Wednesday, 31 May 2017

De Strijd der Robots, boardgame.
As promised I am back to SemioNerd to share some stuff about games. My dissertation is finished and will be defended bravely by me the 8th of June at my Alma Mater in Turin, Italy.
Today, however, I'll write a few lines about an interesting 1978 boardgame that I just unpacked. I can't say that I am a great fan of unboxing videos (or vicarious thrills from opening new gear). I like boxes as the next guy (I've a hidden folder full of pictures found on the Internet of my old Lego and Playmobil toys) I just do not care much about the unboxing. For this game, however, the situation was different. But let's proceed in order.

Few days ago I was in Copenhagen for the Boardgame Studies Colloquium, a rather nice event full of interesting people - scholars, game designers, collectors, game historians. In one of the sessions game designer Fred Horn dedicated his lecture to "Metropolis - Der Srtijd der Robots" a Dutch boardgame of 1978 by Jaap de Jager and R. Zielschot that Horn claims being the first real Sci-Fi boardgame ever made. The history of the design and publication of this game is complex and full of drama, truly fascinating - or so they tell me.
Yes, because (undoubtedly thanks to some Murphy's law) while Horn was giving his presentation in a room, I was in another room, giving my presentation. When I interrogated my fellow participants they gave me passionate, but vague and contradicting, reports about the game's story.
Nevertheless, even if I wasn't able to attend to the lecture I still got a copy of the game. Fred Horn got several of them from the game designer son (or something similar) and was so nice to give them away at the conference, so I got my very own.
In the next days I grew attached to the game, mainly because I has several days to spend abroad and no luggage to put it in. The game is rather large, 43x34x3 cm, and therefore I could not open the plastic wrap of the game to see what was inside, otherwise it would have been impossible to transport it around under my arm. For several days, then, I wandered in my Copenhagen hostel, in the city airport and then in Berlin and Potsdam and in the airport again all the way home with my sealed copy of Metropolis.
If my apparel indeed draw some curious looks at the check-in counters, still my curiosity of the content of the game was even stronger. So, once finally at home, first thing I did was unwrapping that damn game!

Inside it were a board with a printed map of land and see (10x10 squares of land and 5x10 squares of sea), a manual and 120 plastic figures depicting, in blue and red a set of land, air and sea vehicles with perfect 1970s style. 

The next day I decided to try it, in lack of better opponents, playing against myself. The rules of the game are rather straightforward: every player has 4 metropolises (3 on land and 1 on sea), the first one to capture two of the from the enemy wins.
The game starts by positioning all the figures on the map, that then appears rather crowded.

As the figures has different values, both in combat and for movements, I suppose that this first phase can decide much of the game and the fact that Red has to position all its figures before Blue might be an advantage for the latter. I'm still too new to the game to say it for certain, though.
Once the battlefield is filled with figures each turn players can move one figure on the board. This might seem slow, but in fact it's quite intriguing, as the players has to fight contemporarily on several fronts, without loosing track of their troops. As I played alone, I ended up resolving the sea battle first, and only when Red had an undisputed control of the eastern part of the map I proceeded to continue the battle on land.
The game, mutatis mutandis, often feels similar to chess: several situations of stale are formed, in which the first one to move one of its pieces will loose the confrontation. Protecting one most powerful units bu moving them cautiously and always protecting the square they are in, might be an unavoidable part of every winning strategy.
Several times I had the feeling that there were too many useless figures, too weak to confront the stronger ones, that were just occupying space or be destroyed in series by the artillery. Again, this might be a flaw of my playing and not of the game, only time will tell.
After more or less half an hour of play Red lost all its heavy tanks and was therefore unable to win the game. After keeping Blue in check for some time, its defence failed and two of its metropolises were occupied. 

The overall gameplay is rather smooth and fun, a part for some time spent checking the rulebook trying to figure out which figure moves in which way (there are 26 different types of them). It has a nice retro taste, without the poor rule design that was unfortunately pretty common at the time. The art is also pretty nice and goes well with the retro-sci-fi theme (maybe we need a word for that, like for steampunk? Or it already exist?).
Next objective: play with someone else than me, myself and I!

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