Tuesday, January 31, 2017

League of Legends: Mechs vs. Minions

Before yesterday's Shadowrun game, fg and I played League of Legends: Mechs vs. Minions, another one of the chibi boardgame kicksters that he backed.

The sheer size and engineering of the game is insane. For a start, Amazon lists the weight of the box at 12.8 pounds. Inside, the components all seem to be bigger than they need to be, with the individual trays for the components more luxurious than they need to be - I was reminded of sushi takeaway platters. There is a custom sand timer and metal ring markers, all of which functions could have been served by more generic, cheaper components. The scenarios, or missions, are presented in sealed envelops, each of which contain the set-up rules, the mission, as well as special upgrade and damage cards which are added to the game as you tackle each in turn.

The gameplay is, in essence, Robo Rally meets Zombiecide. Players play cartoon characters piloting primitive mechs (I am not familiar with the online game which this game is based on - sorry), whose actions are determined by cards the players assign to a dashboard. The cards represent movement, turning, or attack actions, and are divided into four suits of different colours; cards of the same suit can stack, making the action more potent.

Instead of just making a circuit around the race track, the mechs in this game have more varied missions, from collecting gems to killing minions to defeating the evil boss mech. The game is co-operative, which is something I don't usually enjoy, but in this instance the time pressure (that's what the timer is for, although we didn't use it) makes it hard for players to discuss their moves in detail.

Each turn, the minions will move either randomly or according to the scenario rules, and if a minion ends its turn adjacent to a mech, the mech takes a damage card, which can be once-off (resolve and discard), or it can be semi-permanent and placed over a command card, necessitating sacrificing an action card the next turn to remove, or moving over a healing square. Mechs can't actually die from damage, but presumably beyond a certain point the damage are too numerous to repair and it just moves randomly around the board.

We managed to play about 4 scenarios over the course of the afternoon. The missions are designed to slowly teach the players the rules, like the tutorials in a computer game, so the first one was a boring one about movement, the second one about killing minions, the third one being a more challenging one, and the fourth one a real struggle battling the boss mech (which has its own specially designed cardboard box within the main box!).

Not knowing anything about the computer game, I cannot say how closely the game replicates the original. As a boardgame, I get a sense that too much is going on and players do not have enough control over the action at times. In Robo Rally (which is my point of reference), the only randomness are the hand of action cards drawn, and the actions of the other players, which may sometimes be guessed at and overcome (that in itself being part of the fun); the board behaves in a predictable fashion, damage is applied in a fixed fashion, and there are no other unknowns. In Mechs vs. Minions, the random damage effects, the random movement and spawning of the minions and the random movement and attacks of the boss mech means there is a lot more unpredictability, which while fun from the fluff point of view, actually takes away from the depth of the game. It seems to me that the designers of the game has tried to bundle too many mechanics into a single game, and ended up with something that doesn't do anything too well.

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