Late last year I started hearing chatter in the boardgaming world regarding a mysterious game from
Now, we’ve all played hybrids at this point and the vast majority of them, barring a couple of designs like
Components are good- serviceable but not outstanding. However, this is a very small publisher working without the huge budget of a Fantasy Flight or Days of Wonder so don’t come into it expecting that level of quality. I was fairly impressed by the overall graphic design. It’s amazing how many “professional” companies are completely unaware of the appeal of simple icons, good typography, and decent illustrations. The main complaint I had was that the board is terrifying dull- it almost makes that
Gameplay is pretty simple and you’ll be up in running in minutes- but expect to check the rulebook frequently both for rules and laughs as you remind yourself that this is the only game you’ve ever played with an R-rated rulebook. Each player represents a different faction struggling to survive in the aftermath and I’m sure they mean a lot more to those who follow the RPG but suffice to say there’s various army types, rogue types, and a cool robot faction. Each side (there’s four) has a headquarters piece with a special ability and around 30 tiles representing units with different abilities, actions, and modules that can modify your unit’s abilities. Units differ wildly between factions which gives each side a lot of uniqueness in play style. Units might have melee and/or ranged capabilities, nets (which infuriatingly disable adjacent enemy units altogether), or other abilities. Facing is critical and some units might only get an attack on one side of their hex whereas others (like this really sweet robot piece) get to attack every adjacent hex. On your turn, you get to draw three tiles, throw out one, and play or keep the other two. There are no placement restrictions which allows for a lot of strategic possibilities. The goal of the game is to wipe out any enemy HQs, which take 20 points of damage.
Here’s the kicker. You place these tiles out and the board eventually starts to fill up. Tensions are high. Shit is talked. You’re about to pummel an opponent’s HQ with a couple of shooters and some guy with a big stick is going to beat the hell out of the punchy guy attacking your base. So you drop an “attack” tile (every side has several in their tile mix) and the whole board erupts in mayhem- but carefully plotted mayhem. Each unit has an initiative number from 1-3 and the high numbered pieces get to go first. So all “3” pieces deal their damage first, then down the line. And since most units can only take one hit, the board is usually a pretty lonely place after an attack round. It’s a neat system but it does have a very chess-like (or ROBORALLY-like, if you prefer) sense of analysis that can really take the fire out of the fight while everyone huddles around to try to figure out what’s happening and where. Fortunately, it’s over pretty quickly and then you start to build up towards another Armageddon. Oh, did I mention that this is also an elimination game?
Sure, you can play on teams and there’s also a king-of-the-hill variant on the flipside of the board, but where NEUROSHIMA HEX excels is in the fact that it’s an essentially abstract, simple game that manages to capture a lot of the confrontation, trash-talk, and fun of Ameritrash-style games. Yet somehow, I can see gamers really into the GIPF project games, HIVE, or even the dreaded HEY WHERE’S MY FISH getting into it. It is somewhat awkward, and I did find myself thinking that the game was a little dry given the fact that this huge battle really boiled down to something very similar to LIGHT SPEED but with a lot more structure and obviously more game-meat there in terms of strategy and tactics. It is also the kind of game where fun-draining analysis paralysis vampires can really wreak havoc- it’s a 20 minute game that AP suffers can and will drag out to an hour. When I’m playing a simple game and I’m thinking that there needs to be a chess clock on the table then something isn’t going right- but hate the player, not the game.
I like NEUROSHIMA HEX a lot despite the fact that it doesn’t really bring the world of the RPG to life or create a sense of post-apocalyptic atmosphere. Yet, at least the negligible theme is a cool one and I don’t feel like a creep trying to get my peers to play some game about cute animals or food. I think it’s a neat game with ample violence and mayhem but it does give you a lot to think about it. It plays 2, 3, or 4 players equally well and with different considerations so there’s definitely a good bit of replayability and it’s a good wind-down game or something to break out waiting for everyone to show up to play something more serious. “Filler”? Definitely. But the level of competition and depth of gameplay puts this well above most of the worthless piffle in that class.
ZOMBIAKI was the other Polish game I checked out, and that after just recently revisiting a couple of Lucio Fulci pictures (ZOMBI 2 and CITY OF
ZOMBIAKI is the kind of simple, dumb fun that you wish Cheapass games could muster. It won’t blow your mind with “elegant” mechanics or “clever” gameplay, but it will impart a really neat atmosphere wherein the human players are under constant pressure to stem the flow of zombies before they can reach the barricade. I actually think the game captures this element from classic zombie films better than any other I’ve played- mostly because it does so in a very simple, relentless manner. The cards feature some pretty decent comic book-style art and even cooler Polish words like “Spadaj” and “Czlowiek”. Fortunately, the English rulebook is extremely clear and after a few turns you’ll likely toss it aside. ZOMBIAKI is a very small game- you could probably toss it in your jacket pocket for an impromptu game anywhere.
So, verdict on the Polish games- both get a healthy “thumbs up” from me. I found both games to feature fun, engaging mechanics as well as cool themes (even if somewhat negligible in NEUROSHIMA HEX’s case) and I believe that both demonstrate that simple, cleanly designed Eurogames do not have to wallow in the routine “family friendly” themes and nonconfrontational gameplay that have pretty much sunk that ship. Although there’s definitely Ameritrash blood running in these games’ veins they are very accessible and approachable to Eurogamers. They’re definitely hybrids, but sort of the “other” side of the hybrid coin. Along with the Czech games (PROPHECY, THROUGH THE AGES), it looks like NEUROSHIMA HEX and ZOMBIAKI bode well for an Eastern European game scene that will hopefully continue to produce high quality, interesting games with a unique flavor.