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Jay Little
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Navia Dratp [translated roughly into English] means "Excellent Chess Variant"

I played this at GenCon 2004, and was so impressed, I immediately purchased both starters and some boosters. I love games that take the typical "minute to learn, lifetime to master" (see Abalone, Traxx, 3 Stones) or games based on similarities to other rule sets (Bosworth being a Chess variant, etc). So the fact that Navia initially looked like chess, but with beautifully sculpted figures and enough eye candy to make it distinct, really appealed to me.

Overview: This is, indeed, a chess variant. Inasmuch as the board is a grid and figures have distinct movement patterns. Aside from that, there are multiple ways to win, and each of the sculpted pieces has a "powered up" version which offers a special ability or different movement style.

First things first -- take out all the mumbo jumbo and anime-integrated jargon. I'm not going to refer to "dratping" or "gummeling" or whatever else the wonky licensed words are for everything. I'm usin' me some good ol' English. The jargon was the hardest part of explaining this game to a new player.

Each player has a "king" which is the most powerful figure in their "army." They also have a number of "pawns" which are the same on both sides. These pawns generate "power" as they move, which is then used to "upgrade" your units. The sculpted pieces take the place of all the other chess pieces. They have their own movement guidelines, printed on the figure itself for easy reference. Aside from your pawns generating power, you can capture opposing pieces to generate more power.

Deciding when to spend power to upgrade units, and which units to upgrade, is a key to the game. Fielding a team of lower tier pieces may allow you to upgrade all of them quickly, but without a few powerhouses, they may not stand up to a more powerful, but slower to upgrade, piece fielded by your opponent.

Pros:

Easy on the eyes. This is a very visually beautiful game. The pieces are large and detailed. Little plastic jewels represent the power you've accumulated. The board is large and cleanly designed, if unremarkable.

Variety. This covers a few things. First, there are multiple ways to win -- by accumulating enough power to upgrade your king, by capturing your opponent's king, or by getting your king all the way across the board to exit on your opponent's side. That allows players to shift tactics on the fly to pursue different goals. Secondly, there's a wide variety of figures, even if you never drop a dime more than the starting sets. That means you can "draft" your pieces before playing a game to try different combinations and strategies.

Easy to learn. Just looking at the pieces and the board, you can already assume a lot of the rules before even picking up the rulebook. Once you get past that infernal jargon, the game elements, mechanics and ideas are easy to pick up.

High replay value. I see this getting a lot of mileage from my fellow gamers and my nephew who loves the fantasy/anime elements. There's enough strategy, variety and enjoyment from a game session to warrant playing again. And a typical game takes 30-45 minutes.

Cons:

Not another collectable game! Curses to that far-too-successful marketing strategy. Be forewarned, Navia Dratp (pronouned "dropped") is collectable (as in, they're hoping you "dratp" a lot of money on it). You actually need 2 starters, or 1 starter and several boosters, to have enough figures to play a 2 player game.

Engrish Making Word Ears to My Sounding Hard. I can dig using a license to appeal to gamers. But insisting on naming every element -- even seemingly standard, obvious aspects of a game -- a quirky, license-derived trademarked term is frustrating. It makes associating some of the actions or mechanics a bit clumsy until you're familiar with it.

Bottom Line:
It's fun, it's pretty and it's easy to play. I've thoroughly enjoyed playing this and look forward to many more games. Since I'm not nearly as stingy or frugal with my money as I should be, the need to purchase both starters didn't stop me from getting into the game. And if you don't have to get a second mortgage to do likewise, you should enjoy this game.

I'll give it a 8.5/10 -- knocked down from an 9.0 for needing 2 starters to get involved and the annoyance at all their mumbo jumbo. But if those things don't phase you, great!
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Jay Little
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Re:User Review
Well, I've played about 8 more games since I posted the review and I'm still just as impressed with Navia Dratp. I've played with several people my own age (late 20s/early 30s) as well as my 11 year old nephew, and they've all enjoyed the game.

As I mentioned in my post, the jargon used is the biggest barrier in teaching someone how to play the game, but since it's basically a chess variant with some cool gimmicks, it's still fairly easy to teach.

Now that I've played enough games with roughly 2/3 of the available figures, I'm impressed with the variety of figures. The figures offer tough choices when developing an "army"... flexible movement is key, so having figures with upgraded movement abilities is nice. But having a few special abilities trigger -- even ones that destroy your own piece -- can turn the tide when triggered at just the right moment. Finally, since you're only selecting seven figures per game, there are limitless combinations, but you're not as paralyzed trying to assemble a group as you would be if you had to choose 10 or more.

Still love it! Go get it and play!
 
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Lyle Williams
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I found both of your articles extremely useful in cutting through the "jargon" the company used to describe the games and its rules.

Thank you for taking the time to write the reviews. I have both starter sets but, as yet, have not had the time to play any games. I am definitely looking forward to playing Navia Dratp as soon as school is finished in late May and I have more time to carefully read through the company's rule book.

Thanks again!
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