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Subject: Pro/Con Review. "An intriguing theme but more playtesting needed." (2/5) rss

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Crazy Adam
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Hopefully this write-up will offer a short and helpful pro/con review for those trying to make their mind up about playing or purchasing this game.

GAME: ANT ASSAULT (2011)
PUBLISHER: MONGOOSE PUBLISHING

PROS

- Interesting Theme. Ant Assault has a couple of things going for it. The first that struck me when playing this game was the theme. I quite enjoy the idea of several suped-up ant colonies going gung-ho against each other, battling for superiority and all the while having to keep their antennae sharp for berries, grubs, and (mmmm!) cupcakes to bring back to their colony. These delicious resources are then used to upgrade colonies, which in turn grant special bonuses to those players.

- Very nice artwork. One thing the publishers didn't skimp out on was the art department. The illustrations of Ant Assault appropriately evoke anthropomorphized arthropods at war. In fact, the artwork isn't cartoony or campy at all; it is done in a comic book style and is quite detailed. I'm glad they didn't rely on quick computer sketches and it is clear the publishers wanted to showcase the artistic talent at their disposal. From what is recorded here, the artists who contributed to Ant Assault have no credits to other games and so I do hope that what they have done here gives them a launch to future games.

- Interesting, thematically-linked mechanics. The main mechanic in Ant Assault is hand management, and the way that it is used connects well to the theme of the game. As commanders of these Ants, players must send out attack squads to either forage for resources, attack enemy colonies or (gulp!) go after an enemy Queen! Of course, the more ants sent out on these orders, the less one will have back at home to protect resources and their Queen. One has to always keep this in mind. As well, before drawing new cards, a player as the option of discarding any card from their hand before refreshing back to a full hand. Again, you must decide whether the cards you are holding are worth keeping around for long or if taking your chances with the draw pile will give you stronger cards and a better chance for success. Again, I will mention the colony upgrades, which connects the collection of resources to the improvement of their colonies. Lastly, there are opportunities for bluffing by sending out your assault teams face down so that only at the moment of attack are the actual ants of the team revealed. (Although, I don't think this bluffing mechanic was realized to its full potential.) Largely, the mechanics fit well with the theme and are one of the shining parts of this game.

CONS

- Outstays its welcome in about 20-30 minutes. The box states that this game is 30-60 minutes long, and be prepared for it to be closer to the upper reaches of that estimate. My sister even reported that her 2-player game went into the upper reaches of 2 hours. Unfortunately, Ant Assault is highly repetitive. After a short while, players have most likely cycled through every type of card and used them in the same way for attacks over and over again. There are no unique card combinations available. As such, there is little thought behind combat. Essentially, you play Ant cards, hoping your opponent can't beat you in strength or counter with a 'Ploy' card (i.e. an interrupt.) Thematically, it is fun for about 20 minutes. Mechanically, it get very tiresome at this point. The endgame only comes when players cycle through all the Resource cards (and I believe there are about 100) or all Queen Ants but one are dead. In a two-player game, the latter option may be something to consider, but in a four-player game it would be extraordinarily difficult to do so given the way in which to perform this Queen killing. Even so, player elimination is something a lot of designers are steering clear of these days (for obvious reasons) and this game could easily have avoided it as well. As a simple, highly luck-driven game, the designers not thinking of a way to shorten the game length is a major setback.

- Game doesn't feel thoroughly play-tested. The worst things to see from a fledgling game publisher are poor component quality and badly written rules. The card quality is neither standout or problematic. (The cards are thick, laminated cardstock.) The rules however, immediately reveal that this game was not thoroughly play-tested. Several ambiguities and inaccuracies are present in the rules and cards. For example, the term 'deal the cards' is used to describe setting up the draw pile, and not actually dealing any cards to players. Endgame ties are not uncommon (especially with four players), and yet no tie breakers are given. On one card, the term 'recycle' is used to describe an action, and yet no definition of that term or how to use the card effectively is given. The designer listed the names of the play-testers on the rulesheet (not always a common practice.) I'm not sure what happened here, but it is easy to see where some extra work could have been done in terms of rules and editing, and it really doesn't seem like anybody was paying close attention here.

- Luck rarely feels manageable. Luck in a game is not always a bad thing. Even a heavy dose is sometimes okay, as long as the theme is super cool and the game doesn't last too long. As mentioned before, Ant Assault is lucky in this first regard and fails in the latter. Almost the entire game hinges on whether you draw the right cards at the right time and if your opponent draws the wrong ones. If you are particularly lucky in your draw, you will win. If you are particularly unlucky, you will lose. There are not enough ways to manage this heavy dose of luck to feel like you are playing the game, instead of the game playing you. If an opponent attacks you, you either have the right counter card or you don't. When you seek resources, you may get a +1 and not get very far, or a +4 and do very well. Your opponent may have a card to allow them to steal your cards, or they may not. Your luck is only managed insofar as what luck your opponents have. Again, light games like this aren't always terrible if other factors (theme, length, enjoyment) are precisely considered. The designers of Ant Assault just didn't consider these other factors to the degree that they should have.

FINAL COMMENT


I was lucky enough to try Ant Assault. My sister and her husband recently got into board gaming and took a chance with Ant Assault, as its box graphics and game description (rightly so) looked and sounded interesting. Not many people have taken a chance yet with Ant Assault (at least by looking at BGG stats) and I'm happy to be one of the first few to give it a try. I will say that Ant Assault is not presently a good game, but I don't think it is one that should be given up on. In fact, with some rule tweaks I think it could become exactly what it should be: a highly thematic, more-luck-than-strategy card game that can be played in about 20 minutes. This means that some rules will have to be added, others rewritten, and some resource cards either removed or the endgame would have to be reconsidered. I hope the designers and publisher will quickly see that Ant Assault could be much more than what it is presently, and that they playtest this game again in order to discover rule ambiguities and tighten up the gameplay. Ant Assault will never be the engaging card game that somebody might suggest when they have an hour to kill. But it just might be the quick filler game that is called upon when 20 minutes are available. It may be too late, but I hope the designers consider such things when releasing future versions or other games that use similar mechanics.

Thanks for reading!
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Andy Wright
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Definitely agree Adam.

We played one game, it just went on too long, the "Honey Pot" ants went out as we couldn't figure out what they did and it got very repetative very fast.
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Christine Doiron
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Bummer. It's beautiful and I kind of love ants. I hate it when a game feels like it wasn't play tested enough.
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Chris Taylor

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I agree with your review. Ant Assault quickly becomes tedious. It sounds good in theory, it is clearly intended to strike a balance between gathering resources, attacking your opponent's colony or queeen and leaving enough of your own ants behind to defend your own queen and colony. However, it's almost impossible to kill a queen so that takes one corner of the triangle out almost straight away. The colony upgrade cards give the first person to get one too much of an advantage over their opponents and they quickly get into a much stronger position. The rules are not adequately explained and there are far too many situations where players have to agree a rule. We tried changing some of the rules to make it more balanced but even that didn't work, it's fundamentally not balanced correctly. It also goes on too long without variation and becomes boring.
 
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