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Subject: There’s Life, Jim, But Not As We Know It. rss

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David G. Cox Esq.
Lighthouse Beach
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Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are.
Amoeba Wars

A ‘Control The Galaxy’ Game For 2-6 Players
Designed by Garry Donner
Published by Avalon Hill (1981)

“Then the amoebas came. Nobody knew where they cam from or why they came, but there was no mistaking their presence. As big as planets, their monstrous pseudopods engulfed anything that strayed into their path. At one time, the Empire would have easily driven them away. Now it was too late. As a last ditch effort, the Empire’s super-dreadnaughts were converted into Doomsday Machines and launched against the one-celled monsters. They immediately went out of control and drifted aimlessly throughout the galaxy destroying indiscriminately. The Empire collapsed. All that had been was gone. Survivors were forced to flee to the outer solar systems.

From the ashes of destruction emerged a new spirit. Small federations began springing up as havens for these last remnants of civilization. Here the Space Lords rose to power. Each had the same goal – to recapture the inner systems and return the galaxy to peace and order.

Reflected off the scout’s silver body, the sun’s rays shone through the blackness of space into a pale, translucent mass in front of it. There was no time to change course. No warning. The scout disappeared into the soft, absorbing body of the amoeba.”

That is the background to Amoeba Wars. The objective is for each Space Lord to attempt to occupy the old capital of the Empire, Saestor – before attempting to enter Saestor a player must occupy a specific number of the solar systems immediately adjacent to Saestor. Three things will make this task difficult – amoebas, Doomsday Machines and other Space Lords with the same ambition as you.

The designer, Garry Donner, is listed as having designed another 94 games besides Amoeba Wars. I am only familiar with one of his other designs, Wizard’s Quest. Both Wizard’s Quest and Amoeba Wars have a superficial similarity to Risk. In Amoeba Wars you try to amass mighty space armadas – the larger the territory you control the more quickly you can build up your fleet. You attack adjacent areas – you roll dice to resolve combat and, generally speaking, the larger force should defeat the smaller force. As is the case in Wizard’s Quest, Amoeba Wars has some nice touches that make it, IMHO, a vastly superior game to Risk.

The Galaxy

“If you want to conquer the galaxy you must first understand it.” (Ming the Merciless)

Unbeknownst to astronomers, the galaxy is actually two-dimensional and is in the shape of a huge hexagon. Furthermore, the galaxy is made up of 43 hexagonal shaped solar systems. Some of these solar systems have a production value of ‘1’ or ‘2’.

The centre of the galaxy is Saestor. It is ringed by six solar systems that each have a value of ‘2’. The 6 outer most solar systems (which are the home systems of the Space Lords) also have a value of ‘2’. Of the remaining 24 solar systems six have a value of ‘1’ and six have a value of ‘2’ – that means that there is a total of 24 planets producing a total of 42 production points. Each solar system contains between 1 and 6 planets – the solar systems closer to the centre of the galaxy tend, in general, to have more planets than the solar systems in the outer reaches of the galaxy.

The Space Armadas

“Violence has resolved more conflicts than anything else. The contrary opinion that violence doesn't solve anything is merely wishful thinking at its worst.” (Jean Rasczak - Starship Troopers)

Each player, at the start of their turn, determines the production value of their solar systems and then produces space ships based on the value of their production. Scouts cost 1, Cruisers cost 2, Dreadnaughts cost 3, Battlestars cost 4 and Monitors cost 5. The player is immediately caught in a dilemma. The cheaper is the cost of the ship the more that can be produced, BUT, the less effective the ship will be in combat.

When exploring (that is moving into unoccupied solar systems or solar systems occupied only by amoebas) the number of space ships is important. To explore a solar system the Space Lord adds the number of ships in the fleet and adds this number (to a maximum of ‘5’) to a die roll. The result is compared to the defensive total which is a die roll added to the number of planets in the target solar system. The higher total wins. If the Space Lord wins he moves into the solar system. If the Space Lord loses they also lose a ship, unless an amoeba is present in which case they actually lose two ships.

When attacking into a solar system occupied by a Doomsday Machine or space ships belonging to an enemy Space Lord each player selects one of their space ships and adds its modifier to a die roll. The losing ship is destroyed and the combat continues until the attacker calls of the attack or until all defending ships are destroyed. The modifier for a Scout is 0, Cruisers have a 1, and so on. When attacking other Space Lords the quality, rather than the quantity, of space ships involved is most important.

Monitors are the largest and most expensive of the ships that a Space Lord may build. Once placed they may not be moved and they may not be attacked by an amoeba.


“You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.” (Robert Heinlein – Logic of Empire)

The amoebas spelt the end of a decadent empire. They came out of nowhere and caused the final breakdown of society as we had known it for eons. At the start of the game amoebas are randomly distributed throughout the galaxy. During the game Amoebas are provoked by the play of Power Cards and this creates the chance that amoebas will spread to adjacent solar systems, destroying space ships in the process.

During the turn of Space Lords, combats lost against amoeba occupied solar systems result in accelerated loss of space ships.

The amoebas are a nuisance. I have never seen them take over the galaxy. They are just a nuisance and a random element that adds interest to the game.

Doomsday Machines

Matt Decker – “That thing must be destroyed!”
Mr. Spock – “You tried to destroy it once before, Commodore. The result was a wrecked ship and a dead crew.” (Star Trek: The Doomsday Machine)

"Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines." (General "Buck" Turgidson - Doctor Strangelove)

The Empire rigged up a couple of Doomsday Machines, hoping that they would spell the end of the amoebas. However, they went out of control and are now floating around the galaxy, proving a hazard to all who encounter them.

Each player acquires and employs Power Cards during the game. Five of the forty-five cards force players to activate the Doomsday Machines. In combat they have the same strength as a Monitor (+4) and are a genuine and serious hazard. The people who designed and built them must have been mad.

Power Cards

“It is not because I want power, it is because of what I think I could do for the people.” “Haile Gebrselassie)

At the start of the game each player is dealt three Power Cards. At the start of each turn each player receives another card. Each card has an event of some sort and a unique number between zero and forty four. The events include acquisition of additional space ships, hyperjumping, laser beam attacks, berserk Doomsday Machines, Provoke an Amoeba, and other good stuff. The correct use of Power Cards is essential to success in Amoeba Wars and is one of the aspects that greatly elevates it from the level of Risk.

In the same player order as the previous turn, each player (one at a time) selects and reveals a Power Card at the start of each turn. The Space Lord playing the highest numbered Power Card will have their turn first. Generally they will use the random event on their card AND the random event of every other card played at this stage that has a lower number than theirs.

Normally a player will have three cards in their hand and will choose which card to play. Some of the larger numbered cards state that they MUST be used. Some of the lower numbered cards say that each Space Lord will use only their own card.

The selection of Power Cards makes players think hard about both which event they wish to benefit from, where in the turn order they wish to move and what sort of card they think other players will use. Naturally the players playing their card later have a big advantage as they can see what the other players have already played. As player order is based on the play of Power Cards it is possible for a player to have two consecutive turns (last in one turn and first in the next).

Playing the Game

Capt. Kirk – “No one expects you to die for an error in judgment!” (Star Trek: The Doomsday Machine)

At the start of each turn players select a power card. This determines player order and which events come into play.

Each player will have their own turn, producing new ships and making as many attacks during their turn as they wish. At the end of their final attack the space Lord may make a single redeployment of space ships from one solar system to a single adjacent solar system. Players must maintain control of a home solar system to be able to place new ships.

There are optional rules that give each player a special power. These optional powers add additional interest to the game.
* You may place your power card down at any time (it is nice to see what the others play before picking a card).
* Amoebas eat only one of your ships in battle (ignore the amoebas – nice!)
* Send ships lost against you into the Time Warp (this makes it more expensive for players to rebuild their lost ships – it will make them fear you).
* You may place your reinforcement in any friendly solar systems (not a big deal).
* You may hyperjump any three of your ships free each turn (quite powerful towards the end of the game).
* Your monitors may move just like any other space ship (it certainly makes these powerful ships more useful).
*You may use up to six ships to attack amoebas and empty solar systems (certainly useful during your exploration period).

My Observations

The game works well with 3, 4 or 6 players. It does not work well with 5 players. This is due to each player having one of six home solar systems spread evenly around the edge of the galaxy. With five players, the two players adjacent to the empty home solar system have the ability to expand more easily than those who have neighbours on both sides.

I prefer Garry Donner’s other design, Wizard’s Quest, and consider it to be a better game than Amoeba Wars. In Amoeba Wars each player starts from their home solar system and drives towards the centre of the galaxy. Those people next to them are their enemies – those people not adjacent to them are not enemies. I find that this has the tendency to make combat a little on the ‘personal’ side. In Wizard’s Quest, where players’ armies are spread all around the island, you have the chance to attack every other player, and probably will. I find that this tends to create a more friendly atmosphere around the table because you are attacking everyone, not just one or two people.

The use of the Power Cards seems to make Amoeba Wars less random than Wizard’s Quest. I am stunned that I find the randomness of Wizard’s Quest appealing because normally I prefer a game that is less random.

I find that in Wizard’s Quest the playing pieces (the Wizard, the Dragon, the Orcs, the Heroes and the Sorcerers) seem to give the game personality. For some reason the amoebas and the Doomsday Machine seem to lack this personality (apparently this personality deficit is a common trait amongst Doomsday Machines).

I think Amoeba Wars is a fine design, but given the choice I would normally choose Wizard’s Quest in preference. Having said that, I should acknowledge that amongst my group of ‘wargame’ friends I am the only one who does hold this preference – the others will only play Wizard’s Quest under sufferance.

Like Wizard’s Quest it shares the possible problem of taking a little longer than you really want it to. It also has the problem that once you get knocked hard it is hard to catch up to the other players. In Wizard’s Quest, where all players are trying to obtain three treasures, a player with a small force still has a chance to snatch a win.

arrrh “Dead Men Tell No Tales!”
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Joseph LaClair
United States
New York
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WOW! Finally a reply to your review and it's only been a little over a year. I loved the quotes peppered throughout your review. I played my sons copy for the first time last night. It was a 4 player game and we had a blast. Plenty of laughing throughout the game. I really loved the card mechanic and although the amoebas didn't take over the galaxy they came close.

The game was a tug of war for the lead position for the 3 hours we played. I agree it was a little long for what it was but it didn't ever get to the "O, man, will this game ever end?" stage. It may in future plays but right now I'm wanting to get back out there and zap some amoebas.
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Brian K
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Well, better late then never to post this experience!

Played the game for the first time, had a small disagreement on the use of the 0,1,2 power cards but ultimately settled on a ruling and continued.

I was on one of the inner solar systems with a lot of ships, a couple stars, 4 or 5 dreadnoughts and a bunch of scouts. A rival decided to attack me there. Well he quickly eliminated all my ships except the lone dreadnought I kept in reserve. It alone held off 4 battle stars, 5 dreadnoughts, and 5 scouts. I couldn't believe the luck, though he was extremely determined to erase my presence there. He stopped his attack, only having 4 or 5 scouts left. I eventually won the game, but considered that dreadnought to be a Jedi ship, hehe...
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