After this game got released, it got pretty good buzz on the‘geek. It happened to belong to what’s pretty much my favourite genreof games, multiplayer conflict games (or MCGs), had cool components,and unlike almost every other MCG around has simple rules and fastplay. And it could be picked up in the UK for £15, although it’s nowout of print. Buying it was an absolute no brainer – but was itworthwhile?
I’m not overly given tocovering components quality in a review, but the stuff in Nexus Ops isso unusual that I felt I had to say something. The game comes with avariety of little figures in four colours, moulded from softtransparent plastic. They give off a chemical stench which needs to besmelt to be believed and glow bizarre colours under UV light. Thenumber and quality of these figures that you get for £15 is prettyimpressive although some savings were obviously made with the cards,which are a bit flimsy, and the box insert, which is obtuse as to it’smode of construction – I thought my game had come with some mistakenextra bits from a different game at first – and when you do figure itout, proves largely useless since counters can slip underneath it.
NexusOps is one of those games which is simpler than it first appears thanksto the cohesive and intuitive way the rules hang together. Players inthe game represent corporate factions who will be hiring localmercenaries to fight over control of the valuable mineral Rubidium on adistant planet. If you can find a copy of rules online somewhere thenplease read them in preference to my summary, as they’ll give you abetter feeling for the game than I can in my verbose manner.
Theboard consists of large hexes and is slightly different on assemblyduring each play. In the very centre there is the monolith, which we’llreturn to later. Around this are six single-hex tiles which arearranged randomly. Around this is another ring of hexes made of two-hextiles which again are arranged randomly. Each player then has a homebase of three hexes which are positioned outside the outer ringaccording to the number of players. Hexes in come in a variety of types– lava pool, fungus forest, rock plains and crystal spires – and theart on the tiles is bright and distinctive although the whole boardassembled can be a bit visually overwhelming. After the board is made,an exploration counter is placed face down on each hex.
Playersthen buy their initial forces. There’s a simple balancing mechanicwhereby the player who has the advantage of going first gets less tobuy his starting units. There are six types of units in the game –crappy humans, crystallines and fungoids which get combat bonus in hometerrain, the speedy rock striders and lava leapers and the rubidiumdragon with its ranged attack. All three of the home base hexes havemines on them which produce income if mined by a human, crystalline orfungoid unit and this usually dictates choice of starting units forthose with lower starting funds.
Each player then takes it inturns to move his units. Most can move one, some two. If you move aunit into a hex with an unflipped exploration token then you get toturn it over. Some are mines of value two which gets you a mine tokenin the hex. Some have value one mines and a crystalline or fungoidunit. The remainder grant the flipping player a free rock strider.
Ifyou enter a hex containing enemy units then combat begins. This occursin strict order by unit – any dragons on each side first rollsimultaneously and casualties are applied, then down the scale tohumans at the bottom. You have to roll equal or higher than the combatscore of the unit to score a hit and this again is a scale, from yourhumans with a six all the way to the dragon. Normally the owning playergets to choose which units he looses but the lava leaper has a neatability to have player owning the leaper to choose instead. There is adilemma for any player here – your weakest units strike last, so bypicking them as casualties first you loose any chance of them strikinglater in the round. After a round of combat, if there are units stillleft on both sides then they wait to fight again on the following turnrather than carrying on until the death.
Winning combat earnsyou a victory point, but there are also secret objective cards whichcan be played to earn more. The objectives are usually some variationon “go to (hex type) and kill (a number) of (unit type) with (unittype)” although not all conditions are present on every card, and thereare a few more unusual ones in the deck. There’s also a neat colourcoded system to stop you claiming too many cards from one combat. Firstplayer to 12VP wins, although you can influence the length of the gameby playing to less or more VP if you choose. The looser of combat getsan “energise” card which can be played later in the game, usually forsome sort of combat bonus or free units or resources.
After eachplayer has taken a turn there’s little admin phase. Each player gets afree secret objective card. For each hex you control (i.e. there are noenemy units there) which contains a mine and has a unit which can mine(human, fungoid or crystalline) then you get income equal to the valueof the mine. If you control the monolith then you get a bonus of twoenergise cards which is very handy indeed and a prime incentive tofight over control of the centre of the board.
NexusOps is a fast, fun, lightweight combat game with some added interestfrom simple force-construction rules. It takes around thirty minutesper player to resolve which is pretty much bang on for the weight andstyle of game. As an added bonus it also scales well through anotoriously awkward set of player numbers – most titles that suit twoplayers don’t play well with more, same goes for three players and mostfour or more player titles don’t work as well with less. Nexus Opssatisfies with all three quotients. There’s quite a lot of randomnessin the form of all that dice rolling and card drawing but there is sometactical challenge to be had and it comes from a slightly surprisingsource.
The manoeuvre and area control elements of the game arecuriously dull. For the most part, and with the very notable exceptionof the monolith, players don’t actually bother going head-to-head overcontrol of hexes, even ones containing mines. The reason for, andamelioration of, this problem are those secret objective cards. Becauseyou gain VP mostly through claiming objectives and because a goodproportion of your income is likely in territory which is difficult foryour enemies to access, play normally revolves around setting upsituations where you can claim as many objectives from one combat asyou can. This is surprisingly tactical as you need to get the rightcreatures to the right places to either launch an attack on a specifictarget or to tempt an enemy in to fight a battle you hope to controlwith the use of energise cards. The objectives can be combined in allsorts of creative ways and I’ve seen a couple of games won by a playerin last place suddenly making an audacious move and claiming enough VPin one go to suddenly steal the game from the leader. It’s alsodifficult to use overwhelming force since new units you buy start atyour home base and must be moved slowly up to your front lines, andwith the random combat system you can rarely be sure of winning a battle. These two aspects combine to create a pretty tense and exciting game.
Theenergise cards on offer are diverse and can also be combined with eachother, with the special abilities of your units and with your objectivecards in satisfyingly creative ways. The mechanic of gaining a card forloosing a battle is a nice inbuilt balancing mechanism, giving playerswho’ve been unlucky with the dice a chance to catch up. On the whole Ithink it’s fair to say that, unusually enough for a combat game, it’sthe card play rather than manoeuvre that really makes the game.
I’ma big fan of the loose genre that Nexus Ops falls in, what I tend tocall “multiplayer conflict games” which do pretty much what the titlesuggests. These sorts of games, fun as they are, tend to come with araft of inbuilt problems such as kingmaking, kill-the-leader extendingthe game way past a pleasing playing time, and the tendency fordiplomatic wrangling between players to dominate rather than complimentthe tactical play. These problems are difficult to overcome becausethey kind of arise from the style of gameplay that the genre promotes,but a few games have managed it and Nexus Ops is one. It achieves thisfeat simply through the diverse range of objective cards you’ll end upwith during the course of the game. To win, you’re basically in a racefor VPs and the cards give you VPs from so many different potentialsources that to maximise your speed of VP gain, and win, you’re goingto need to attack as many other players as possible. This makesnegotiation of any sort rather pointless since everyone’s in the sameboat. While it’s sad to loose this aspect of a combat and resourcecontrol game, you can’t deny it has the desired effect of keeping thegame fast and tight.
Nexus Ops has a fewsmall problems and one big one. The most annoying of the minor problemsis that there’s no marker or mechanism which can help players tellwhich of their units in a hex has moved already to get to the hex andwhich have yet to move. Late in the game when the board is crammed withunits and you’re continually moving stuff up from the front lines thiscan become a really irritating problem. The other minor issues are onesof balance. Firstly, 2 player games sometimes get torpedoed by animbalance in the distribution of mines from the exploration tiles, withone player ending up with many more resources and an almost guaranteedwin. Secondly the two cards for monolith control seem a bit much, asthe extra power can make it difficult to shift the incumbent.Strangely, one doesn’t seem quite enough as an incentive to control thehex, so we’ve generally stuck with two.
The biggest bête noir ofthe game is that in spite of the variety of terrain types, unit typesand cards, gameplay is basically the same every single time. Theentirety of the game revolves around finding and killing enemy units ina manner that allows you to make best use of your objective cards,because all the objective cards ultimately reward nothing butdestroying enemy units. There’s nothing else. The variety in terraintypes isn’t really a big deal, and although the different units docontribute, players generally end up buying the same sorts of units atthe same sorts of ratios every time. The result is that this is a gamewith limited longevity – you’ll either burn out fast or not pull it outoverly often.
It’s a shame to see agame with a limited shelf life in a genre which seems to me to offergreater re-playability than maybe any other, but I guess that’s theprice you pay for a lot of good things. The game is quick, simple andmanages to neatly sidestep the issues that plague a lot of battlegames. It is, in many ways, an ideal introductory Ameritrash game, oran AT game to fill a niche in the collections of those who generallyprefer less thematic and random fare but feel the need to scratch theoccasional itch for mindless violence.
Given that the game hasre-playability problems it automatically excludes itself from thehighest ratings on a scale which asks you to rate by how frequently youwant to play the game. But it is lots of fun, and the rapid play timeis an encouragement to pull this out from time to time long after you thought you’d got bored of it. An eight out of ten seems to fit the bill.