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July 26, 2003

Favorite Games XXIII

Okay, today's game is more than 20 years old and very silly, but it's great fun to play, so it makes the list...

Amoeba Wars is a very silly game of exploration and conquest, with player in conflict with one another, with Doomsday Machines left behind by a collapsed space empire and with Amoebas larger than planets that we the reason that empire fell. The game board, representing the known galaxy, is divided into hexagonal systems, each with from one to six planets, with the more crowded systems being hardest to conquer. To start play, each player puts their starting fleet into one of the starting systems (in the six corners of the board), then the amoebas start a series random expansions, which helps to make each game different. After that, play proceeds in turns, but with a unique turn order mechanic. At the start of each turn, everyone plays a card (you have a hand of three). High numbered cards cause bad or neutral events (amoeba rampages, activation of the Doomsday Machines, at random if bad or by your choice if more neutral), while low numbered cards are positive ones (the ability to hyperjump parts of your fleet, or free extra ships). Whoever plays the highest card goes first can can use their own card and every one less than that... but must use all the bad cards. Deciding which card to play is a main strategic element here, as playing high gives you more special options and an earlier turn, but playing low gives you a better special benefit, though you probably have to share that with all other players. Complicating the decision slightly is the fact that some of the cards (the highest and lowest numbers) alter the normal rules in addition to their regular effects.

Once you've resolved all the cards, you can send your ships on a campaign of conquest, with the goal being to take over spaces that enable you to produce more ships, then a chunk of the central system, and in the end, Saestor, the capital of the lost empire (and the center hex of the board). Since only one player can win, the initial efforts to fight back the amoebas turns to infighting and backstabbing by the end. Combat follows two mechanics, one (vs. empty systems or systems infested with amoeba) cares only how many ships you have, the other (vs. other fleets or Doomsday Machines) compares firepower ship-to-ship. You have 5 types of ships available, from the small but almost weaponless scouts to the immobile but as well armed as Doomsday Machines monitors; you have to decide which to build (the more weapon-loaded ships cost more) and how to move them around to protect your borders and expand your frontier.

As an option, once you're used to the game, there are 8 special power cards, which you can deal out (on per player) to make the player empires non-identical. But, really, this is an add-on mechanic, and offers very little true variation from game to game (if there were 20 or more powers, it would be a much different story... but there aren't). I find this one holds up on just its base game play, and so can be enjoyed again and again just as it is.

It isn't a serious game, the mechanics make no illusion of representing anything. But when your lone scout holds off wave after wave of battlestars or when you manage to provoke an Amoeba to break open your biggest rival's defenses, you'll realize what a fun game this can be.

Finding a copy isn't easy, as Avalon Hill is no longer with us and this was never one of their biggest sellers... but it's worth if it you can find it. My copy is almost worn away.

Posted by ghoul at July 26, 2003 06:14 AM

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Never underestimate the ability of Hollywood suits to screw up. It sounds like a classic case
of accountants and marketing droids attempting to
make creative decisions.

Posted by: Tim Hall at July 29, 2003 08:10 AM

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