#1. Myrmes

 

Summary

Nominal Award: Best All-Around Game

Mechanics:  Worker placement, Route Network Building, Resource Management

Players: 2-4

 

Gameplay

In Myrmes, players assume the collective consciousness of an ant colony, controlling the actions of the queen, soldier, and worker ants. The winner is determined by the colony that earns the greatest number of victory points which can be earned through several ways. Typically, the winning colony will be the one owned by the player who not only manages his or her own colony effectively, but informs his or her strategy by the seasonal advantages and gameplay of other players.

Variation in every game is provided by a roll of the dice. The result signifies the seasonal advantage in the next three seasons. (During the fourth season, winter, players must feed their colonies. There is no variation in winter.)

At the beginning of each season, players place their ants in action spaces within the colony. The actions can build up the ant hill, collect dirt, rocks or food, hunt, explore... in all honesty, it's pretty much what you would do in any worker placement /civilization game. Thematically, however, it is brilliant how your workers are spent like currency to complete actions. Some (but not all) actions require ants be returned to the supply, representing their death. It really seems hive-minded: individuals get sacrificed for the good of the colony and new ones grow to replace them. You must plan which ants to use as soldiers and which ants to use as workers.

That is not my favorite part. The best part is the main board, which represents the world outside each player's colony and is the common area where the colonies battle for resources. By playing the explore action (I guess it's technically the "exit anthill" action) an ant can step into the hexagonal grid garden (starting from the "tunnel entrance") to achieve objectives. While it does this, it sets pheromones in place to make traveling for subsequent ants easier. Mechanically, both hex spaces and pheromones (which can cover multiple hexes) represent one move point. By strategically laying three pheromones across nine hex spaces, for example, a move that would have been impossible (nine hexes) becomes accessible (three pheromones) to that player. Therefore, laying pheromones is key to spreading influence and harvesting resources. An aggressive player can even "throw off the scent" of another colony's older pheromone and replace it with their own. Therefore, the garden is a constant battleground and a colony can never neglect their network.

 Conclusion

Myrmes wins the "most balanced game" award. It is so rich, the strategy is so deep, the theme is so intuitive and, perhaps what I like best of all, a good player can always make a comeback if they watch for a weakness in their opponent's ant colony. Probably the most rewarding aspect of Myrmes is its pacing and duration. There are far too few games of this strategic caliber that can be played in two hours. It is only three years (nine rounds) long. While the roll of three dice determines the seasonal advantages of each year, those dice rolls are the only bit of luck. (Though the seasonal advantage applies to all players equally. It is only "lucky" if you happen to have your colony in such a position that the revealed seasonal advantage is optional. Furthermore, you can offset the dice by spending larvae - a tactic that can be extremely powerful when done effectively.)

Unfortunately, the game does have a high learning curve. Myrmes is not very fun to play a new player against a veteran. Also, while the game can be played in two hours (even less), expert players might take much longer. There is a LOT to think about. At some point, players might spend too much time trying to get into the heads of their opponents. For some people, this might sound like a deterrent, but honestly, I really enjoy the battle of wits.