Impressions: Neuroshima Hex!
Today I was walked through WONDERFUL post-apocalyptic tactics game Neuroshima Hex!, released in 2006 and since expanded by a untidy bag of army packs. My friend took out this game, taught it to me, and promptly put it away again.
“We’ll play on the iPad,” he said. “It’s better on the iPad.”
My face promptly crumpled up like a plastic bag in a strong breeze. Worst part of it is, he was right.
Aeons ago, Shut Up & Sit Down made the decision to only cover analog games. If it’s on a phone, tablet or TV, it’s a videogame, and as of interest to us as gum disease or pigeons.
All the same, here are my impressions of Neuroshima Hex! A board game that, DESPITE the tactile thrill of playing with tokens, is better on iOS or Android.
Neuroshima Hex! is an abstracted conflict between 2-4 players in a grubby post-apocalyptic America. From gengeneered man-eating jungles to Dredd-style roving judges, every player gets their own faction, meaning, in this case, a unique army of face-down hexes.
Game’s far from a boyish wargame, though. Neuroshima Hex! plays fast and pointedly, like a NyQuil-slick game of Go. Each turn is just you drawing 3 hexagons and slapping down 2 in a sickeningly tight arena of ADRENALINE, GUNS and a GREAT DEAL OF THOUGHTFULNESS as you try and tunnel through to your opponent’s “HQ” hex.
You’ll be drawing offensive and defensive tiles, but really, every tile is as much a weapon as a means of blocking your opponent. The aim is to lay down a brutal waterfall of guns, knives and teeth.
See the spikes on all those pieces? Those are the directions they will, ultimately, attack. The numbers? From highest to lowest, that’s the orderthey’ll attack in.
What makes Neuroshima Hex! so gripping (and it GRIPS, like an excited crab) is that you’ve got no idea what spurts, spigots and stones for your waterfall you’ll flip face-up that turn.
Maybe you’ll draw all ranged units, capable of pummeling from a distance, or maybe you’ll get the power to shunt tiles away from you, pancaking your opponents’ carefully laid plans against the walls of the arena. It’s dynamic. Surprising. Fun.
Maybe, though, you’ll drop a Battle hex, letting you start a fight, at which point EVERYTHING on the board flips out. Mutants pour over barricades, carnivorous copses lash out with hungry tentacles, snipers take their meticulous shot.
When the dust settles, you’re facing an entirely new battleground. A new game emerges from the rubble.
Dynamic. Surprising. Fun.
And better on the sodding iPad.
Here’s the problem. A battle in Neuroshima hex means figuring out which tiles leap into action first, where the attack, what they kill, what they damage, taking into account all the tiles that boost other tiles. To do it right takes minutes. The most exciting moment of the match is dumped in your lap like so much kiddy Sudoku.
It’s not just that the iOS or Android version of Neuroshima Hex does all this for you. It does it with a butler’s grace, together with an undo button, SFX, music and helpful tooltips. It’s an unsettling perfect port, right down to a suite of multiplayer options.
…but it’s a videogame. So I’ll just say that Neuroshima Hex is more graceful as a digital game, by far the best direct board game port we’ve ever encountered, and leave it at that (AND ALSO ADD that the designer of Neuroshima Hex! arguably created a videogame instead of a board game but that’s an article I’d rather eat a box of spiders than write).
I do love this game because, like SU&SD favourite Memoir ‘44, it’s intense while being soothing because of the scarce selection of moves each turn. You’re still sweating bullets, but you can shamble out of the spotlight of each turn, loosening your collar, feeling like you did OK. You did good.
And those factions! I approach asymmetry in games like I approach spicy food: With no upper limit and without fear. It’s why I dig Summoner Wars so much, ANOTHER SU&SD favourite.
God. We have too many favourites. Stop making great games, board game makers! Damn! Don’t you have anything better to do?
But yes. How will fortress New York City fare against the ranged bombardment of the Moloch robots? Will the growing Neo Jungle swallow the swarming Borgo mutants? Again, drawing a comparison with Summoner Wars, it’s not just that playing with each different faction is fascinating- each pairing is a different game! And that’s before we’ve gotten into the royal rumbles of 2 vs 2 team games. Magic.
It’s just fun. It’s just clever. It just works.
I’m not confident calling this a review because there are so many factions I’ve yet to try, and a depth to the strategy that I’m still paddling around, but for now?
If you see this box in your game shop and feel the magnetic draw of robots and punks, locked in mortal combat atop shattered cars? And you’re looking for something less cash-chomping and day-devouring than the enormous Earth Reborn? Neuroshima Hex! is you.
And it’s better on the sodding iPad.