With my fiancée away this weekend, I tried to organise a game of Twilight Imperium. I failed. Twilight Imperium is not an easy game to organise. It requires six players to commit a whole day of their weekend to play it. Players need stamina and a lot of free time. Unfortunately, various events meant that I couldn’t find enough dedicated candidates. Instead, we, the few hardcore gamers, played some Zombicide, Warhammer Invasion and Android: Netrunner.
I had a great time when we last played Zombicide . We managed to fit in a couple of games into one evening and both games were tense. The balance of the game seemed about right as we just about scraped to victory each time. On the first outing, it felt like we were rewarded for tactical thinking without the game feeling unfair. Unfortunately, my experience this time around wasn’t so positive.
We started by trying scenario 6 from the main game – The Escape . The objective in this scenario is to find six food items and then drive one of the cars off into the zombie-filled sunset. The difficulty is listed as ‘hard’ and I can see why now. We came across three problems:
One of the main debates in any game of Zombicide is whether to kick down doors early. The earlier you do it, the fewer zombies you’ll come across. However, there’s still the chance that you’ll come across more zombies that your poorly equipped, low-level heroes can handle. I think if I were to play this scenario again, I’d race to the police car without kicking any doors down. The police car is searchable and is guaranteed to give you a weapon. After finding and equipping enough weapons to keep an 80s action movie hero happy, I think it might be best to ignore the big building completely and head for the smaller one. Sure, there’s a spawn point in the small building but it’s going to be a lot more manageable than 14 rooms of zombies.
For our second game, we tried out scenario 1: City Blocks . Unfortunately, this was another ‘search through the equipment deck until you find a specific item’ scenario. We thought we had a plan this time but it went horribly wrong as our first building contained an Abomination. We led it on a merry dance for a few rounds until the building filled up with zombies. We thought we had an escape plan until a couple of extra zombie action cards completely screwed us over. The game was supposed to last for two hours. I don’t think we lasted 30 minutes.
I still think that Zombicide is a good game. It’s main problem is that the game is so random. There’s a chance you’ll breeze though a scenario and a chance that a scenario will throw up something impossible to deal with. I’ll definitely be giving the ‘search for X item’ scenarios a miss in future.
Fantasy Flight Games released a 3-4 player expansion for Warhammer Invasion a while back called Cataclysm . I bought it mainly because, you know, you gotta catch ‘em all. I was a little hesitant to try it out because Ed had never played Warhammer Invasion before. The core rules of Warhammer Invasion aren’t difficult to understand but almost all deck building games have a steep learning curve for new players. It’s impossible to know which cards are good, or fit your style, until you’ve played a few games. In the end, we gambled on giving Cataclysm a go and I’m glad that we did.
Competitive three player games are tricky to balance. The most successful tactic is often to turtle until the other two players have destroyed each other and then swoop in to finish off the remaining player. The other common problem is that games often become two-on-one rather than three players all competing against each other. Alliances are natural. Cataclysm has done a fantastic job on avoiding these problems though. A player wins the game by having the most Dominance tokens at the end of the game. Dominance tokens are earned by taking control of objectives in the middle of the table. Players are forced to venture forth if they want to win. The clever part is that there’s one fewer objective on the table than the number of players. There will always be conflict.
The other big change from two-player Warhammer Invasion is the turn sequence. In Cataclysm, every player completes each phase before moving onto the next phase. This is a smart move. IGO UGO is fine for two players but would result in too much downtime in the three or four player game. It’s a big change but not one that appears to change the balance of the game dramatically.
Andrew took his Dwarfs as usual, I took Empire and I suggested that Ed take Orcs & Goblins for his first game. Orcs & Goblins have a very straight-forward style of play that makes them easier to pick up than other races. The game started in amusing fashion. Andrew and I, as veterans of the games, began to settle into our usual early-game strategies for Warhammer Invasion. It was only Ed that realised that an objective was already on the board and ripe to be conquered. Neither Andrew or I had played any units capable of taking objectives yet and so Ed gained the upper hand without any resistance. Oops!
Experience told in the end though. Andrew and I soon took an objective each, leaving Ed as the odd one out. Andrew kept the lead for most of the game but an all-out attack by my Empire army wiped out both of our forces and I was able to rebuild faster. It was a risky strategy but that’s very much the name of the game with Cataclysm. Andrew’s capital was completely set on fire eventually and that triggered the end game condition. I took a tight game 4-3-1.
I really want to play more Cataclysm. I bet there’s already some very interested decks out there tailored for Cataclysm. Fantasy Flight Games have done a really excelent job at avoiding the usual pitfalls with three player games. Warhammer Invasion is already a lot of fun but now it’s even more fun.
Towards the end of the day, Ed ran me through a game of Android: Netrunner. I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Netrunner and I’ve been itching to try it. My introduction to Netrunner was a lot gentler than Ed’s introduction to Warhammer Invasion. Ed was organised enough to have a couple of proper starter decks with him. I played as a hacker trying to infiltrate Ed’s evil corporation. The game is about information and bluffing and trying to read your opponent. I certainly made a lot of mistakes and had to ask a lot of questions. Despite this, I had a great time trying Netrunner out. It reminded of Space Hulk in that the rules fit the atmosphere of the game perfectly.
As with Cataclysm, Netrunner is a game that I’d like to play again. The urge to spend even more money on small pieces of card is rising.