October 06, 2011

Board Game Review: Attack!

Attack! (Eagle Games/Glenn Drover, Sean Brown, and Mike Selinker, 2009[Deluxe Exp.])
2-6 players / 13+ / 240 minutes

After subduing all of North America, I turned my greedy heart and cast a wanton eye towards the south.  There, trough the Isthmus of Panama, ripe for the picking, lay the land of coffee, bananas, and rubber trees - all the necessary resources to supply the corporate offices, bakeries, and bouncy ball factories throughout my lands.  Only one thing stood in my way: the Blue Player.  But through clever use of rail transport, factory research, oil production, and naval superiority, I was able to amass a fine invasion force ready to cross the Caribbean Sea into Columbia.  It was a fail-safe strategy!  I beamed, "Look out Blue, your territories will soon be mine."

"Um, dad, no they won't."

"Huh? What are you talking about...look at this army!"

"Whatever, your rolls stink."

"Oh, uh, yeah.  Maybe I should wait till next turn to bring more men...?"

What You Get:

More like what don't you get!  And that would be the kitchen sink.  Between the base game and the deluxe expansion, you're getting something like 500 plastic miniatures: six sets of infantry, artillery, tanks, planes, destroyers, subs, carriers, and battleships (plus one plastic capital, per color).  You have 14 custom d6's and 2 regular (in a killer blue color).  A stack of paper money in 5 denominations, government planning mats, special action cards, naval cards, research cards, chits, chits, and chits.  Finally, there are two massive boards representing the world, Risk-style.  This game is easily the best value in our collection just in terms of components per dollar.  All of the components are of sturdy to excellent quality with the lone exception being the research cards which are essentially like a deck of standard cards.
Complete army set.

Quick Rundown:

Attack!, with it's Attack! Deluxe Expansion, is a world conquest war game with dudes on a map.  While the look is all quasi-1930s pre-war era, there is no set-up along real political or historical boundaries.  Attack! really fits a "smaller than a house, bigger than a breadbox" label within the genre.  In that sense, I think it fills the void between Risk (the breadbox) and Axis & Allies (the house).  It is an area control and area movement game that uses dice to resolve conflict like those two famous titles.  It is more complex than Risk since it has a variety of units, extra chrome, and includes a basic build/develop element.  However, it is more accessible than Axis & Allies because it is more streamlined and infused with some Euro aspects to minimize downtime and shorten overall game length.  Make no mistake, though, this game still takes a little time to plow through.  The major Euro element is Glen Drover's action point mechanic.  Each round represents one year, which is divided into four seasons.  There are seven different actions you can choose from each season and you cannot play the same action more than once per year.  The familiar elements of earning income, producing units, moving troops, and attacking are all present here.  But you are not able to do all of those in a given year, because you also can - and will want to - research, move naval units, and conduct diplomacy with neutral countries.  Battles are resolved with custom dice - to score hits, you need to match the symbols on the dice with your units engaged in the fight.  Euro elements have influenced the end game, as well.  There is a fixed number of years (per the players' choosing), victory points are earned for a win, and if one player's capital is captured, the game ends that round.

T for Teens:

One example each of all the other components.
I struggled with labeling this game, because I think it is a limited appeal, small niche game.  Basically, as succinct as possible, here's my logic.  My kids do understand the rules and can follow game play.  So it's not above their heads.  Indeed it even seems to be a good title to teach them strategy basics.  However, there is still enough chrome that throws in choices that they'll inevitably miss.  So your options are to ruthlessly crush them for their errors or benevolently teach them how to survive in a brutal world.  So in that since, I enjoy playing with them for the bonding and the teaching.  But I can also enjoy playing Sorry and Life with them in the same manner.  In other words, I don't see adults genuinely enjoying the game play with kids because the challenge will be lacking.  Hence I passed on the 'E' rating.  With older teens, the situation would be different.  For hobby gamers it is probably too long for a group's regular, more casual "game night."  The title is probably served and experienced best as a "buddy" game in which adequate time is set aside solely to one session.  But even then, if you're committing a block of time from your busy schedule, there are other more immersive experiences than Attack!

There are some commendable aspects to recommend about Attack!  The action point mechanic results in smooth game play that reduces the downtime endemic to traditional war games.  The structured turn sequences create a good rhythm of order that is only broken up when one has a lot of fighting in a particular season.  The closed-end finishing point means this will not be a weekend-long slug-fest.  The victory point system causes players to divert attention to research and naval building in addition to mere conquest.  Research is uniquely conducted by spending units, which then forces you to consider infantry, etc., as a form of capital instead of expendable cannon fodder.  It also deals with, and omits, one of the more contentious issues that gamers have with the genre: player elimination.  The result is a classic, Ameritrash, dice-fest that ventures a wee bit into the Euro game zone with some tight mechanics.  The main issue I have personally, though, is that Glen Drover's reworking of Conquest of the Empire handles all of this in the same way, only better.

Probably the biggest issue for me with the game is the sheer size of the board(s).  Even with six players, it is common to go 3-4 turns before running into an opponent.  If playing the 6-turn limited war scenario, that's half the game right there.  So first off, I recommend constricting the playing space in some manner.  This is easy to do since you get to choose your starting locations.  Another drawback is that you will find yourself often doing the same thing each and every year, with maybe only slight variations.  After all at the end of the day, despite the choices in actions and the need to research and build, it is still a world conquest game.

Combat can be a bit wonky as there is no graded firepower for more advanced units.  You just simply roll as many custom dice as you have units in the battle and hope you can match the symbols up with the units.  At first, this seems to make the point of combined arms moot.  However, there are some differences to unit types that play out in the overall scheme of things: artillery gives you a first-shot, preparatory barrage, tanks and planes can blitz (though a separate action) from up to three spaces away, and planes have a slightly better chance of hitting since each die has 2 plane symbols on it.  Naval battles are handled in the same fashion: subs serve as the first-fire unit, battleships have the extra symbol on the custom dice, and a carrier lets you roll an army die in which a plane symbol scores a hit.  Naval units do not serve as transports.  For amphibious invasions, your navy simply must control the predetermined sea lanes required to move your army from one coast to the other as if they were adjacent land spaces.

Okay, I'll Shut Up Now:

Personally, I rate Attack! Deluxe Expansion a 6 on the Board Game Geek scale (OK game, some fun or challenge at least, will play sporadically if in the right mood.).  It has more to offer than Risk, but is not as thematically engaging as other dudes-on-a-map games.  For the adult, it can be a fun way to spend a few, lighter hours when in the right mood on a war game and still be able to finish in one sitting.  For kids, it is a nice introductory strategy game before exploring further titles in classic Ameritrash or traditional war gaming.

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