Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Trench Review



Quick Look:

Info:
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.

Review:

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.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your review, Stephen! Glad you enjoyed TRENCH :)

    ReplyDelete

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