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Raúl Chouza
Mexico
TIJUANA
BAJA CALIFORNIA
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SOME NOTES ON THE REVIEW:

I have played this game around 35 times. I consider my expertise in the game limited since I keep discovering new techniques and strategies.

Review in Spanish/Reseña en Español: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/813660/resena-the-ares-proje...

INTRODUCTION:

Along PC games, there is a particular genre commonly known as “RTS” (Real Time Strategy), usually in these kinds of games 2 or more players enter into a conflict to dominate a territory; securing resources, managing an economy and rising new bases in the map are some of the activities that each player will develop during the session. Generally, the main objective is to eliminate enemy's base by having enough combat power.

It's a genre that counts with various small systems and puzzles that are really fun to discover. Some games in this category may be: "Total Anihilation", "Age of Empires", "Rise of Nations", "StarCraft", "Dawn of War" and "Company of Heroes".


Some screen-shots of “RTS” games: Globulation 2, Company of Heroes and Supreme Commander.


Maybe the three pictures above may look somewhat abstract, well... the game I'll be doing this review is called “The Ares Project” which tries to simulate the video-game genre with cards and tokens, the game is quite thematic but might seem too abstract and hard to grasp for players unfamiliar with the computer genre.

Something I dislike about “RTS” games is that often they seem to be more of action games than strategy games, too much importance is given to the perfect control of units. I understand that fast decision making is an important ability but... I like to take my time.

So, with the premise that “The Ares Project” is trying to emulate the computer genre and may manage more reasonable times... I quickly searched for some reviews and after liking what I saw I bought the game.

ABOUT THE GAME:

“The Ares Project” is a card game for 2-4 players, players take the role of a faction that arrived at the red planet to control the new frontier, each faction is unique and all of their units, buildings and powers are represented by a deck of cards; in the conflict 4 factions are involved:



Terran: “The remnants of the global Earth Defense Force, the Terran Alliance is making a last stand for democracy”. We have a great variety of military forces, has hard counters against any opposition, and lets not underestimate the nuclear weapons.

Kahoum: “An ancient cabal that has kept their existence secret, the Kahoum have mastered psychic forces and are ready to reveal themselves to the rest of humanity”. We control a group of psychic warrior monks, for these guys energy is vital and we must keep an eye on the production of their obelisk energy generators. With more energy the Kahoum will have the power to increase his unit strength and manipulate the flow of combat.

Xenos: “The original inhabitants of Mars, they have lain in dormant hibernation for millenia. Now the human terraforming has awakened them from their slumber”. We control a nest of giant insects, the player invests his resources in producing eggs that shortly will turn into combat units, either a huge screen of small insects or some powerful units with more interesting attributes.

Collosus: “A renegade team of underpaid engineers retreated to a secret lab to create the ultimate fighting machine: The Colossus. It is the equal of an entire army, and is prepared to wreak havoc”. We control a giant robot that may be equipped with different modules: Swords, Guns, Lasers, Missiles, Jet-packs and AAA Batteries.

This is a heavy game and the learning curve is big. The main rulebook introduces a “basic rules” mode, where no special rules are applied, is clearly designed just to learn the basic flow of the game and is not that satisfactory as the complete game.

¿HOW TO PLAY? (More or Less)

Each player selects the deck of cards that sounds better (Space Marines, Angry Insectoids, Psychic Monks, Giant Robot), each player arranges the starting setup of his faction, after finishing setup the board may look like this:


After finishing setup... 3 main areas appear!


There are 3 main areas on the board:

Our base: Is where we configure our army, playing buildings and resources.

The Frontier: The middle ground between each base. Basically the player who controls the frontier gains victory points each time an attack is declared.

Enemy Base: Where the enemy does construction. We may attack the enemy base to destroy some buildings and spread chaos.

Each base is hidden from the other players view with a cardstock screen, letting the players to secretly play constructions and resources, emulating in an effective way the vision range that our base has. Knowing who you are playing and what faction you're playing against is a big part of this game.

After setup, each player rolls for turns and we can start playing!

The game is won either by:

>> Scoring points when in control of the frontier.
>> Eliminating all units from the enemy base.

Players draw cards from their faction deck, always having up to 3 cards in hand, cards may be of different types: Buildings, Attacks, Special, Special Buildings. Each player takes turns and plays one (and just one) card from his hand to either:

>> Play a Building, Special Effect or Special Building Card face up in his base.
>> Play any card face down as a resource (most buildings require resources to generate energy or combat units).
>> Declare an attack.

During this stage of the game the turns pass quickly and there is almost no downtime between turns. But when a player uses an attack card, these actions suddenly stop to create a combat scenario. Now, the 2 players involved in combat need to follow these instructions:

>> Reveal their bases and do construction by replacing all face-down cards for units, energy and other effects.
>> After creating combat units, players arrange them to create a “battle-line” in wich positioning is crucial to obtain bonusses.
>> Combat is resolved by rolling dice, until a player losses all his units or decides to retire from battle.

Combat in this game is very methodical, you need to follow a very specific flow of actions and you need to validate various conditions. It is the most time consuming phase in the game, in this phase I tend to over-analyze information to optimize combat results, there's a great deal of decisions to be taken... Units or energy? What technologies/abilities should I activate? How do I arrange my units in battle-line? What should I attack first? The game always gives the player lots of mini-problems to solve.

These decisions should be easier to take the more you play, the more you know the faction you're using and the more you know who you're playing. Depending on the situation you'll start to adapt your plan to better counter opponent's force.

SOME NOTES ON COMPONENTS AND PRESENTATION:

thumbsup Positive notes:

Vision screens are quite practical, apart from hiding your base they also come with useful information with the special abilities for a specific faction and also on how to conduct combat phases.

Cards and tokens for each faction are of good quality and fulfill their purpose.

The game includes an awesome mini-board to represent the frontier, an unnecessary component, but is fun to take your faction token and place it to indicate you control it .

The Collosus faction is AWESOME, the cards and module board are quite thematic.

Some cards may have some fun “easter eggs”.

thumbsdown Negative notes:

I wish the vision screens were larger. Sometimes the number of cards in your base grows and grows and you need to rearrange them. Nothing some extra card stock can't resolve.

The graphic design lacks some flavor for my tastes, the building cards have an illustration of a building as seen from top (Just in like the computer games!), still some of the pictures are just too abstract and sterile. As said earlier an exception to this is the Collosus deck, in which you can see the distinct “modules” as product of a computer program.

Don't like the building and unit names for the Kahoum (the psychic warrior monks on mars), for example: the “Quake” building may produce either “Pebble” units or “Boulder” units, the “Landslide” building may produce either “Golem” units or “Obsidian” units. These names are probably trying to describe the weapons or effects the Kahoum manipulate with their psychic powers still... I would like a description with more flavor, maybe the “Quake” card could be called “Initiated Earth Monks” and the Landslide card should be “Adept Earth Monks”.

Building cards have a ton of information: Resource cost for building them, power cost to activate them, building cost for units, Initiative of units, unit type, attack rating, special ability for the unit. When you're trying to introduce new player to the game this might be confusing.


Some components!


CONCLUSIONS:

Personally I enjoy this game a lot, it is not so hard to understand (play 1 card per turn as a construction, resource or attack), there are a lot of rules and exceptions to take into account but... if you have a dedicated group of game players, all set to start learning the rules, delve into different strategies and play frequently... you and your mates will love this game. This title might be appropriate to those that enjoy “Collectible Card Games” or the “RTS” video-games.

thumbsup What do I like from the game?

Every faction is different. Each one presents a wide variety of configurations to try.

The game flows really fast when you're just playing cards on your base.

Although you're blindly drawing cards from a deck, the game is quite strategic, planning a configuration before starting a session helps a lot, mantaining a focus during the match gives results in the long run.

Combat involves bluffing, when a player declares combat he may choose secretly if its a “Normal Attack”, “Deep Strike” or “Raid”.

Dice-rolling in combat always makes results uncertain.

The game is complex, for me there's something rewarding about learning to play the game, having to dominate all the nuances and details, sometimes its all about puzzle-solving but the more interesting matches are all about bluffing. When all mechanics are in place this game actually feels quite similar to a competitive “RTS” match.

There are small factors that may be modified to change some aspects of gameplay, the game is house rule friendly I think, experimenting new approaches can be fun and even help new players. (Examples: Changing card hand limit, play without screens, modify flanking rules, divide the deck in different stacks you can draw).

Regarding expansions, the game has room for new factions, new game modes and also special scenarios. I have had the opportunity to play with 2-3 players and either way this is a good game. I would like to try the team variant in the future.

thumbsdown What do I disklike?

Combat may have just too much variables, positioning is important but you need to take into account all the 4 attack ratings for each unit, special card bonuses, positional modifiers (flanking and attacking adjacent units). I think this is a system that could be greatly simplified, which would result in faster combat rounds.

In my opinion combat involves too many steps, would like it to be easier to resolve.

Combat may be tedious in 3-4 player games since only 2 players are involved, the rest just sit down and watch, some house rules for combat may resolve this “issue”.

Is hard to introduce to new people. On the rare occasions I go with friends to play some boardgames they usually want something easier on the rules, they don't like complicated systems and like to invest their time on different games on a lapse of 5 hours or less. The Ares Project can be played in less than an hour for 2 players (and probably in less than 2 hours with 4 players), still this is a game you'll want to invest some serious hours to squeeze the most of it. This game may not be so intuitive even for casual RTS players, some rules may seem weird “Just doing construction when an attack is declared? Air units may not participate in Raids? All my energy is discarded after generating it? Scoring Victory Points?”

The game requires the player to adapt to unforseen events during play, having a “Plan B” is always important, but after playing several times “Plan B” tends to fail; the game doesn't offer enough space to recover from mistakes, each card presents a crucial decision “Should I play this card or use it like a resource?“. If for some reason your initial plan failed you'll have a hard time to even the play-field, changing a strategy in middle-game is a complicated maneuver (something that will be easier the more you play and know the game).

FINAL NOTES:

When playing with full-rules I would avoid giving new players the Kahoum faction, which require in my opinion a very precise play (Has happened, at the end of the match the player was just tired and with a headache for all the psychic power he used during the match).

This game is awesome.
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Simon
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good detailed explanation of the game

I too find the Kahoum powers difficult for my brain to control
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Dan Williams
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Great review, and especially para alguien que habla el espanol.

One thing I think you didn't mention is the strategic effect of choosing starting cards from your deck.

This game has great depth and re-playability. I love the mental aspect of it.
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Raúl Chouza
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DukeofChutney wrote:
good detailed explanation of the game
I too find the Kahoum powers difficult for my brain to control

Thanks!

Recently I'm starting to understand Kahoum play, a combination of countering unit types and enchantments has resulted perfectly. And finally understood what's the deal with the really strong kahoum units, those seemed "overpriced".

Still I need to redefine my general strategy, I liked to use tons of cheap units and cheap abilities, now I need to balance a new "style" that works effectively.
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Raúl Chouza
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topdeckgames wrote:
Great review, and especially para alguien que habla el espanol.

One thing I think you didn't mention is the strategic effect of choosing starting cards from your deck.

This game has great depth and re-playability. I love the mental aspect of it.

I will probably update (in the not so distant future) the review in spanish. I think this one expressed better the aspects I liked about the game.

Wanted to mention the step of choosing the starting cards (and how different type of attacks work) but I think the "¿How to play?" part already had a lot of text.

Usually users just want to hear "how the game feels" and "The Pros and Cons" wich might make the reading more fun.

Off-Topic but speaking about re-playability I'm looking foward to playing a 3 player session involving the map that Geoff posted in this thread (6th post):
http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/748935/get-the-economy-rolli...

The new "mini-frontiers" could have small bonuses for the player that control them, example:
+1 Card in Hand
+1 Victory Point
Or the already discussed "Natural Expansions", investing in the area resources that might be captured by other players.
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Mike Sweeney
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Quote:
there are a lot of rules and exceptions to take into account but... if you have a dedicated group of game players, all set to start learning the rules, delve into different strategies and play frequently... you and your mates will love this game


I just wanted to emphasize this point to anyone reading this review. I love the idea of this game, and wish I had the time/people to play itwith. However, I found the rulebook poorly laid out, and it was frustrating to learn the game from it. Coupled with the fact that my gaming partners are not very hardcore, and this game is on the trade pile.
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Janez Kosel
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Great review Chouzar

Nothing more to be said, i agree on most part
 
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Raúl Chouza
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Hethalos wrote:
I will agree that Ares can be punishing, especially in 2-player. So many of my 2-P games have ended in concessions.


Yup, I'm all in for concessions in this game, no point in dragging the game when you know you lost. And for competitive play, 3 out of 5 games sounds good enough to remove the luck factor.
 
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