Game that you should play #3

Yes, it's another game recommendation, but one with a bit of a twist. For this game is a boardgame. It does not require batteries or the internet. For the youngsters amongst you, this is what gamers of a certain age used to do before someone came along with electronics and stuff.

"But I thought this blog would be about computer games?" - pah! Games are games whether or not they require a computer or a couple of rocks, a quiet section of sandy beach and a half-decent throwing arm. Boardgames can still teach computer games a thing or two about fundamentals of design and certainly a hell of a lot about social interaction.

They're also fun!

Titan

Box art for the Valley Games edition
I was first introduced to Titan back in the '90s when I used to hang around in Alien Encounters - the local gaming shop in Guildford. It's a tactical battle game (or Monster Slugathon as the game puts it) for up to 6 players featuring armies of mythical beasts and some crazy movement rules. I first played the Avalon Hill version of the game but the latest Valley Games incarnation comes in a hefty box indeed. In fact, if you're the kind of person who rates stuff by weight, look no further than this. The pieces and board are of really decent stock and, in the first of a series of lovely design touches, come with an illustrated tray so that sorting them out before and after a game is the work of minutes rather than hours.

The aim of the game is simple - be the last Titan standing. To do this you must raise an army and crush your enemies. Simple huh?

Learn how the pieces flow around the board
Just the act of moving your armies around the main board forms the first major strategic process the game has to offer. It's not as simple as being able to move from tile to tile as you see fit. Instead, each tile has up to 3 potential exits but each one has restrictions on whether or not they can be used. This entirely depends on whether or not the unit started in the tile or has moved to it from another as part of its current move value. Some tile junctions allow the player a choice of movement, others prevent movement and some even force the player in a particular direction. By far, it is this aspect of the game that will cause the player the most problems and learning to master the board layout can make all the difference.

Witnessing the board (or 'level') design in action is fascinating. The high value tiles at the centre of the board are arranged in such a way that an army cannot simply stay in that area, recruiting the toughest creatures ad infinitum. The middle tiles have a particular, anti-clockwise flow to them that can be subverted with some particularly lucky dice rolling, although your progress around the board will be considerably slower. Still, pulling off one of these reverse loops can give your army the tactical edge when being pursued by an aggressor - Tom Cruise, eat your heart out. Finally, there's the M25 section of the board - an outer rim that sucks armies onto it and rolls them around in a clockwise fashion.

As armies can't increase beyond a certain size, the player will also have to work out when to divide his army into two smaller ones. As the game progresses and the board fills up with more and more armies, finding the right time to split your forces gets more and more fraught with danger - a newly split army is vulnerable to attack thanks to its reduced size.
Unicorn - my 2 Warbears choose you!

Recruiting Creatures

Mustering new creatures to fight for you relies on you landing in certain terrain types with specific creatures in your army. Having multiple versions of the required creature will allow you to recruit something bigger and better according to the game's Muster Chart (or Tech Tree).

It has a Pokemon-esque feel to it as your armies evolve through various states. It's not just about the raw stats either - certain creatures gain advantages on 'home' terrain, making it very important to try and keep your armies in relevant locations. There are also a few evolutionary dead ends that will give you decent short-term gains but leave you unable to reach the top tier creatures. Decisions, decisions.

Combat

When two armies clash, their combat is resolved on one of a variety of separate terrain boards. The pieces are laid out and moved around this battleground as you'd expect and a phenomenal amount of dice are rolled. Determining hits and damage is simplicity itself but the sheer quantity of dice that ship with the game make for a very visceral and satisfying play.

In fact, there's a thing. The designers of Warhammer and Warhammer 40K jumped to the conclusion that people like to roll dice. This is true - the act of rolling dice is very tactile, engaging and exciting. They postulated that, since rolling a die was so good, surely rolling more dice is better? That's why it takes about 20 dice rolls in Warhammer to determine the outcome of, well, anything. Have I hit them? Did I damage them? Did they dodge? How much damage did I do? Hey, let's roll another one to see if someone else gets a second chance! And so on. As such, their combat goes from visceral to just plain tedious as each of these rolls must be completed in sequence, which can take hours. Titan, on the other hand, lets you pick up a huge handful of dice and just blat them all out at once. Bosh! Count 'em up and move on. Rolling lots of dice is still fun, but the process is nice and streamlined.

To the victor, the spoils! Points are awarded to the winner based on the value of the creatures they have vanquished and these points go towards increasing the strength of the player's Titan as well as recruiting Angels to their army. Angels kick arse.

Why it works

There are only a few rules to learn - those governing movement, recruiting new creatures and combat. I should point out at this point that there is quite a bit of detail to the content, but the overall simplicity of the ruleset still shines through. Once a player is familiar with these, he will find that the systems they employ are open to exploitation, allowing a degree of mastery to be earned. Of course, all the mastery in the world won't save you from poor dice rolls, but that's good too as everyone should feel like they have a chance of victory, even against a vastly superior opponent. 

Of course, it's not for everyone. If your idea of a decent amount of time to spend on a boardgame is less than 2 or 3 hours then you probably want to give this one a swerve. On the other hand, if you like your battles epic and can find a couple of like-minded players, then this one is enduring and hard to beat. There's even an iPad version, if you don't actually have friends that you see in real life. But that really goes against the real strengths of boardgaming - the social aspect.

Actually social, rather than just clicking on things and spamming your friends lists that is - but that's something else entirely...

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