The first time I played Neuroshima Hex, it wasn’t at the tabletop. It wasn’t sitting on a beach, in a pub, on my dining room table or anywhere you might normally find a board game. Instead, it was while travelling by train from Chester to Bangor on my phone. And I enjoyed it so much, that since then I’ve bought the physical version, several expansions and it remains one of my all-time favourite board games. Here’s why.
Neuroshima Hex sees players facing off in a hex-based grid where they can deploy units, use tactical manoeuvres and buff their allies, all in the effort to destroy their enemies. The base game of Neurshima Hex comes with four distinct factions, each with their own units, special powers and play style. And the same is true for each of the expansion factions, too.
On a players turn, they are going to pick up three of their hex tiles, discard one and play up two of the ones remaining. When placing a unit, they will attack in a direction depending on the arrows on the tile, with little arrows being melee attacks and long ones ranged. Players can also place power-up tiles that give bonuses such as extra damage, more health and other buffs to units they are linked with. And finally, there are special tiles that let you do a one-off power. These might move a unit, unleash a bombardment or shove someone else’s unit elsewhere. These are often situational but they can really shift the flow of a battle.
There is one last tile I haven’t mentioned, the battle tile. When played, this doesn’t go on the board but instead instigates a battle. This means that everything currently on the board is going to fight. However, it will only fight in number order (highest first) and everything will attack whatever it is currently aimed to hit. This means that friendly fire is abounding and if you manage a battle without any friendly fire, then you are a legend among us mere mortals. This is not helped by the fact that all the bases (at least in the base game) attack everything around them at initiative 0. This means that if you have any friendly units protecting your base, then they are going to be smashed to pieces by the very base they call home.
And all of this makes one of the most interesting, tactical games I’ve ever played. With different factions playing off one another in different ways, different tile draws leading to different strategies and clever plays on both sides of the table abound. For example, you might start to protect your base from pesky enemy units thinking that it’s fine to lose them after a battle as long as your base is safe. However, what do you do if your enemy plays a battle while all you have is units protecting your base? You lose them all, that’s what. So you think perhaps you shouldn’t protect your base and instead go on the offensive. Well, what happens then if your enemy places some big units capable of dishing out serious damage to your base? You probably should have protected your base. Or should you?
Every decision in Neuroshima Hex is an interesting one. From which tile to discard to whether to play both of the ones left or save one for later. Where you place your units, when do you use your special powers, how you make the most of your faction abilities and how do you counter your opponent, are all questions you will be asking yourself each turn of Neurshoma Hex.
And then, to all of this madness, we can add a third, fourth, fifth or even sixth player. At six players, the board expands and the game truly goes wild. Troops are being dropped all over the place, there isn’t enough space and it is an amazing chaotic experience. While I wouldn’t recommend playing with that many players all the time, it is nice to have a game that can go from a tactical two-player game to a ramped-up mutated version of itself with six.
While Neuroshima Hex is fairly abstracted, there is plenty of character across each of the factions and the abstraction helps to remove superfluous elements and instead help the focus remain on this crunchy puzzle of troop positioning, outwitting your opponent and watching the carnage unfold.
It is worth mentioning that the Neurshima Hex app is fantastic. It automates all the things like damage, initiative and all the other bits that can slow down the tabletop version. It also has many of the expansions available for the physical game and is much cheaper. It is a staple of my phone and that won’t change any time soon. I would recommend having both but at the very least, you should get the app because it certainly made my train journey to Bangor back in the day far more enjoyable.
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