The box is big. About the same size as the Games Workshop games boxes. This won’t fit neatly into your collection (unless you are a Games Workshop aficionado, of course), but then again, considering what you get inside (which, when all’s said and done, is the important bit), then you can’t really complain.
It seems that the Hasbro/Avalon Hill partnership have decided to go to town on the ‘bits’ part of games production, making absolutely great-looking games, with fantastic boards, eye-catching plastic models, and easy-reading rules. But they don’t seem to have sacrificed gameplay to do it.
In The Queen’s Gambit are over 150 rubberised models of droids, palace guard, gungans (mounted and foot), droid tanks, a Naboo fighter, Jedi and Sith. Amongst others. I was a little concerned about the rubberised feel of them, but after a few plays, I like the idea; you can bash them, toss them, throw them into a big pile, and even bend them, and they’ll just spring back into shape. Most of the time. The models are all colour-coded, and very recognisable (Darth Maul is very definitely Darth Maul). And ergonomic – they feel good…
The board itself is actually three (or, possibly, four – depends on your interpretation) boards, that all link together to form a whole. You get a great three-level palace that sits in the middle of the table, with the plains battlefield on one side, and the hangar bay and ‘duel area’ on the other. The hangar bay board also has on it the space battle track. And it is all very evocative of the final half hour of the movie.
The game itself is a recreation of the climax of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (in case you haven’t figured that out yet) – simulating the four battles: the fight between the gungans and the droid army on the plains; the battle between Darth Maul and the two Jedi, the struggle between Amidala and the droids in the palace, and Annakin’s attempt to get through the fighter blockade and knock out the droid control ship.
And you’d be forgiven if you thought that sounds complicated. Because you’d be wrong.
Each of the three main battles uses the exact same rules and dice, with the space battle being different, but even simpler.
Essentially, it works like this:
Each player has, for his side (Naboo, or Trade Federation) two different decks of cards – one for the plains and space battles, and one for the palace fight and lightsabre duel. Each card will tell you what can be moved and/or attacked that turn. For example, a card might read ‘Captain Panaka and 3 palace guards’, which lets you know that, when you play this card, Captain Panaka and 3 palace guards can move and fire. Or it might say ‘1 Kaadu Group, or 2 Gungan Groups’, in which case… I’m sure you can figure it out (a group is any figures in the same hex on the battlefield). Each player starts the game with a hand of ten cards – five from each deck.
From this hand of ten, you must create a pile of four cards face down in front of you, in the order (from top to bottom) that you want to play them. When each player has finished his pile of four, you take turns in flipping the top card and acting out the instructions. When all the cards have been played, you get two more from each pile (bringing your hand back up to ten), and do the whole thing again.
This is the heart of the strategy of the game. You are committing four moves ahead, and so you need to plan carefully what cards to play, depending in part on what has already happened, what tactics you want to employ, and what you think your opponent will play.
You can’t neglect any one portion of the fight, as they are all, to varying degrees, important. If your opponent walks over you in any one area, the likelihood is that they are well on the way to winning (unless they’ve, in turn, neglected and area that you have stormed). And so it goes.
When moving the figures, handy little reference cards tell you how far each type of model can move, what dice they roll in attack and defence, and what happens if any hits get through (some figures die outright – like palace guards or battle droids – whilst others can take a few hits before dying – like the Jedi and the Sith). The game comes with special dice, and you roll a LOT of them. Which actually makes the game less random than it would seem. You see, the more dice rolls there are, the nearer to the average roll you get, so a stroke of luck at one point usually evens out in the end.
Actually, this brings me to my first gripe. Luck does play a factor, and there are various junctures where dice rolling is far more important than at others. On the space track, for example. The space track is, essentially, a timing device. The Trade Federation player needs to win the game before Annakin reaches the droid control ship and shuts down all the droids. This is only a matter of time. The space track is a dice rolling exercise, and good or bad rolls here can be especially telling, and either shorten the game to a few turns, or lengthen it to tedium. I haven’t seen either of these eventualities, but can see how it could easily happen.
Oh, right, winning. The Naboo player wins if all the droids are destroyed (the easiest way is to knock out the droid control ship), and has a majority in the throne room of the palace (there are two viceroys – indestructible in the scope of the game – in the throneroom, meaning the Naboo player needs to get three people into this room). The Trade Federation wins if it can kill all but two of the figures in the palace (including the Jedi), thus removing the possibility of a majority in the throne room.
So it is immediately obvious how important the palace and space battles are. And once I explain that a Sith or Jedi can leave the reactor chamber once the other side is defeated, and enter the palace, it becomes clear that the duel is important also. (The Jedi and Sith, by the way, are really, really hard versus the ‘standard’ troops in the palace – getting one side or the other into the palace gives the controlling player a huge advantage in this respect.)
But what of the battlefield? In the movie, the gungans were merely a distractionary force sent in to remove most of the droid forces from the city. It doesn’t really matter if they get completely wiped out, right? Well, strictly speaking, that’s right, but there are two reasons why it would be bad to ignore the battlefield in favour of the other fights.
1) One of the winning conditions for the Naboo is the destruction of the droid forces, and if Annakin is being badly delayed by space fighters, then you might want to try and wipe out the droid forces the hard way. But (and it’s a big but), the gungan forces are a little outmatched on the battlefield. So the Trade Federation has the edge here (after all, the gungan forces are supposed to lose, right?).
2) Bonus cards. A bonus card is an unseen card from either of your piles (battlefield or palace) that will be added to the bottom of your next turn’s four chosen cards. And you get a bonus card for each group you wipe out on the battlefield (i.e. every time you clear a hex of enemy forces).
Bonus cards can make quite a difference to your turn, as your opponent cannot respond (unless he has managed to gain bonus cards as well), and so it is still worth pursuing this strategy.
So, is it any good?
Well, I have played about a dozen games so far, and only won one. But I have thoroughly enjoyed every game. It is simple to learn and play, and grabs the excitement from the movie and puts you right in the middle of it. The card play simulates the switching back and forth between the various scenes, playing out a few frames before flicking to another part of the battle. The turns are rapid, with quick moves and a few dice rolls before your opponent has his turn, making the game fly by at breakneck speed. There is a slight role-playing aspect as well in the form of table banter, which is generally quite rife during the game.
And because of the subject matter, it is instantly accessible. It is also very easy to visualise the action as it happens.
I find myself, after a game, almost breathless, and having to calm down from the emotional high of (once again) having my forces beaten to a pulp.
I do have a few minor quibbles though…
My biggest problem is with the lightsabre duel. In the game, it is very, very static, with hardly any movement at all, which feels wrong. In the movie, there was much leaping about, outflanking, kicking, spinning and whatnot. In the game, there isn’t. The two sides just stand there, whacking at each other as best they can. I feel that something extra could have been done in this area to make it a little more interesting.
Another possible flaw is the slight weighting in favour of the Trade Federation. The only area this really comes into play in is the battlefield, but it does make a difference. This isn’t something that bothers me so much, but others may be slightly miffed at unequal sides. Although the difference is only minor, it is a difference all the same.
And, of course, the above-mentioned random effect, which (it has to be said) is the same for any game that uses randomness in any way.
Despite the few minor problems, I will happily play this game when I get the chance. It is great fun – almost like a rollercoaster ride. It is light fare, meaning that family members could easily pick it up (provided they aren’t completely dissuaded by the multitude of pieces and seeming complexity of it all). The bits are great for the price. And you get four battles in one box!
Who could ask for better value?
DNA results:Scottish, Dutch, English, Irish, German, French, Iberian Peninsula = 100% American!
David, great job! I've played it at least a dozen times and almost always have had great fun. The few times that it became unbalanced centered on whether Anakin was able to move or not. This can upset balance if die rolls become one-sided. This is the most highly-thematic game I have ever played. Even the 'static' Jedi battle is intense as the rivals battle it out in a race to see who can break out into the palace and possibly turn the tide. A top notch treatment of this Star Wars episode.
As one of Dave's opponents in this game I'd endorse most of his comments, and certainly his overall view of this being a great game that I'd be happy to play any time.
On the point about the Trade Federeation having an edge on the plains front, that's true (and also true to the film). However, set against this are some of the edges that the Naboo forces have, e.g. the 'clock' of Anakin essentially being on their side (it's only a matter of time 'til he gets there), and, of course, the slight matter of their being two Jedi against one Sith (albeit that I'd say that the latter is a little more powerful than either of the former individually).
I found that as the Federation player, I had to constantly keep using some of my card plays to throw down extra star fighters to act as obstacles to impede Anakin's progress. This, in turn, leaves you less opportunity to make the most of your forces elsewhere. Not that this is a negative in the context of the game overall: makes every turn a nailbiting risk assessment as to whether you bolster the defences against Anakin or maximise the impact of your ground forces.
All in all an excellent game, both mechanically and aesthetically, and definitely one of the better applications of the franchise!
makes every turn a nailbiting risk assessment as to whether you bolster the defences against Anakin or maximise the impact of your ground forces.
Incredibly true. This game is all about balancing your moves, making tough decisions, and hoping the rolls turn out the way you need them to.
This is a great review, and I definitely want to play this one again...RIGHT NOW.
wow, i hadn't even given this game the time of day...I thought it was another crappy movie ported game in the same line of star wars Risks, and other crap sold at Toys R Us...but you make this sound fantastic...now i'll definitely have to give it a shot...thanks!