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Subject: Duel makes a great game even greater rss

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Tim Mierz
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The base game

Neuroshima Hex! is a fantastic game. For something that plays in just 30 minutes, it's filled to the brim with aggressive attacks, thought-provoking puzzles, high tension, and nearly endless replayability. Heck, it does these things better than many games of any length. Yet while it's not an obscure game, it's not topping the charts. The most common complaints about the game based on the comments section is that it's too reliant on luck of the draw...

Very heavily driven by luck of the draw, there is a small amount of thought that goes into placement of pieces. Given the luck/skill ratio it lasts way longer than it should. - mcdeans

Operates under the guise of randomness mitigated through use of every random tile through the game. However, this is vastly offset by the discarding mechanism. Randomness oft reigns supreme. - blueatheart

With only 30 tiles available in the game (and only a little more than half of them are able to attack), the luck of the draw seems to have a large effect on the outcome. Example: Let's say in my first 3 - 4 turns I draw two combat units whereas my opponent draws about 4 - 5, that puts me at a major disadvantage because my units will likely die in the first battle and it's possible that none of my opponents would if he had a chance to lay some of those five units after I placed my two. - Eeeville

For my first and last game ever, I played The Outpost, with 4 player cut-throat. For my first two turns I pulled three move and two battle tiles, which means I was unable to field any units for those critical turns. For the next frustrating, boring, lopsided 90 minutes, my command center got shot up, and I was only able to field at most one or two units per turn, before they were immediately destroyed. [...] Oh, and then I find out a week later we were playing it all wrong... go figure... - hinotori

Let it be known that I think the base game is perfectly playable on its own, I can see how a couple frustrating draws can turn someone off of this. It stinks to draw 3 of your 5 battle tiles at once, or getting all your movement early when you don't care about it as much, and all that.

What does this expansion do?
The expansion has two main parts, the board and the armies. Let's talk about the board.

You have the familiar hex grid from the base game, but with seven spots outlined in blue. These are terminals; units standing on the terminals are links. There's also a track from 0 to 5 off to the side; this tracks your energy. Energy is accumulated in two ways: Discard extra tiles during your turn (beyond your normal one discard), or voluntarily take a point of damage to your HQ. Energy can be spent in several ways related to links: Rotate your link, your link pushes back, swap links, destroy enemy links, destroy enemies between two of your links. These procedures can be used at any point during your turn, and the effects are not at all insignificant. My personal favorite is messing up plans with the 2 energy Push Back procedure, although getting up to 4 energy to threaten my opponent with the Detonate procedure (destroy all enemy links) is also a nice tactic.

Getting the energy is not cheap. You can get as much as you want at the end of your turn by sacrificing hit points, but points are, well, how you win or lose. Discarding extra tiles can usually be painful - it's hard enough to discard the required one on my turn, most times. However, the genius lies in this: your bad draws are no longer truly bad. Sure, I might rather draw my Mobile Armor than three Move tiles, but there's almost no way I'd be giving up the former for energy while I would often have no qualms with trashing the latter for two energy, giving me further flexibility. Nothing is useless anymore. This is especially valuable in giving older armies powers they never had before. Sure, the classic Borgo can't push back, but now that power's at their fingertips! Sure, old Moloch had terrible mobility, but watch out for that Gauss cannon swapping exactly where you don't want him. And in case you think, "Oh, I'll just stymie my opponent by covering all the terminals," you better watch out for the deadly Detonate. For those of you that enjoy the puzzlish aspect of the game, the quickly growing options of rotations, pushes, and swaps yield even more fun choices to make.

How are the new armies?
Duel contains two armies, Smart and Vegas. While Duel is technically a standalone game that doubles as an expansion, I think that an average person playing N Hex for the first time would have a difficult time using these armies effectively, compared to how they might use a base game army. The armies have a wide variety of action tiles, some cool abilities that might take a little getting used to, and plenty of options during a turn.

The Smart army is the easier of the two to use. The units are mostly shooters, and go from standard fast guys to three 2-init Gauss cannons (like from Moloch, but faster and less tough). There is a small number of melee units. While there are few move tiles, the HQ gives mobility to all friendly units around it, like the Hegemony's Transport module. In my experience, this ability is heavily used, filling gaps around the HQ with a big chain of sliding. The HQ itself is not very mobile, though, so some care needs to be taken. All in all, though, with its long range power and good mobility, it has a very Outpost-ish feel, with a couple twists. The Duel board doesn't help with Smart's main weakness, HQ mobility.

Vegas, on the other hand, thrives on the Duel board. Its main feature is a number of units (modules called Agitators, plus the HQ) capable of the Control Takeover ability - while the arrow is pointed at an enemy unit, the unit belongs to Vegas! This has the duel effect of not getting killed and killing others. It's always sweet when the opponent kills a taken-over unit to stop further damage - oh well, that guy was one of your own anyways! Using the Agitator modules and HQ effectively is non-obvious to master. They have both defensive and offensive merit, but they can also be easy to avoid. Placing the Agitators and HQ on terminals is often a good tactic, so you can rotate them by spending 1 energy. In fact, sometimes you don't even need to actually rotate them - the threat of something being taken over can often be enough. There is, then, the inherent risk of getting Detonated. The Agitators have to take on a lot of responsibility; Vegas contains very few normal units, and not even all of those can attack. It relies on procedures like Push Back (onto Mines) and Rotate to get ahead, and plays defensively.

Both armies make very worthy additions into the N Hex lineup. While I wouldn't mind for Smart to have a little different flavor, Vegas is completely unique and plays unlike any other. Vegas is a bit hard for a new player to master, but it's crazy fun to use.

How are the components?
The components are the least important part to me in a game, although I still notice them. I know this matters more to others, so I'll give a brief overview of the Portal version, which I have.

The board does not include the rarely-used spaces on the base game board used for campaigns and such. In doing so, the board is a lot smaller - close to half the surface area of the regular board. That board always felt unnecessarily large to me, and I don't miss using it.

I have the Z-Man editions of the base game and Babel13, and so the army tiles are slightly different. They seem a little thinner to me, and there are some minor graphical differences (the backs of the HQs, army tiles, and HP/energy tokens have the same design, rather than the HQ and tokens being double-sided like the Z-Man version), but overall they fit in just fine. In my copy some army tiles are off-center, but it's not a huge deal.

The Portal edition does not come with ScottE's fantastic reference cards, but I expect that the Z-Man edition, coming out later this year, will contain them, as it always has. I made my own homemade reference cards, but it's not a big pain to just have the rulebook open to the army pages, which have the tiles and frequencies listed.

Conclusion
If you love Neuroshima Hex, with its intense decisions, great replayability, and high fun factor, you will love it even more with the Duel expansion. If you wanted to like N Hex but the luck of the draw kept getting in the way, I urge you to try it with the Duel board. If you just want more armies, Smart and Vegas do not disappoint. The Duel board gives even more variety to games - sometimes there will be an ever-changing board, sometimes there will be cold wars where high reserves of energy are built up and rarely spent, and sometimes energy will barely be accumulated at all and it plays out more normally.

If you're prone to annoying others with overanalysis, this expansion will not help you - the wealth of new options may be too overwhelming. But if you and the people you play with are fine with some more thinking and decisions involved, you will not regret this at all.

If you didn't like the base game because it was too chaotic, only play with 2 players. My very limited experience with more than 2 shows me it becomes too "no, pick on him!"-ish and too unpredictable. A lot of the negative N Hex comments were based on 3-player plays, and if that's what soured you on the game, try it with just two. Luckily, Duel comes with only two armies, and it's called "Duel," so hopefully that doesn't happen as much with this.
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Jess Newman
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Very nice review! I have been anticipating Duel for a while and am glad to hear that it turned out well.
A few questions: can terrain be used on the new board? What if it covers up the Link spaces? Does Duel come with any scenarios?

I also have to complement you on your avatar. OMF 2097 is one of the best fighting games of all time. Thorn was one of my favorites, along with the Jaguar, Flail, and the teleporting guy (can't remember the name).
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Tim Mierz
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There isn't space on the Duel board for terrain; you'll have to use the old board for that. Or, I suppose, just cover the energy track and procedures icons. The rules do not come with any new scenarios or campaigns.

I think the teleporting guy was Chronos. Shirro-Thorn was definitely my favorite combo though, I loved throwing the opposing robots over my head. I never got the hang of the Flail, personally.
 
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Eric Walkingshaw
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You, sir, have been added to my GeekBuddy list! Looking at your ratings, it looks like we have similar tastes, and your game comments are fantastic. We'd have trouble being in the same game group though, because I always snap up orange if it's available...

Great review here too. I suspected that the energy system was partly there to mitigate the effect of bad draws, so it's good to hear that it works. And of course, two new armies sound awesome. I'll be ordering a copy just as soon as the Z-Man version comes out.
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Tim Mierz
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Your username seems familiar, I bet we've commented on some of the same Nexus Ops and N Hex forums. While I can't fully forgive you disliking Betrayal at House on the Hill and liking TransAmerica, we have enough games in common for me to largely overlook those.

Also, while I prefer orange, I will accept playing as yellow, as not enough games have orange. The other orange player in my group leans toward red when there's no orange, so it works out for both of us. There may be hope yet.

I was going to wait for the Z-Man edition myself, but I was fortunate enough to get the Portal edition of Duel as a Christmas gift.
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Brian McCormick
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Thanks for the great review.

I have yet to jump into NH myself, but I really want to, and to know that there are awesome expansions for the game such as this one makes me want it all the more. cry
 
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Mark Steelman
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Good review, I definitely want this expansion but I think I will wait for z-man so all my pieces will match... I'm just like that.

I do not accept the excuse for losing that "NH is too random". I would argue that the better player wins 80% of the time. There is a random element but that is what keeps the game tactical and under 40 minutes. I realize that some people have no tollerance for any game where they are not in complete control of everything... but I pitty those people in real life.
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Tim Fiscus
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Awesome work, as usual. You know what you are talking about!
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Carter H
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TimMierz wrote:
This has the duel effect of not getting killed and killing others.


I see what you did there.

Nice review, it helped me make the decision to pull the trigger on this exciting sounding expansion!
 
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Agha Ahsan
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TimMierz wrote:
...I never got the hang of the Flail, personally.


Nice review... now I have to add another expansion/game to my ever growing list.. thank you..

As for the Flail, the key is to first get close and use the grab punch attack, then give yourself room to do the spinning attack a few times... A very cheap robot. Personally I liked the Jaguar and the Shadow...
 
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Dario Dorado
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Wow! Awesome work.

I´m in to getting the game after being playing for a while with the android app.
Me and my friends we had a lot of fun playing online, and now I want to buy the game but as long as we had layed (and still playing) with the app I think it will not succeed as much as the android version.

I´m thinking about buying the Duel expansion instead of the basic game, do you think it worths?

It´s necesary to play with the board terminals to have a balance game with the new armies?

Thanks!:)
 
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Paweł Dembowski
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You don't need to use the terminals. Both new and old armies are perfectly balanced for both the basic board and the duel board.
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Tim Mierz
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I agree with Paweł except I'm unsure about Vegas' chances on the original board. The Rotate and Push actions are very nice for them, and they might not be able to compete otherwise.

Also, Duel comes with just two armies, so be aware of that if you want that and not the base game. The base game has 12 different possible matchups; Duel has 1.
 
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Paweł Dembowski
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Vegas is pretty effective on the basic board as well.
 
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Russ Williams
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TimMierz wrote:
Also, Duel comes with just two armies, so be aware of that if you want that and not the base game. The base game has 12 different possible matchups; Duel has 1.

(FWIW the base game has "4 choose 2" = 6 possible pairings, not 12.)
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