Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Trench Review

Quick Look:

Designer: Rui Alipio Monteiro
Artists: Rui Alipio Monteiro
Publisher: Outer Limit Games
Year Published: 2013 (First Edition)
No. of Players:2 Players
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 45 Minutes
Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This review is for the first edition of TRENCH. It may differ from the second edition, which is Kickstarting soon.

Trench is an abstract, strategy game for two players inspired by the trench warfare of WW1. The board is a diamond-shaped 8x8 grid with a trench (the diagonal line of squares that runs through the center) that your army can occupy to gain a strategic advantage. A player’s army consists of 16 pieces in five ranks. Soldiers can only move orthogonally and only one space. The next rank can move orthogonally or straight ahead and two spaces. Each rank moves farther than the previous and in more directions, but all move in straight lines. For more detail, see the graph under “Mechanics”.

On the surface, this looks a lot like Chess turned sideways. It is, but in a good way. Trench has a similar feel and the same level of depth and complexity, but it is definitely its own game.

Instead of trying to trap the king, your goal is massacre the enemy. Each piece is worth points equal to double its rank (solders are worth 2, the general is 10, and so on). In the original rules, you would play until one army was wiped out (long game) or to the 50th move (25 per player) for a shorter game. Keeping up with how many times you’ve gone is hard when you’re trying to plan and execute a complex strategy, so 2nd ed. changes that to “first to kill 25 points worth of pieces”. This is actually a little too short. Every game I’ve played has ended with a surrender around 40 points. Also a good option, since that is how a lot of ground battles actually ended. Try it various ways and see what works for you. Any way you do it, it’s going to be fun.


Rules and Setup:
The rules are well written, easy to reference, and quick to explain. Even better, the pieces have arrows on the bottom to remind you what directions they can move. If you’re ever unsure, just flip it over and check.

Setup takes less than a minute. It’s very intuitive, with the soldiers up front and the higher ranks behind them. Each rank is one tier taller than the previous, so it’s really easy. Once you do it, you’ll never forget how.

I learned by watching the subtitled Introduction and Tutorial, which watches like an art film and somehow manages to take eighteen minutes to convey what could be covered in five. Reading the rules would have been faster, but it’s still an interesting viewing experience.

Theme and Mechanics: 
Mechanics are great. The way the pieces move is pretty simple, but the interaction is very complex. There are no crooked moves in this game. You pick a direction and follow the line as far as you like within the piece’s range. If you enter a space with another player’s piece, you kill it. You can’t jump pieces, so the way you get those pawns out of your way is a major key to victory. Distraction, baiting, and strategic swapping are also very important, but the main thing you have to do is control the battlefield. This is where the trench comes in.

Before going into that, let’s clarify normal movement. Below is a chart showing the number of squares and direction that each piece can move. As you can see, orientation is very important. When there’s a line without an arrowhead, it’s meant to be pointing at the player who controls it. This means that it can’t move straight back toward you, but it can move back diagonally. If there is no line at all, that is the line directly to the left and right. Only the general and Colonels can move directly to the left and right (as though they were moving along the trench). When in doubt, look at the trench.

In the center of the board, there is a line of spaces that are half-black and half-white to denote the trench. If you can reach the trench with your movement, you can jump in or keep going if you still have movement. Once there, the opponent can only attack you from behind (coming back from your side of the board. This is hard because some pieces can’t move to the space directly behind them. In addition, a piece in the trench attacks with their normal movement, but instead of stopping when they hit an enemy, they can keep going and killing for their entire range.    

Really, the trench seems to be an abstract representation of trenches (plural). Pieces can’t take other pieces in the trench even if they can move along that axis. Also, I imagine each piece as a group of fighters. Otherwise, the theme makes no sense. In reality, if you’re in a trench and stick your head out of it, you get shot. If anything, you’d be tired from climbing out, not superpowered. The logic initially irritated me enough that my brain immediately spat out an Ameritrash variant with dice. When moving, you would roll a d6 (which represents the obstructing chaos of running toward gunfire while stuff explodes around you). Movement would be either your roll result or your rank limit, whichever was lower. If you want to add a little chaos to your war, try it out. I probably won’t. Dice are not nice to me.

Anyway, there’s a nice little intro to the theme in the front of the rules that talks about the inspiration for the mechanics, board, pieces, etc. It’s kind of interesting, but it didn’t add anything for me. It’s a great abstract game. Theme isn’t necessary.  

Game Play: 
Game length depends on the players. If you play first to 25 points it will probably be about 20-30 minutes, depending on skill level. Total eradication is going to run a lot longer, especially if you end up chasing the general around a mostly empty board. There is definitely a point where it’s best to concede before things get tedious. Agree on an end condition before you start, and stick to it.

Artwork and Components: 
This is a hypnotically beautiful game. It’s like staring at a mandala or an MC Escher sketch. More on that later. The pieces are of a decent quality plastic with a good weight, but not unnecessarily heavy. Moving them around is pleasant. I love that they put the movement on the bottom, but it would have been even better if they made some subtle marking on the top.  

The Good:
Basically, everything.
-It’s fun
-It’s complex.
-It’s beautiful. If you don’t like it, just glue the pieces in their starting positions and nail it to the wall. -It’s definitely the best 3D modern art you’ll find for the price.
-Setup is quick.
-Takes minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master.
-Abstract games age better than most modern games. They don’t require expansions, extra mechanics or endless cards to stay fun. Add on the quick setup, medium play time, and brilliant aesthetic, and you get a game that’ll probably still be popular when your alien half-breed, biomechanoid, great-to-the-twentieth-power grandkid realizes the singularity.

The Bad:
The one problem with Trench is that it’s too pretty. All the black and white lines occasionally short-circuit my brain. It looks great all set up, but when the pieces intermingle it becomes harder to tell whose piece is whose. The trick is to remember the base color is all that matters. It might be something you get over if you play it a lot.

It also messes with your head that it’s at a weird angle (diamond-shaped). The lines and colors can sometimes get tangled up together with your strategy. I’m thinking out three different strategies, seeing how far each guy can move, what spaces are safe, who I can kill, and what am I opening myself up to, and then the board becomes a three-dimensional town. The lines and shapes that live there rise up to lay siege to my attention span, and I have to reset my head and start over. It’s like that scene in Twin Peaks the Return when the sky starts swirling and turning into a room full of dirty bearded men. Gordon waves his arms around as his mind is sucked through a whirlpool to another dimension, and Albert has to physically drag him back to reality. Trench is like that, but without the menace.

Final Thoughts: 
This game is very fun and has a ton of replay value. Most new games are re-skins or tweaked versions of something I’m already bored with. It’s nice to see someone put out a solid, old-fashioned strategy game. No gimmicks, no expansions, just a big box of compressed elegance.

I am giving Trench 9 out of 10 super meeples.

9 10

Check out Trench on:


On KICKSTARTER now through October 19, 2017!

About the Author:

Stephen Gulik is a transdimensional cockroach, doomsday prophet, author, and editor at sausage-press.com. When he’s not manipulating energy fields to alter the space-time continuum, he’s playing or designing board games. He has four cats and drinks too much coffee.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Dice of Pirates Kickstarter Preview

Quick Look:

Designer: Sean Epperson, Brander "Badger" Roullett
Artist: Darrin Michelson, Kris Quistorff
Publisher: Thing 12 Games
Year Published: NA
No. of Players: 2-6
Ages: 5+
Playing Time: 15-30 min
Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Dice of Pirates. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.


Rules and Setup:

For a two-player game, each player starts with five gold coins, and all other coins are set aside while raid tokens are placed nearby. In 3-6 player games, the first player starts with one coin while all other players start with two, and the gold coins and raid tokens are placed within easy reach.

Each player's turn consists of a Roll phase, Ship phase, and Raid phase. In the Roll phase, the player rolls the dice to begin their turn, and any swords and krakens are set aside. Any coin dice can either be re-rolled or set aside. If the player has rolled any ships, the turn progresses to the Ship phase, and they hand all ship dice to an opponent, who rolls the dice. If a coin is rolled, the player can choose to put the die on any face, or take a raid token and return the die to the active player. Any swords rolled go back to the active player to be used in their raid, ships return to the active player to be re-rolled, and krakens are set aside.

All components in pictures are prototype.

Raid tokens can be cashed in by either a defending or attacking player as a coin die, guaranteeing them a gold coin from their opponent. Players can use as many raid tokens per raid as they like, and the tokens are played before combat rolling begins.

If a player has three or more kraken dice at any point before the Raid phase begins, their turn ends immediately. A player with three or more swords can choose to enter the Raid phase after the end of the Ship phase. In the Raid phase, the player chooses an opponent to attack in hopes of stealing their gold coins. The active player rolls only the dice with swords from the Ship and Roll phases; all other dice are set aside. If a coin is rolled, the raid was a success and one gold coin will be taken per coin die rolled at the end of the phase. If a kraken is rolled, the die immediately leaves play and is set aside. If a sword is rolled, the active player re-rolls the die, but if a ship is rolled, the defending opponent rolls the die instead. They then follow the same rules as the active player for the dice they roll.

After the Raid phase ends, one gold coin per coin die is paid to its roller, and the next player's turn can begin.

Theme and Mechanics:
For their latest dice roller, Thing 12 Games plunged headfirst into the pirate theme, with coin faces changed, new tokens added, and all-new dice art. For the advanced win condition, you also must take hold of a small ship and keep control of it to win the game.

The mechanics are very similar to those in Dice of Crowns, with dice rolling and doling out dice to inconvenience other players being the main strategic elements.

Game Play:
Compared to Dice of Crowns, game play is much slower because the Raid phase adds a lot of time to each player's turn. The adaptation of the game certainly fit the theme but lacked the same element of strategy and simplicity achieved in the original. Raid phases, however, do allow both attacking and defending opponents to potentially earn gold coins in the same turn, which is an interesting new mechanic.

All components in pictures are prototype.

Artwork and Components:
The artwork is definitely evocative of the pirate lifestyle, with two swords crossed in battle, a kraken tentacle, and a pirate ship added to the dice faces. Additionally, the skulls and crossbones on the gold coins made them really feel like pirate loot.

In this prototype, all pieces were 3D-printed, which unfortunately led to some off-balance dice. The same embossed dice as seen in Dice of Crowns will be used for final production, eliminating this problem for Kickstarter backers.

The Good:
The theme was well-conveyed throughout the game, and rule changes made it unique to Dice of Crowns.

The Bad:
More complex rules made the game slower and more confusing. In particular, my play test group couldn't understand why swords would be returned to the active player during the Roll and Ship phases.

Final Thoughts:
With some minor tweaks to the rules, this game will definitely be a successful and unique twist on Dice of Crowns.

Players Who Like:
Lovers of dice-rollers and fans of Thing 12 Games' Dice of Crowns will enjoy this game.

All components in pictures are prototype.

I am giving Dice of Pirates 5 out of 10 super meeples.

5 10

Check out Dice of Pirates on:

Coming to KICKSTARTER September 18, 2017.

About the Author:

Sarah Johnson is a freelance writer and board game enthusiast. When she’s not playing games or writing reviews, she enjoys writing articles for food and wine magazines. Sarah lives in rainy Corvallis, Oregon where she studies writing, English, and communications.

Kickstarter Recap - September 15, 2017

- See all our Featured Kickstarter.com games and those coming up HERE!

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