July 30, 2011

More Nazi Lies: Incursion Board Game Review

I was really excited to finally play Incursion, an independently developed and published board game I bought months ago. The game is developed by Grindhouse Games, founded by two brothers from Texas. I actually found out about the game by reading a Houston Chronicle newspaper clipping my aunt sent me.

The game is set in 1949. World War II still rages and the Nazis have captured British held Gibraltar and turned it into a secret weapons research lab. Basically, the Nazis are straight out of Wolfenstein (zombies, man-wolves, chicks with guns) and the Americans use mechs.

I picked up the $50 game (plus S&H) for a few reasons: The setting looked cool, I love miniatures, they boasted of simple and accessible gameplay, and I wanted to support some indie Texans.

Let's start with the bad!

What I Don't Like About Incursion
Despite many pictures in the newspaper article and a slew of them on Incursion's Board Game Geek page, the game doesn't come with a single miniature.
Sorry sir, these men are all MIA.
If you read the bulleted check-list for the game's contents, they use the term "models" to indicate cardboard cutouts. I find both their use of screenshots with the main game and the use of the word models to be very deceptive.

  • "doors and stand-ups for all models that might potentially be used in the game."
  • "36 black plastic stand-up holders for doors and “models”

Secondly, and most importantly, calling this game simple is a United States Congressman-sized lie. My father likes to use the phrase "don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining." Well, Grindhouse, it isn't raining. Before you call me out for holding a newspaper article quote against them, let's take this sentence from page 2 of the rule book: "The game mechanics are simple to grasp allowing players to instantly focus on their tactical options." But I want to be clear; it isn't so much that they are lying, it's that the rules are a mess.

Here is the game's front and back quick reference guide:
Side 1!
Side 2 at least has pictures
The rules are so full of special cases and details and exceptions that it's impossible to play the game without them in front of you the entire time. Even with the rules we constantly interpreted mechanics incorrectly and made many errors for the two games we played, which cheapened the experience. Some examples of excess include:

  • Several ways of attacking another unit, each with unique behavior, including Hand to Hand, normal guns, a heavy machine gun, flamethrower, grenade launcher, grenade
  • Some of the weapons can also be used for "Reaction Fire" where they can shoot when it isn't your turn. Of course, the rules and behavior are different here than they are for normal attacks.
  • 9 Action Point interactions, several with varying costs (back to the reference guide!)
  • Requisition Points, Command Points, Action Points, and one-off Command Points for a single character with special rules
Many many counters and tokens.
Another problem with the rules is that the designers frequently mix flavor with rules. In one case they point out that the character cannot use their radio to explain that an ability no longer works. My friend couldn't figure out what they meant by radio until we figured out it was just flavor. Many card games handle this by having a clear separation in rules and flavor, with italics and card placement. 

A worse example is for Slugger Murphy, an American unit. He has 2 Weapons, one called "Bambi" and one called "Thumper." For all other characters it says clearly whether they use an SMG, or LMG, or HMG etc. (If you don't know the abbreviations, be sure to check the abbreviations chart at the front of the rules book). But, for Sergeant Murphy we made the judgement call that Bambi was a pistol because in the rule book (Note: not the card itself or the reference guide) his back story referred to Bambi as a revolver.

The balance of the game also seemed incredibly skewed in favor of the Americans, but we could have misinterpreted the rules significantly enough to throw the balance out of whack. In fact, the Americans won such sweeping victories that we were convinced we were reading them wrongly. 

The Germans are almost entirely hand to hand fighters with very low health and large quantities, whereas the Americans are heavily armored, fewer in number, and use heavy ranged weaponry. If you're looking for a game comparison, the Germans are zerglings. The problem with hand to hand is that you must be very close to your target (whereas guns have no range limitations) and you cannot use Reaction Fire. 

Reaction Fire allows a unit who did not have line of sight (yes, the game also has line of sight) to fire their weapon for every action an enemy takes within their line of sight. This means if I use my unit to: 

1.) Enter a Space (1 Action Point) 
2.) Rotate my unit to face the enemy (1 Action Point) 
3.) Attack the Target (1 Action Point)

...the enemy may fire 3 times. Nine times out of ten due to my units' low health and the huge number of dice rolled by the Reaction Fire units, my units would die at Step 1. In fact, I was only able to attack an enemy on two occasions in the two games we played. Unfortunately, due to the fact that I had to roll a 6 to deal damage and only rolled one dice, I didn't accomplish anything.

The real problem is that reaction fire is unlimited! To deliberately attack a unit you must spend limited Action Points or bolster them with Command Points. With the sole exception of rolling doubles, as long as enemies keep moving within your line of sight, you may keep firing. It's just absurd and I could never figure out a strategy to overcome the advantage. Granted, we've only played two games, but I was slaughtered so badly that I'm not exactly itching to play a third.

What I Liked About Incursion
Incursion's art is beautiful if you like the theme and its components are well crafted. The board is a super thick and sturdy and the cards feel hefty. I'm bitter about the lack of miniatures, but had I not been shown miniatures, I would be perfectly satisfied with the little cardboard cards in stands.

I think the Command Points are a very interesting mechanic, quite similar to the energy system used in Battleship Galaxies: The Saturn Offensive.  Command Points can be spent to augment a unit's Action Points, which means you can move just a bit more or attack once more. You use Command Points to bid to go first at the beginning of each round. You can also use Command Points to "kill" powerful Battle Cards that may give your opponent's units huge advantages or disadvantages to your own units. That's cool flexibility and it's a cool choice. 

I like that the game has 7 different missions for me to try. Each mission has different rules like what units can be used, how to win, and board layout modifications. It reminds me of Heroscape, which in my opinion can honestly claim the "simple wargame" tag line.

I like games that let me pick from different units at the beginning of each game. It means each game can be just a little bit different so I may adjust my tactics and have a fresh experience. Unfortunately, the Americans only have 5 units and the Germans 6 in the base game, so there aren't that many choices.  

Also, individual missions can be completed rather quickly in about 30-45 minutes. After the initial un-boxing and cardboard punch outs, the game is relatively quick to setup and play.

I still think Incursion has potential and I want to eventually play it several more times to be sure I'm not missing something key. I paid $50 for the game, I want my money's worth. But, as it stands right now I wouldn't recommend Incursion to friends. It wouldn't be the first game I pulled out at Board Game Night. 

Hopefully I've missed a key element and the game is really amazing underneath it's pile of rules.


Anonymous said...

I just bought this game and I agree with a lot of what you said but I think you may be missing some of the rules. The vanilla zombies basically are endless for every multiple of 3 you purchase. So all the games I've played the axis has won due to the nearly unlimited supply of zombies that flow from the entrances. If you spend 6 rp on zombies you're putting 6 zombies on the board every turn!

Grant said...

Anonymous: You're somewhat right! I did miss that rule the very first time I played it (I played it twice before I wrote this review). I played it four times total before I sold it.

In my experience, the zombie horde was only sufficient to win once. However, the Allied range + defense superiority was always sufficient 3/4 to overcome the horde.

Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

Nice review. In all fairness if you are a Space Hulk fan, this game is pretty easy to pick up, although I agree there is still rule murkiness to contend with. I enjoy the game, but I agree the model references seem rather deceptive if you don't research it heavily.