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Subject: Chess as viewed by a strange Japanese man who loves anime rss

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Have you ever wondered what chess would be like if it was designed by Japanese man with an intense love of anime? Navia Dratp is the answer. Navia Dratp is based loosely on a chess-like concept in which each player is trying to take the other player's signature piece. In chess its the Queen while in Navia Dratp, its the Navia itself. ND adds a few other win conditions which further sets this game apart from chess. This review is based on playing with 2 Starter sets. Boosters are available if you would like to increase your piece options, but are not required for play.


Rules

Navia Dratp is played on a 7X7 grid of square spaces. Each player starts the game with their Navia in the center square, or Navia Square, of the back row. Two spaces to each side is a Red Gulled. The row in front is filled with 7 Black Gulled. Behind the Navia is the end of the board, called the End Line which is important for several reasons outlined later. Behind the End Line is the Maseitai Keep which is comprised of 7 spaces. At the start of the game, each player will place one Maseitai in each space. Part of what makes ND unique to chess is that players can create their own set of pieces by choosing from a variety of Navia and Maseitai. Each player also places the same amount of Gyullas crystals in the Gyullas Vault space on their side of the board.
 

Contents of 2 Starter sets ready to be played.
Image by mwda


Players alternate turns, moving pieces similar to chess. Black Gulled pieces can only move 1 space forward. Red Gulled can move 1 space forward orthoganally or diagonally. Navia and Maseitai have unique movements specific to each piece. These pieces have a compass on their base which shows how they move. All pieces capture other pieces through their normal movement, even the Gulled. Instead of moving a piece on the board, you may instead bring a Maseitai from the Keep into one of the Summon Squares which are the 6 squares in the back row to either side of the Navia Square. Navia Guard Maseitai are slightly different and cannot be summoned to a Summon Square but must instead be summoned to one of the 8 square surrounding the Navia, provided it is unoccupied.

Maseitai showing movement grid.
Image by hotrodqt


When a Black Gulled piece moves, its controller takes 1 Gyullas crystal from their Vault and places it in their Keep. When a Red Gulled moves, the player takes 3. Crystals are also gained if you capture another players pieces. Black Gulled reward 1 crystal while Red Gulled reward 3. If you capture an oponents Maseitai, you take crystals equal to its Dratp cost. In the picture above, this value is 4. The value will vary from figure to figure. If you capture an opponents Navia, you win the game. When you capture an opponent's Gulled or Maseitai, place it in their graveyard.

Gyullas crystals are used to Dratp your Maseitai or your Navia. In order to Dratp a piece, you must pay Gyullas crystals from your Vault back to the Keep. Again, the piece in the picture above shows a Dratp cost of 4, but this will vary from piece to piece. The Dratp cost of a Maseitai can be reduced by half if you can move your piece into any of the 5 squares in the middle row of the board, known as the Gyullas Reduction Zone. This bonus is not applied to Navias which all have a Dratp cost of 60. If you can perform a Navia Dratp, you win the game.

Maseitai gain powerful abilities after Dratping. Some of these abilities include the abilitiy jump over pieces, bounce of the sides, and even invulnerability.

Maseitai showing Dratp abilities and Navia Guard attribute.
Image by hotrodqt


Navia Dratp provides three ways to win: Performing a Navia Dratp, capturing your opponent's Navia, and performing a Line Over with the Navia called a Navia Goal. In order to score a Navia Goal, you must move your Navia over your opponent's End Line, thus ending the game. If you move a Gulled over the End Line, you will either receive a 10 Gyullas crystal bonus, or you may take a Maseitei from the graveyard and place it in a Summon Square.


Components

As previously noted, Navia Dratp is played on a 7X7 grid with areas around the outside to keep Gyullas crystals, Maseitai and "dead" pieces. One board comes with each starter set and is bagged and taped to the plastic insert in the box. Once unfolded, the board is more than adequate for the game about to be played. The cardboard is reasonably thick but not quite as sturday as a normal boardgame. There is a noticable lack of binding around the edges which means the board was printed directly on the cardboard stock as opposed to printed on a sticker which was affixed to a pre-bound board. I have my doubts as to how long these boards will last without the protective binding of a normal board. Still, the colors, graphics and fonts are terrific. The board is a nice mix of red, white, black and gray, adding an ominous presence to the board. The entire surface is covered with a thick gloss which makes me wonder why they didn't go the extra mile to make the rest of the board better. The various areas of the board are clearly marked with a great font describing each, such as "Gyullas Vault" or "Graveyard".

Unquestionably the nicest part of the components is the Maseitai and the Navia pieces. The detail of these sculpts is amazing with each one being very different from the next. There is a real sense of identity when you look at each piece and can tell what it is. This adds a unique layer of reality to the game and makes you feel like you are actually controlling these characters, which is a strong statement. These pieces feel more like actual beings than just pieces. Chess is an abstract and as such, there is no real identity to each pawn. Both bishops look identical, as do the knights and rooks. the only pieces which stand out are the King and Queen and even they are painfully similar to their armies. The Gulled pieces in ND are just like pawns in chess and as such lack the personality of their more important counterparts by being identical. Still, the way they are shaped and identified is terrific. Their simplicity allows the more important pieces to shine through.

Each Starter set comes with one Navia which is fully painted and looks like it came straight out of an anime show. The colors are terrific and even the facial expressions match the look and feel of Japanese animation. I think its wonderful that the publisher went the extra mile to make the key piece stand out so beautifully. Compared to chess in which the queen is very similar to the rest of the pieces, the Navia shines importance and dominance over the rest of the game.

Navia Estelle, photo by willdesigns

The Maseitai are also sculpted incredibly well. In the Starter sets, none of them are painted. Bandai took advantage of the collectible aspect of this game and decided to make painted Maseitai appear as Ultra-rares in Booster packs. In some repects, I think the game is better without painted Maseitai as it puts that much more emphasis on the importance of the Navia.

Garrison, a Maseitai, photo by willdesigns

Each Navia and Maseitai sits on a large base. At the end of this base is a rotation compass which starts on the black side and gets flipped to the red when the piece performs a Dratp. This is an ingenious way of allowing piece to upgrade without messy bookkeeping or switching pieces. Bandai even went so far as include cards for each Maseitai and Navia which shows their starting movement, Dratp movement, and any special abilities they may possess after Dratping. These cards are really helpful the first few times you play because there is a lot of information to take in until you become used to the wide variety of pieces.

Overall, this is some of the finest production I've ever seen. The sculpts are terrific and the overall presentation is top notch. The only thing that could make it better is a nicer board. Since the game is "dead" I don't think we'll ever see one from the publisher. I guess it will be up to fans to make their own homemade versions.


Gameplay

The gameplay of Navia Dratp is based largely on the concepts of chess. The board is a square, but instead of 8X8 is 7X7. Pieces capture other pieces. There is one central figure that your opponent is trying to capture. After that however, the similarities end and huge differences appear.

Chess is played with identical pieces on both sides. The only difference at all is the position of the King and Queen, but that is only dependant on the color and not on a player's preference. In ND, every piece, with the exception of the Gulled, is chosen by the player. This allows each player to build an army tailored to a certain style of play or a particular strategy. The symmetrical nature of chess means that most games will play out largely the same way. Granted, there are different play styles, but the game basically boils down to a memorization of responses to threats. Every time you sit down to play chess with someone, you can guarantee you'll see the same pieces and they'll move the same way. This is not the case with Navia Drapt because, unless you are playing solely with Starter sets, you never know what your opponent will bring to the table. Imagine how much more variety we would see in the chess world if players were able to use different varieties of the Queen.

A players turn offers him the standard chess option of moving a piece, but also adds the ability to bring new pieces on the board or to improve an existing piece via Dratping. There are more choices to consider and as such, Analysis Paralysis is bound to creep in. Its to be expected and just like chess, should be tolerated. There's a deep game here hiding behind the extravagant exterior.

Additionally, Navia Dratp provides for alternate win conditions. Performing a Navia Goal is an extremely difficult strategy, and is rewarded as such. It takes a well-coordinated attack to move your Navia to the other side of the board without losing it in the process. Performing a Navia Dratp will also give you a victory and rewards players who play a strong defensive game. Again, thanks to the choice of pieces, you can customize your army to play towards whatever strategy you think best fits you. This goes a long way towards validating the depth of this game.

The first few games will probably take a while due to the large amount of information to process. Trying to figure out what each piece does and how to maximize its potential can be tough, but once you figure it out, the game will move much smoother. Credit should be given to Bandai for all the effort they took to provide piece information. Its on the pieces themselves as well as on the cards. This helps a lot when teaching someone the game and also makes it easier for someone playing against new pieces.


Compare it to...

By this point, you should have figured out that this game draws a lot of inspiration from chess. While there are many similarities, I believe Navia Dratp is actually a deeper game. There are more choices to be made, starting with constructing your army right through how to play it. The amount of options you have along the way is enormous compared to chess, making it a better game in my estimation. To summarize, Navia Dratp is to chess as Magic:The Gathering is to poker.


Overall

I've made some strong statements throughout this review and I stand behind my beliefs. I think Navia Dratp is a tremedously improved version of chess. Its so different that you almost can't compare them but there are some obvious points of reference that allow you to do so. Navia Dratp is a work of art, both in its physical presentation as well as its mechanical presentation.

Navia Dratp was created to be a collectible miniatures game and as such, offers both Starter sets and booster packs. The game plays perfectly with the two starters and doesn't really need boosters for casual play. This game is "dead" and as such is available at discount prices, as of 9/18/07. Five Below usually has a good supply of these and for the price of $10, you can get both starter sets making this game a steal. As far as the miniatures themselves go, I have yet to see a CMG with anywhere near the detail and perfection of these pieces (I'm looking at you, Star Wars Miniatures!!). Companies looking to get into the CMG market could learn a lot from looking at the quality and craftsmanship of these pieces.

Overall, I rate Navia Dratp 8/10. Its a terrific game for people who enjoy chess but want something more. The choice of theme was probably a poor one. The fuzzy exterior of this game and its silly name have probably kept a lot of people from trying it out. Additionally, anyone who is a diehard chess fan will probably reject new ideas being added to their classic game as well as the theme. These reasons deduct a few points from my overall rating because they reduce my possible opponents. Still, once you get someone to try this game they will more than likely want to play it again. I know I do, and thats why it gets an 8.

Oh, and its pronounced "Drap". The "t" is silent.
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Daniel Danzer
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Re: Chess as viewed by a strange Japanese man who loves anim
Good review, although ND should not be compared too much with Chess, but rather with Shogi. I think, the japanese designers came more from that side ...
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Good point, but I've never played Shogi, so I compared it to something I know. Does the game have more in common with Shogi than chess?
 
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stormseeker75 wrote:
Good point, but I've never played Shogi, so I compared it to something I know. Does the game have more in common with Shogi than chess?


Yes it does, but is simpler in my opinion as Shogi is played on a 9x9 board making it more complex, and the pieces are usually in Japanese, making it harder for Brits like me!

I love Navia Dratp. If it had Lord of the Rings or a Star Wars theme it would have been a best seller. It deserves better applause than it gets.

Nice review.
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Thanks, and I agree completely. If this game were themed with something more familiar, it could make a mint. Heck, they could constantly put out new figures with different themes which would make the game almost infinitely expandable. Someone with more money than me should look into the possibility of doing that.
 
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Excellent review. A few quick comments:

stormseeker75 wrote:
I have my doubts as to how long these boards will last without the protective binding of a normal board.


And you would be right. Most people see their boards warp after they've been unpackaged for a while, unless they take extreme flattening measures.

stormseeker75 wrote:
In some repects, I think the game is better without painted Maseitai as it puts that much more emphasis on the importance of the Navia.


I entirely agree! I'm not a huge fan of collectibility in the first place, and this game has tiny expansions which really aren't suited to the model anyway. So the painted Maseitai disappoint me on so many levels...

stormseeker75 wrote:
The only thing that could make it better is a nicer board. Since the game is "dead" I don't think we'll ever see one from the publisher. I guess it will be up to fans to make their own homemade versions.


Actually, Bandai did have cloth boards that they gave away as promotional items. You can even see one, in the picture on the back of your starter sets. As you surmise, though, they are hard to get ahold of at this point; I expect homemade ones will show up eventually.
 
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I might take the initiative and make a nice one. I'll have to see just how good my skills are though. Done right, it will look beautiful, done poorly it will look like a Kindergarten art project.
 
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Re: Chess as viewed by a strange Japanese man who loves anim
stormseeker75 wrote:
I might take the initiative and make a nice one. I'll have to see just how good my skills are though. Done right, it will look beautiful, done poorly it will look like a Kindergarten art project.


You mean like your avatar?

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There might be some good game concepts in there, but in general I see Navia Drapt as an unecessarily baroque variant of Shogi, a step backwards from that great classic. It suffers from the smaller board. I don't think I like the economic system. I also find the vocabulary and the ornate piece sculptures annoying. Still, if someone ever made an astract version, stripped of the silly made-up words and with geometric, shogi-like pieces, I might give it a try. But as it is it's a no-go for me.
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mhowe wrote:
There might be some good game concepts in there, but in general I see Navia Drapt as an unecessarily baroque variant of Shogi, a step backwards from that great classic. ... I don't think I like the economic system.


The easiest advantage to see, over both Chess and Shogi: draws will basically never occur. And the economic system is one of the reasons that is true. I would give this a try; the vocabulary isn't all that distracting in practice, any more than you wonder why generals are gold and silver rather than two other colors.
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I love Navia Dratp. I rate it higher than any game other than chess itself. Although it is excellent and I often find myself wanting to play it more than chess (shogi and chinese chess too), I think ultimately the abstract simiplicity of the classics will make them more appealing over the long haul.

I have to say that checkmate by a clever manuever with Peojin is not as satisfying to me somehow as a natural checkmate in chess.

Ultimately I find that it's a fabulous game for a chess player who's looking to shake things up and play a similar game with some wild variations on the original theme.

I am one of those who's glad its dead as that has allowed me to acquire two of each piece. I would never have gotten into the game in the first place at the original prices.
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Re: Chess as viewed by a strange Japanese man who loves anim
Bwian wrote:
The easiest advantage to see, over both Chess and Shogi: draws will basically never occur.

Draws basically never occur in shogi, so that's not a great reason to play ND over shogi.
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Bwian wrote:
mhowe wrote:
There might be some good game concepts in there, but in general I see Navia Drapt as an unecessarily baroque variant of Shogi, a step backwards from that great classic. ... I don't think I like the economic system.


The easiest advantage to see, over both Chess and Shogi: draws will basically never occur. And the economic system is one of the reasons that is true. I would give this a try; the vocabulary isn't all that distracting in practice, any more than you wonder why generals are gold and silver rather than two other colors.


The draw rate in classical Shogi is already extremely low -- only about 2% at most of games between masters, and even lower in games between amateurs. Comparisons with chess are not as valid nor did I bring up chess in my original post. And I personally find "gold general" and "silver general" a lot easier to swallow than the made-up Navia Drapt terms. It's not even necessarily that the vocab is made up; it's just that it's so ugly to my ears.
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Re: Chess as viewed by a strange Japanese man who loves anim
very nice review! it's piqued my interest in the game, and i think i know a couple locals who own some pieces.

Quote:
Navia Dratp is based loosely on a chess-like concept in which each player is trying to take the other player's signature piece. In chess its the Queen while in Navia Dratp, its the Navia itself.


big chess player, eh?

Quote:
Gyullas crystals are used to Dratp your Maseitai or your Navia. In order to Dratp a piece, you must pay Gyullas crystals from your Vault back to the Keep.


man, those terms sound awful to me! i have to think they had something to do with the game's failure. unfortunate marketing.
 
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No, I'm not a big chess player, but I know how the game works. Lots of typing, bound to be some typos.

The terms are kinda weird at first, but you get used to them. Besides, the game is dead and you're probably just buying them to use as a stand-alone game, so call it what you want. The vocabulary is not necessary to enjoy the game. Like I said in the review, the theme was a poor choice, which had something to with the game's demise.
 
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Re: Chess as viewed by a strange Japanese man who loves anim
mhowe wrote:
The draw rate in classical Shogi is already extremely low -- only about 2% at most of games between masters, and even lower in games between amateurs.


My mistake. I've only played three games, but my instruction for those three games included the caution that, since most of the pieces are biased to move forward, draws would often occur when people's pieces all got too far ahead of themselves. Must have been bad advice.
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Re: Chess as viewed by a strange Japanese man who loves anim
I only know the basic rules to Shogi, and I've never played, but from reading them, I also assumed that draws happened more often. I'm gonna have to actually play the game one of these days, since I'm such a Navia freak.

Edit:
By the way Steve, nice review. Personally, this is my all time favorite game.
Quote:

In some repects, I think the game is better without painted Maseitai as it puts that much more emphasis on the importance of the Navia.


I understand what you are saying, but....the only reason I like them grey, is so I can paint them myself. (www.jc-designs.net/navia)
 
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Re: Chess as viewed by a strange Japanese man who loves anim
mhowe wrote:
There might be some good game concepts in there, but in general I see Navia Drapt as an unecessarily baroque variant of Shogi, a step backwards from that great classic. It suffers from the smaller board. I don't think I like the economic system. I also find the vocabulary and the ornate piece sculptures annoying.


Vile heretic! And I was thinking we'd play this together some day, given your love for abstracts and Shogi.

Seriously though, most of your problems with the game are cosmetic. Vocab and piece sculpts are very minor issues when critiquing the game itself. Like Jeremy, I've never played Shogi, so I can't comment on the board size issue, but perhaps this is tied in with the game length, dratp costs, and victory conditions. The board is smaller than Chess as well, but I don't feel constrained.

Quote:
Still, if someone ever made an astract version, stripped of the silly made-up words and with geometric, shogi-like pieces, I might give it a try. But as it is it's a no-go for me.


This is something I've considered. Given the "dead" nature of the game, I thought that a DIY retheme could work well, particularly with Shogi-style wooden discs as pieces. Sculpt goober is nice, but in the end we look at the disc to see how it moves, and the card to see what special powers it has.

If we used wooden discs, printed the 3x3 grid on it w/ the movement, and used the leftover space on the bottom and sides to out the Drapt cost & power names (respectively), it would provide just what you're looking for. You could even pair background colors of patterns for the pieces with the colors and patterns on the cards (like they do with the images of the sculpts on the normal cards).

I was thinking of an animal or insect theme. Perhaps you could take well known creatures from classic D&D, or some other fantasy universe.

You could, of course, just take the basic movements and dratp costs for many of the pieces and port them over wholesale with just a surface retheme. Playtesting would be required for any new pieces (to fit the new theme).

Right now I'm thinking of perhaps modelling the game after Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, and I'm thinking how Tanks would work, and I'm thinking of ranged attacks. Perhaps you could have a piece that could move one square in any direction, but could shoot forward in the direction he's facing. He could guard a square, but not have to actually go into it to kill (and thereby not initiate a piece trade). You'd point the wooden disc's front end (perhaps you could mark it with a triangle above the name) strait, or diagonally forward. 2 squares ahead of that would be the target location.

That model is actually more appropriate for artillery than a tank, but you get my drift.

Anyway, as you can see I've given some thought into building a kind of "open source" Navia Dratp.

Quote:
Bandai did have cloth boards that they gave away as promotional items

The board isn't cloth, it's kind of like a rubber mat. It's nice though. I got one when they were cleaning house a while back (I had the presence of mind to make that request in my email!). I also got about a bazillion glow in the dark pieces, some clear ones, gold based ones, and a bunch of grays and painted. They had more stock than they realised =)
 
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Re: Chess as viewed by a strange Japanese man who loves anim
hughthehand wrote:
I understand what you are saying, but....the only reason I like them grey, is so I can paint them myself. (www.jc-designs.net/navia)

Jeremy, have you done any more painting? I've painted a number of my Maseitai (though not since summer dawned). I gave away my painted Troll and Schmidt as a gift (they came out great!), and I think I neglected to take a picture of troll (not sure).
 
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adam.skinner wrote:
This is something I've considered. Given the "dead" nature of the game, I thought that a DIY retheme could work well, particularly with Shogi-style wooden discs as pieces.


This could definitely work. In fact, my Shogi set is done like this: no Japanese characters, but rather little symbols showing movement on each side, and a small Latin letter to make rules references easier. I don't know why you need the cards, though; doesn't everyone just memorize all the pieces?

adam.skinner wrote:
Perhaps you could have a piece that could move one square in any direction, but could shoot forward in the direction he's facing. He could guard a square, but not have to actually go into it to kill (and thereby not initiate a piece trade). You'd point the wooden disc's front end (perhaps you could mark it with a triangle above the name) strait, or diagonally forward. 2 squares ahead of that would be the target location.


I rather like the symmetry of capturing the same way you move myself, but that just opens up a new possibility. Rather than capturing in the target square, he can destroy anything in the target square as his Invoke power. Actually, that's even appropriate for the original theme. (Did you get to watch the anime shorts, with Nergalgamesh firing off missiles and such?)

Quote:
Quote:
Bandai did have cloth boards that they gave away as promotional items

The board isn't cloth, it's kind of like a rubber mat. It's nice though. I got one when they were cleaning house a while back (I had the presence of mind to make that request in my email!). I also got about a bazillion glow in the dark pieces, some clear ones, gold based ones, and a bunch of grays and painted. They had more stock than they realised =)


Oh, I know, I've got two ninja . I just figured cloth would be a close description. It's close to those play mats for CCGs, except with a slicker fake-leather surface rather than the higher-grip fabric surface.
 
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stormseeker75 wrote:
Additionally, Navia Dratp provides for alternate win conditions. Performing a Navia Goal is an extremely difficult strategy, and is rewarded as such. It takes a well-coordinated attack to move your Navia to the other side of the board without losing it in the process.

The Navia Goal rule is there to prevent the kind of draw situation we see in shogi. Because in shogi most pieces are not good at attacking backwards, if your opponent gets his king to your side of the board (and surrounded by a bunch of dropped pieces), it becomes impossible to checkmate him; if both players accomplish that, neither player can checkmate and the game is decided by material points. Navia Goal is an elegant rule to resolve such position. And also, it resolves the endgame in which neither player has enough material to checkmate.

Quote:
Performing a Navia Dratp will also give you a victory and rewards players who play a strong defensive game.

Navia Dratp is first and foremost a rule to balance a lighter army (lower point total) against a heavier one. If your opponent plays with heavier pieces than you, you can try to win the game with Navia Dratp through forcing exchanges.
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