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Subject: A Real-Time gem. rss

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Robert R
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Let me start off by saying that my last game review was about 7 yrs ago when I was just a gaming neophyte (a Munchkin review? Really??). Since then my gaming tastes, as expected, have certainly evolved. I do enjoy many different types of games: AT’s, euros, and wargames. I now tend to lean towards the more complex games, and shy away from the silly and the party games. As a huge Real-Time Strategy (RTS) game fan, I consider this game to have struck a chord for me so well that it swayed me to write a review after so many years since my last one.

Background:

Four races fighting for victory points! Simple. Well, there’s a story about some alien race in Mars (the Zerg aka Xenos) who’s annoyed because three other factions are stepping on their lawn (Terrans, Protoss aka Kahoum, and Colossus). The game is a King of the Hill type of game; the factions fight for control of the Frontier. The longer you can control it the more points you’ll score. You can also win the game by destroying the opponent’s base. The usual objectives you find in RTS games are effectively boiled down into these two.

Components:

The game components are fine overall. The manual is clear, well illustrated, and well organized. The example of play is very detailed. The game is surprisingly complex, so I definitively am a fan of the separate rulebooks: one for the main game, and 4 smaller ones each for the different factions (speaking of complexity, this is the first game where I definitively agree that you should go with the "basic game" before delving deeper!). The box size is just perfect. There’s a lot of game in such a small box.

The counters are very functional and look great. You can very easily tell which are infantry, armor, air, and structure units no matter what faction you are playing as or against. Now, card quality leaves something to be desired. They are linen-pattern laminated, but the edges still feel "brittle". You can tell that these are going to show some wear after just one game. Mine are sleeved, like I do for any other good card game, so this is a non issue.

The art on the cover and the player shields which hide your base cards, is evocative. The building art on cards could have been better though. They look like very plain 3D images of buildings. But since they are supposed to be top-down views of these buildings, most of the time, they are hard to tell what they are. The best example is probably the Terran power plants. They are essentially two grey circles on a green background. If it weren’t for the hourglass shaped shadows that extend from the side of these, you couldn’t tell they were supposed to be Nuclear power plants. The colors on these cards also appear to be washed out, like they had been sitting in the sun for a while and they lost their "vibrancy". I just imagine what these cards would have looked like in the hands of FFG. Still, they do have a LOT of stats and info on them that is actually very easy to sort out (ie layout is not an issue). None of this was off-putting though.

Gameplay

Rulebooks are online if you want to go into details. Essentially, you decide whether to play cards as buildings and unit upgrades or face down as resources to build units and tech. You and your opponent build up your base and army until eventually someone triggers a battle. Fans of multi use card games like RftG and other CDG’s, will enjoy this painful decision-making during "building up" before a battle is triggered ("No!!! I may have to burn this Tactical Nuke card for resources?! Argh!").

Building your base and units is all done behind a screen, which very cleanly recreates the fog-of-war element that is so key to RTS games. And to keep the game from bogging down doing this "building up before a battle", the actual construction of buildings and units doesn’t resolve until a battle is actually triggered. You are simply dropping cards on buildings until this happens, which keeps the game moving along at a nice clip.

I won’t go into details, but battles are simply brilliant. You can tell the designers were influenced by wargames like the blockgames from Columbia games, GMT, etc, where unit initiative is essential to determining the outcome of a battle. Initiative or the speed at which a unit attacks, is just as important as how easily it can score hits. Also, as your units die off, you roll less dice. This again is very similar to these blockgames where you roll less as your blocks take hits. On the flipside, unlike the more basic blockgames like Hammer of the Scots, the units have 4 different to-hit numbers depending on what unit they are targeting, which in itself is very thematic (eg Flamer units can score hits easily on infantry-type units, Bombers can easily destroy structures, etc). Awesome.

As you can tell, a lot of important RTS elements are brilliantly and very simply represented in this game. Much of these I would have loved to see in Starcraft, the board game. The only IMPORTANT RTS element I found lacking in this game was the element of economy. This is technically represented by your deck. Your cards are your buildings/tech/units but they are also the resources to build these. With the Raid battle mechanic you get an instant boost in resources, but it’s not a lasting source of income, like when you find Vespene gas or Crystals in Starcraft. Also and more importantly, there is no way to cripple your opponent’s economy to slow their production down, something that is always a viable strategy in any RTS. I have no clue as to how to simulate this as effectively as every other RTS element that is included in this game is, but it would have been great to see this.

Conclusion:

PROS:

-I harping on "RTS elements" because the designers truly did an amazing job at simplifying key RTS elements, but didn’t just dumb things down. The game is actually quite complex. It feels like a meal but it only takes under 1.5hrs to play!

-The 4 factions play completely differently! They aren’t just subtle variations of each other, but truly unique sides with their own strengths and weaknesses. Everyone should be able to find their favorite archetype.

-Everything else scattered in the review above...

CONS:
(which don’t affect me at all, but can bother some of you out there).

-Well, I think the delay in getting the game out after so much hype over the Summer, may have hurt this gem. The buzz surrounding it was practically gone by the time it was released, except for the occasional update on The Dice Tower podcast. You may have a hard time finding people interested in trying this out, which brings me to the next point...

-It has a bit of a learning curve that may be off-putting to some. The game has so many unique elements that it takes time to learn it well. You may have some difficulty finding gamers who want to stick with it all the way. And All the Way is how it should be played. Don’t settle for the base game. So yes, it takes time and effort to get to the real meat in this game.

-I think you can tell the game is really a 2 player game, when you read the multiplayer rules. The wargamer in me doesn’t mind, but I can see others being disappointed by the 3 and 4 player games with it being too long, too much down time, ganging up on the weak, etc. You have to work even harder on that learning curve issue because even more players need to be comfortable enough with it to make it an enjoyable 4 player game, that is not bogged by AP and rules-clarifying.

-One last thing I think could hurt it is the fact that it actually is more of a wargame than a euro. Because it’s a Zman game, I wasn’t expecting it to be as wargamey as it is. It may be too wargamey for some, specially the pure eurogaming crowd. I suspect I am not alone in that initial assumption.

-The components? Could have been better, but please don’t let this keep you from trying out this brilliant production. In fact, go and buy this game now. Teach it to 4 others, and have them do the same. Let’s start an Ares Project Pyramid Scheme! We need to keep food on the designers’ plates, so they’ll have the energy to make more factions!

Rating: 9.5/10

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Dan Williams
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This game is a steak dinner compared to a lot of the baloney sandwiches offered.
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Makis
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Good review. I've really been wondering about this game. Never pulled the trigger to actually go out and get it. May have to do that now.
Thanks!
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Juan Medina
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Board games rule my life, and my wife's. That is a good thing, believe it or not ;)
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Great review. I might yet try the game and see. To be truthful, I was expecting a lot from this game, but when I actually saw the final product I was not impressed with the artwork to the point I did not care to buy it anymore. Most software RTS games are at their core very simple in their idea, they could be just squares with some symbols, but the looks help a lot in fleshing out the experience, at least for me.

 
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Joel Eddy
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topdeckgames wrote:
This game is a steak dinner compared to a lot of the baloney sandwiches offered.


That's a brilliant statement right there.
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Nate
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This is easily in my top 3 for 2011. Would highly recommend anyone who likes a meaty game experience to try it out.
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Simon Webster
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kungfugeek wrote:
This is easily in my top 3 for 2011. Would highly recommend anyone who likes a meaty game experience to try it out.


Agree 100%. In my top 3 for 2011 also.

I have to say that I find all the talk of rules complexity with this game really bothers me. It really isn't bad at all.
I think it has about the same weight as A Few Acres Of Snow and requires about the same level of commitment from its players.

Personally I can teach the full game in about 20-30 mins to other gamer types (and it is a gamers game, not a gateway, for sure). It actually plays very smoothly.

I wish people would stop saying it's complex as it may be frightening people away from a great and unique experience.
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Michael Edwards
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My only quibble is that when I saw "Real-Time" in the review title - knowing nothing about this game - I assumed that meant simultaneous, non-turn based play (like Falling or JAB: Realtime Boxing ), rather than the RTS computer game genre.

But, looks interesting!
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Simon Webster
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Chanfan wrote:
My only quibble is that when I saw "Real-Time" in the review title - knowing nothing about this game - I assumed that meant simultaneous, non-turn based play (like Falling or JAB: Realtime Boxing ), rather than the RTS computer game genre.

But, looks interesting!


One of the great things about this game is it gives you all the decision making of an RTS without the hectic pace!
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Dirk Ackermann
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Yeah, thats what we need here!

Fantastic review, nearly every point you make I can go along nodding to myself!

Thank you, sir!
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Robert R
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DarAng wrote:
Yeah, thats what we need here!

Fantastic review, nearly every point you make I can go along nodding to myself!

Thank you, sir!


Back in December I contacted the designer commending him on a job so well done.... For making the game I wanted Starcraft TBG to be (now don't get me wrong, I love me some SC too). I told him I was going to write this, but you know how it goes. Life gets i. The way of our beloved hobbies. Well I saw your post earlier this week, and finally decided to write something up.
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Robert R
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WrenHong wrote:
kungfugeek wrote:
This is easily in my top 3 for 2011. Would highly recommend anyone who likes a meaty game experience to try it out.


Agree 100%. In my top 3 for 2011 also.

I have to say that I find all the talk of rules complexity with this game really bothers me. It really isn't bad at all.
I think it has about the same weight as A Few Acres Of Snow and requires about the same level of commitment from its players.

Personally I can teach the full game in about 20-30 mins to other gamer types (and it is a gamers game, not a gateway, for sure). It actually plays very smoothly.

I wish people would stop saying it's complex as it may be frightening people away from a great and unique experience.


You know, i agree for the most part. The more I played, the better I got at explaining the game, while making it not seem overwhelming. I just go over the basics, play out a basic game battle all the way, and then jump to the full game. Works lile a charm (with gamers). Takes about 20min.
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Douglas Glisson
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Great review. I just picked this up last weekend and am more stoked than ever now to get it to the table!

Kraken Fan #69
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Dirk Ackermann
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We totally need a video of a step-by-step-basic-session, in which it will be very clear what to do and how.

Maximum time should be 10 min.

Who is up to the task? (I would if I had any equipment at all!)
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Robert R
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DarAng wrote:
We totally need a video of a step-by-step-basic-session, in which it will be very clear what to do and how.

Maximum time should be 10 min.

Who is up to the task? (I would if I had any equipment at all!)


Hah! Is that a challenge? I've considered it. I think the game is that fun. I'm teaching at least one game every game night...
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Felix Lastname
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r3gamer wrote:

Hah! Is that a challenge? I've considered it. I think the game is that fun. I'm teaching at least one game every game night...


Totally, a challenge. And here is some GG to further incentivize you.
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Dirk Ackermann
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Yeah, Felix!!!

That is the attitude we should wrap ourselves in around here! Thank you buddy!

Edit: Oh, of course can that be seen as a challenge! No scratch that! THAT IS A CHALLENGE!
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