emerge. But then there’s always heroes and cavalry expansions.

For me the design ability to see the core principles of massed troops versus single unit maneuverability and flanking all personified on such an abstract play field of circular discs and grid-based board is an incredible achievement. Couple this with such a refined, distilled mechanics set makes Nika an invaluable reference. Nika is truly a design masterclass.
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Ben Schomp
United States
Waxhaw
North Carolina
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Thank you for the review! This one had slipped under my radar - a 2-4p ancients abstract (perfect information / no dice or cards)?! Sign me up.

How long are your play times? Have you played with both 2 and 4p? How does that affect game length?

Thanks again!
-Ben.
 
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Josh Raab
United States
New York
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Thanks for re-posting this great review!

Ben: Play time can vary quite a bit, but experienced players will usually take 30-45 minutes, sometimes even less. Games tend to run a bit longer with new players, or players who are prone to taking slow turns.

As an extreme case, I once brought it to a party and the (mostly new) players kept an intense game going for 3 hours! That's quite unusual though.

I'd say 2-player games are likely to be shorter, because you won't spend time talking to your partner.
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and symo
Australia
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Victoria
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Hi Ben,

I have played 4-5 two player games. The games were coming in at around the 45-60 minute mark. I would say this still falls into the learning phase as strategies (and counter strategies) are introduced, evolved and refined over a number of plays.

The two player game also has the added layer of coordination of the two complementary armies which comes to the fore more as basic tactics are mastered.
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