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Neuroshima Hex

Originally a Polish board game and now ported to iOS, the post-apocalyptic world of Neuroshima Hex is inhabited by four armies, all battling for supremacy. From the cyber-mutants Borgo, to The Outpost, the last remnants of the civilised world, the four armies bring their own strengths and weaknesses to the board. A tutorial video explains the basics, and there’s a useful rulebook that can be delved into at any time.

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The aim is to defend your headquarters from losing all of its twenty hit points, while using aggressive tactics to obliterate all enemy bases. The headquarters each have a unique ability, increasing a specified statistic of all adjacent friendly tiles. To protect their base, The Outpost have to use long range infantry and tactical support, boosted by increased ranged attacks when standing beside their HQ, while the Moloch have devastating strength and missiles at their disposal.

Once the headquarters are placed on the board the game begins. At the beginning of a round three tiles are drawn, one of which has to be discarded. Not only does this assist in maintaining the game’s equilibrium – as both you and your enemies will have to discard vital pieces at times – but it provides an early insight into the strategic depth that’s required. With no dice to roll, there’s no hope in resting your faith on Lady Luck: every decision counts.

The hexagonal playing pieces are split into three groups: Unit, Module and Instant Action. Units are numbered to show how quickly they will act in battle (higher the better), with the size of the white annotations on each side showing if they’re capable of melee or ranged attacks and in which direction. These annotations represent every attack the Unit will perform in their round: three small triangles represent three separate melee attacks, for example.

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Units can be backed up by placing Module tiles, affecting multiple adjacent units depending upon where the tile’s arrows are placed, with bonuses such as higher initiative, increased toughness, improved damage or even slowing enemy units down. Introducing these tiles can change the course of battle, but they can be attacked and destroyed like any other Unit.

Instant Action pieces can be played – as the name suggests – to instantly alter the board. Enemy soldiers can be assassinated or battle will immediately take place; otherwise, combat will automatically begin once the board is filled.

Battles take place over a number of rounds. Soldiers with the highest initiative go first, dealing blows or firing their weaponry at adversaries. Then the next round takes place, and so forth. At the end of each initiative phase, the damage is tallied and eliminated pieces are removed from the board. While slow reacting units are often high powered, soldiers with a higher initiative will destroy it before it can attack, presenting consequence to how you places your tiles.

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This can often result in your tactics being ruined by the clever placement of an enemy soldier with high initiative, or – even more infuriatingly – the use of an Instant Action to pivot a soldier and change their direction of attack, putting your key tile in the line of fire. In the final phase of battle all headquarters defend themselves, attacking all adjacent enemy soldiers.

Once the battle has ended, the game continues as normal, with players now deploying new Unit and Module pieces into the spaces of fallen soldiers. When players have no more tiles left the final battle begins, and the remaining HQ, or the one with the most hit points, is victorious.

Quick Game is the default mode in Neuroshima Hex. Here, you and the computer are randomly assigned one of the four armies, and then the game starts. A Custom Game can be setup with up to four AI or human controlled players. This time the armies can be chosen or randomly assigned.

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Second guessing three other armies is a difficult task – your moves could be countered by any of them. There are now less vacant locations to place your tiles as the board becomes crowded, forcing you to think ahead and plan effectively, even though you’re never sure of what tiles you’ll get next.

At the end of a game, you’re awarded points based upon your performance; or none if your HQ is destroyed. These points are then added to your running total and uploaded onto the global leaderboards for that difficulty. This helps to track your progress; even if you don’t win, you’ll be awarded points, possibly nudging you further up the leaderboard.

Combine the Quick Game and Custom modes and there is an infinite scope. Many hours will need to be invested to learn how each of the races plays, what their strengths are, how to defend against them and when it’s best to hold onto key pieces. On Easy, the AI is still a tough opponent to beat, and you’ll need a general’s mind to survive on the harder difficulty settings.

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Being thwarted by the computer can be infuriating, seeing your grand plan fall to pieces is as crushing as losing a three hour game of Monopoly. Like a board game, it gives no apologies when things don’t go your way. While featuring custom play for up to four people, there’s no way to currently test your skills against other players online; however, an online mode will be added in a future update. There is also an intermittent bug that can force a shut down when finishing a game and launching a new one.

When you feel comfortable picking up any video game, and ploughing through whatever genre, it’s humbling to be brought down a peg or two by a board game. Yes, you’ll be frustrated when you’re outmanoeuvred, yes, it isn’t full of explosions, but what it does do is provide a game that is not only easy to play but incredibly in-depth. It has a learning curve, it rewards those that think a round ahead and has piped my interest in the physical product. Bravo.

Review based on version 1.30

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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