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Subject: The Swarm: Wolfgang Kramer's Hidden Gem rss

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Andrew J.
United States
Missouri
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Introducing myself to a well-known game designer by picking one of his least-known games is not generally a great strategy. The Swarm, co-designed by Wolfgang Kramer, might not be the best way to critique the designer, since I haven't tried any of his better-known or better-regarded games. That said, I can still at least give a review of The Swarm a shot, since it's a pretty solid game and deserves a few more reviews here on BGG.

In summary, the swarm is an action-selection and area-control hybrid, played out over three rounds. Each round, you're building and expanding your research network, which will earn you points at the end-round scoring. At the end, there's a final, additional round of scoring and the player who has 'most thoroughly researched the swarm' takes the mantle of winner.

Here's how to play the game in brief. If you already know how to play, skip the next two sections

Action Purchasing

Photo Credit Dagerr
The two-step, three-phase structure of this game can be difficult to understand at first, though the rules help a lot. First, players will be buying action cards, starting with the youngest player (in rounds two and three, you will determine turn order based on purchased turn order cards from the previous round).

The action cards are set up in an L shape along two sides of the board, and begin at a cost of 0, going all the way down to 15 at the far end. You will pay for cards using your research points (essentially VP) which surround the gameboard on a track. As you go around the table buying action cards, the remaining cards 'slide up' so to speak, so the cost of a card may be different by the time play comes around to you again. Players continue buying action cards until all of them have been purchased.

At the very end of the row are some turn order cards, as well as some special blue and green action cards that offer additional benefits. These will be very expensive at first, and trying to decide when your opponent might break and spend 7 RP on that first-player card is a big part of this phase. There's no hidden information -- you're all just trying to purchase the action cards that best benefit your plans.

In addition to the 5 actions (and one turn order) card that you will purchase, you have one joker card that can do any of the six actions -- this is a one-time use card that resets each round. So once you've purchased all the actions you will lay out your six actions in front of you -- ready to start phase two of the round!

Action Spending
Starting with the first player, each player goes around and spends one action until all of the actions have been spent. There are several different options available to you:
Shipping - this lets you place and move a ship on the board. When a ship passes over a swarm tile, you will pick it up and place it in front of you.
Research - this lets you lay swarm tiles back on the board (now face up) and build your research network. Swarm tiles that you lay must connect to your existing research network of stations, ships, and other swarm tiles. Depending on how many connections a swarm tile has, you will score differing amounts of points.
Crab, Tsunami, Whale - these actions allow you to damage your opponents with specific hazards.
Research Station - this action allows you to found another research station anywhere on the land of the board.


Photo credit Toynan
At the end of each round, you will score points based on how big your research network is. Each researcher, boat, buoy, and research station nets you one point. At the end of all three rounds, there will be an additional scoring round with final bonuses.


Photo credit Toynan
What the Swarm centers on is the expansion and building of your research network. As you lay swarm tiles, your network begins to branch out in all directions and you find yourself fighting the other players for certain goals. Getting to the Swarm Queen (in the middle of the board) gives you a tasty bonus for all your connected research stations -- and crossing the board to have stations on 2,3, or 4 sides also will net you a hefty bonus. This is where the area control comes in: you all know which actions the other has, but you're scheming to complete them before the other players can execute their own plans with their actions. Space will quickly become tight!

The Pros
This was a surprising game that came out of nowhere for me. I love the area control aspect and fighting the game's own puzzle as well as other players is great -- lots of thinkiness to be had there. I also love the no-luck action purchasing as you weigh your options. Because you're spending VP to get good actions, you have to consider whether your planned move will make up that ground on the other players! There's the same action cards every round -- all that matters is which ones you're able to buy and what order you will play them in. Having no secret information in this game makes it feel like you're really racing the other players. It's also extremely satisfying to build your big swarm network and achieve your goals.


Photo credit: Toynan
But my favorite part about the game is actually the damage dealt to other players. There's a built-in catchup mechanism in that your position on the board determines how many points you lose when you are damaged. So if I damage a player with 48 points twice using the tsunami, that player is losing ten points -- and I'm gaining ten! By contrast, a player with only 20 points is only losing 4 points if I make the exact same move on her. This makes damaging each other an important part of the game, especially late when you can provoke large point swings by bashing an opponent. Additionally, the three different damages feel very distinct from each other (crab is land only, whale is sea only, tsunami is land/sea) and spice up gameplay.

The Cons:
Because it's based on a book, I feel this game got little attention. It definitely made me want to read the book, though, as the game has quite an interesting plot. I'm a little sad that this game has been forgotten, it seems like, since it could have gone so much further, maybe with a different or more generic theme/name. Also, I feel that the game did drag a little long for our play, though we all enjoyed it and would like to revisit it.

Gameplay
.. Abstract -----♦----- Thematic
....... Luck --------♦-- Skill
.... Simple ------♦---- Complex
. Strategic ---------♦- Tactical
... Friendly -------♦--- Cutthroat

Other
Graphic Design/Components: 5/5
Insert: 3/5 (solid, but doesn't work for storing vertically)
Rules Clarity: 4/5

Overall: 4/5

tl;dr: The Swarm is a somewhat forgotten game that actually has some pretty solid gameplay elements tucked within it. 8/10, I look forward to new plays, and this one will more than likely remain in my collection.
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Murr Rockstroh
United States
Fleming Island
Florida
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Re: Wolfgang Kramer's Hidden Gem
We own this game and I agree it is a hidden gem to be discovered. It stayed in our collection after a couple of plays. Thanks for the review!
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Antonello Piemonte
Germany
munich
Bavaria
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Re: Wolfgang Kramer's Hidden Gem

Read the book, really good, if you like anything scifi/mistery you can do no wrong by picking it up.
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Andrew J.
United States
Missouri
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Re: Wolfgang Kramer's Hidden Gem
anto wrote:

Read the book, really good, if you like anything scifi/mistery you can do no wrong by picking it up.


I will do so! Actually, it wouldn't be the first book I've read because of board games -- I got introduced to Dune through gaming and now it's one of my favorite novels
 
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davey yaved
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Re: Wolfgang Kramer's Hidden Gem
Great review thanks!
 
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