Strategy and adventure abound in two recently released board games: StelCon: Infinity, a science fiction-themed game from Conquest Gaming LLC, and an historical adventure, Washington's Crossing from Revolution Games.
In StelCon: Infinity two to six players take on the role of various space empires. Each player uses a game board that sits directly in front of them that links with the other players' boards on the table through a series of wormholes. Players start out on a home world planet on their board, though soon set out to explore the galaxy.
Players' ships are represented by hard cardboard stock and are customizable by adding features into slots. Drawing cards when they arrive at new worlds, players see how many forces their ships must destroy before they can colonize it and claim bonuses. The first player to conquer another player's home world is the winner.
There is a lot to like about StelCon: Infinity. The modular board and customizable ships are really cool, and the fact that the game ends as soon as a one player loses his home world is a great mechanic too, as there is no player elimination. (Who likes to be eliminated and sit around while everybody else keeps playing?)
One major drawback, however, is the rulebook, which is poorly laid out and can be initially difficult to understand. Theme and unnecessary details are introduced early in the rulebook, pushing aside important game mechanics and basic concepts. Gaming groups may give up in frustration unless someone thoroughly has a grasp of game concepts from the beginning.
At its heart, StelCon: Infinity is a 4x space game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) that contains a lot of conflict (emphasis on the eXterminate). Other aspects, such as exploring and exploiting new planets, are not quite as satisfying as one would hope. Additionally, with so many similar games on the market (Twilight Imperium, Eclipse, Space Empires 4X, etc.), one wonders if the genre has already been saturated.
While StelCon: Infinity is a good space game, it never quite reaches the level of greatness that some of its competitors achieve. No doubt, however, for a certain kind of gamer, StelCon: Infinity will scratch a space combat game itch.
StelCon: Infinity plays in about two hours.
Washington's Crossing comes in a small box that contains a big game. Two players take on the role of the American and British armies during the American Revolution's winter campaign of 1776-1777.
The game is played upon a beautifully rendered paper board depicting New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and cardboard chits denote commanders and their armies. A separate board for each player lists commanders and allows the number of men under his command to be tracked at any given time. Essentially, high-ranking generals exert an area of control and can activate lesser generals around them, simulating command structures.
Once battle is joined a few simple dice rolls have major consequences and charts are consulted for victory and resulting casualties. Charts denote many of the actual, historical conditions under which Washington and the British fought, such as weather, surprise and terrain, and take all into account. Victory points are awarded for capturing objectives and for victory in battles. After a set number of turns, the player with the most victory points wins.
This is a heavy war game with a tremendous amount of depth, both historically and mechanically. Fans of historical simulations should have a field day with the complexity, as no doubt that is the intended market. Casual gamers, however, will be overwhelmed with the detail and tire of the tedium that can accompany most turns. Still, if you enjoy complexity in your games, or are looking for a step up from light war games, Washington's Crossing is a fun, intense historical recreation of a fascinating military campaign.
Washington's Crossing can take several hours to play, though scenarios can be found at Revolution Game's website for a shorter game.
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the co-developer of the popular History Challenge iPhone/iPad apps. Email: email@example.com