Although the likes of Carcassonne and Risk have achieved global fame thanks to compelling gameplay and addictive social elements, strategy boardgames are still an acquired taste.
Boasting intricate rule sets, countless pieces, and complex game mechanics, these massively involving titles are sure to send your average gamer scurrying for the comforting familiarity of a Monopoly board.
That’s why porting such games over to iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad is a stroke of genius. The practice of digitally automating the tedious bits of boardgaming takes the sting out of learning the rules, thereby removing a significant barrier to entry.
Any port in a storm
With this in mind, there’s potential for more people to experience Polish strategy boardgame Neuroshima Hex via iPhone and iPod touch than the original tabletop release – and that’s a positive thing indeed.
As the name suggests, the game takes place on a board comprising hexagons. The objective is to destroy your opponent’s headquarters by knocking down its hit points from a starting value of 20.
To do this, you place tiles on the board. Tiles are dealt out randomly and come in three distinct flavours: units, status effects, and modifiers.
Unit tiles are your soldiers and each one has different strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities. Most possess a close-range melee attack, but some troops are able to fire over larger distances.
Others possess nets which can be used to prevent adjacent enemies from attacking. Many units are only capable of withstanding one attack before being removed from the board, while others can take more punishment.
The second tile type allows you to influence the status of your units. For example, by placing the appropriate tile next to a solder you can bolster the power of their melee attacks or grant them additional hit points.
The third and final type of tile offers more direct results: you can use these to move an already-placed tile, remove an enemy unit or initiate the all-important combat portion of the game.
This last tile is one of the most important in the game, and is instrumental to understanding how the mechanics of Neuroshima Hex function.
Combat occurs under two conditions: when the map is entirely full of tiles or when one of the opposing forces uses an aforementioned combat-initiation tile.
When a battle situation arises it’s divided into different phases. Each unit has an initiation rating, which determines which phase they attack during. Therefore, units with high initiation ratings will have an advantage over those with lower ones. If you can knock out an enemy before its turn, you avoid taking damage yourself on a subsequent phase.
Since combat in Neuroshima Hex isn’t instantaneous, a tremendous amount of planning is required. It’s all very well dropping an attack unit next to an enemy soldier, but your move can quickly be neutralised by your rival tagging the tile with a net-enabled troop on the next turn.
Therefore, where you place your units and status-affecting tiles is vital to controlling the board and ultimately gaining victory.
It’s this element of Neuroshima Hex that will captivate and repel in almost equal measure. Even hardcore turn-based strategy fans may find it hard to acclimatise to the skittish stop-start nature of the gameplay and the sheer amount of forward-thinking required is enough to make your brain throb with pain.
There are four races to choose from and each has its own unique unit types and status tiles. In terms of modes, the game offers a Quick Game option and a Custom mode, which allows you to pick which army you’d like to lead and get up to three additional friends (or computer-controlled opponents) involved.
Sadly, multiplayer is confined to just one device, so you’ll need to pass it around after your turn is complete.
There’s no campaign mode to speak of, and you can’t unlock additional features or obtain new units. This is very much the boardgame in digital format, a fact that will obviously excite established fans but may leave the uninitiated wondering what the fuss is all about.
Neuroshima Hex isn’t for everyone, and despite sharing the same origins as Carcassonne it isn’t anywhere near as accessible. In single-player, its appeal is woefully limited due to the lack of objectives to aim for – you can only beat the computer so many times before it starts to wear thin.
Thankfully, when other human players are introduced, Neuroshima Hex leaps to life. If you know you can get friends involved then this is a worthy substitute to the original (and more expensive) boardgame original, but don’t go expecting a streamlined, casual experience.