Friday, 4 May 2012

Review - Transformers Armada: Battle for Cybertron Game

Yet another review that originally appeared on only now you get to see it with a bunch of pretty pictures too. Enjoy.

Transformers Armada: Battle for Cybertron Game
Published by Hasbro
Designed by Craig van Ness
2-6 players (but best with 2), ages 8 to adult

I only really found out about Transformers Armada because I saw someone selling a copy of Star Wars Epic Duels for an obscene amount of money. By researching that game, I discovered that it had been rereleased in 2003 with a few rules tweaks and a new transformers theme. I was interested enough to hunt down a copy of this rerelease, and picked it up for just £10.

For £10, I definitely think I got good value for money.

Transformers Armada box
Transformers Armada - Create your own robot battles!

The game ships in a flimsy box with a see-through cello front. The reason for this is so you can see all eight of the pre-painted transformers models that are included in the game. These pieces are rather nice in a "knocked out cheaply by Hasbro" style. The sculpts are decent, and they look like the robot forms of the toys, but the painting is scrappy at best. Optimus Prime and Megatron are suitably large, and it looks like they spent a bit of time making them look the best, but the rest are average.

Apparently, Star Wars Epic Duels shipped with a lot more than eight characters, but the rules for that game made use of "major" and "minor" characters. Each major character was accompanied by one or two minions that were like cannon fodder. This is the major change between that version and the Transformers Armada version - there are no minor characters here. All eight transformers are major characters, and while they are not that balanced, there is a chance to win with any character you select.

It should be noted, this game is based on the Armada series, so the transformers are not the classic ones you might expect. There is no Bumblebee, Ironhide, or Jetfire here. Instead, you get Prime, Hot Shot, Smokescreen, and Red Alert for the Autobots; and Megatron, Starscream, Demolisher, and Cyclonus for the Decepticons. It also needs to be pointed out that the models DO NOT TRANSFORM. Some of the cards you can play in the game represent the transformers temporarily changing into their vehicle forms, but don't expect the figures to change as well.

So, the figures are pretty nice, and I like them for what they are. They are better than (for example) the monks in Ghost Stories, but not nearly as nice as the characters from Claustrophobia. They have a crude, childish sort of charm; and they are a decent size and weight. They don't fall over, they don't get tangled up when playing. They are okay.

Transformers Armada miniatures
Optimus... Your weapon is so tiny!

The other components of the game are considerably poorer, and reflect the kind of standard you might expect from a mass produced Hasbro / MB game. There is a large character card for each robot for tracking hit points, a set of very thin hit point tokens, two thin double-sided boards to provide four different arenas to fight over, a black and white folded paper rulebook, and eight decks of cards.
Transformers Armada rules
Don't spend all your money on miniatures before
 you have finished printing the rule book!

Apart from the miniatures, the cards dictate how each game plays out, and I feel more effort could have been made on them. They are nicely illustrated on front and back to indicate which robot they are used with, but they are not very large and they are incredibly flimsy. Considering they are used so much during a game, and shuffled quite frequently, it would have been nice if they had been a little more robust.

There is also a single six-sided dice, with sides number 2-5. Some sides also show the word "ALL."

The game is primarily designed for one-on-one fights between two players, but variant rules are included for two-on-two fights between two players, team fights between two teams of two, and a free-for-all battle royale where it's last robot standing. Here, I will mainly talk about the basic one-on-one game.

To play, pick one of the four arenas. These are not very large, and they actually don't even look very complicated or exciting. There is Megatron's throne room, the Autobot HQ, a desert, and a rainforest. They all have different terrain you can hide behind, and they have a surprisingly large impact on the game. I thought they would all play very similarly, but three small pillars to hide behind (Megatron's throne room) is very different to one large central pillar to dance around (Autobot's HQ). It is also interesting to note that each board indicates the exact space where a transformer will begin, so depending on which transformer you use, you will start on a different space on the board. The designer has obviously put more thought into the design of these arenas than a first-glance might suggest.

Transformers Armada board
Example board - doesn't look much, but it works

Having selected an arena, you select a robot and take the miniature, the character card, and the associated deck of combat cards. This is one of the nicest aspects of the game: each robot has its own character card with a different number of hit points, and its own set of combat cards. This means that each robot plays completely differently.

Each deck of cards contains three types of card: Combat Cards show an attack and defence value, Special Combat Cards have either an attack or defence value along with a special power, and Special Cards have a special power that can be played. Each character has different values and different special powers which adds to replayability. For example, Prime has a lot of Special Cards that allow him to move close, and a lot of Special Combat Cards that allow him to hit for lots of damage while he is adjacent to an enemy; Smokescreen has a lot of Special Cards that allow his opponent to draw cards, and a lot of Special Combat Cards that get more powerful if your opponent has lots of cards in his hand. There are surprisingly good combinations to be made from every deck, and again, there has been a lot of thought put into interesting decks with cards that support each other in interesting ways.

Transformers Armada cards
The card mechanic is the heart and soul of this fun little game.

To play, on your turn you roll the dice to see how many spaces to move; then you move your miniature. Finally, you have two actions. An action is drawing a card or playing a card. So, on your turn you could draw one card and play one card, or play two cards, or draw two cards. You can have a maximum of ten cards in your hand.

Playing cards is the only way to attack an opponent, and no dice rolling is involved. You simply play a card face down that has an attack value, and then your opponent plays a card (if he or she wants to) that has a defence value on it. Subtract defence from attack - the result is the amount of damage inflicted.

Sometimes special rules on cards will change the basic flow of combat. For example, Megatron has an attack card which becomes massively more powerful if your opponent chooses not to play a defence card.

The game ends when one robot dies, or when someone has exhausted their card deck twice. And that's it!

If you decide to play controlling two robots each, the game is exactly the same except when you roll the dice on your turn you can only move one of your team (unless you roll an "ALL" result, in which case you can move them both). You still only get two cards actions, but you are now controlling two separate draw decks, and you have to cleverly balance the cards in your hand to make sure you can use both robots on your team at the right time. The game still ends as soon as one robot dies, so you need to make sure you have cards in your hand that can be used for both robots, otherwise your opponent will constantly target the robot that you don't have any cards for.

This games creates an interesting combination of miniatures skirmish game and card game. Rolling the dice and moving your miniature around the board can lead to a fascinating "cat and mouse" situation where you try to outwit your opponent and force them into locations where you can shoot at them; then the card combat system plays out like a CCG, with powerful combinations available to every robot.

The rules are incredibly simple, and each game plays in 5-15 minutes, and yet it is surprisingly fulfilling as a light strategy game. Kids will obviously love it because of the "toy" element of the miniatures, and the cool theme; but there is definitely enough here for adults to enjoy as well.

I think, if you are not opposed to the transformers theme, and you can't afford Star Wars Epic Duels, then this should definitely be considered as a great alternative. If you already have Star Wars Epic Duels, then you might want this one too, as there are enough differences between the two games to warrant having both in your collection.

This is never going to be the game you play all night, but it is a great opener before moving on to something with more depth. It plays best with two, but also supports team play and a free-for-all scrap, and it plays so quickly you can roll it out while you are waiting for the rest of your game group to arrive.

I was expecting something dumb but fun, and I was surprised by the level of depth presented in the card play and the movement options provided by the arenas. Not every character is evenly balanced against every other (I wouldn't recommend Smokescreen against Megatron), but they are balanced in terms of the theme - so Megatron versus Prime is a satisfyingly even match-up that really goes down to the wire.

Actually, while talking about the theme, I think it is worth mentioning how the theme is combined with the gameplay. Each transformer's special powers really do match up with how you would expect them to act. For example, Starscream has several cards called "delusions of grandeur." If he attacks with the card and causes damage, he is rewarded with the ability of drawing more cards into his hand; but if he fails to cause damage, he must discard cards as punishment. As another example, Prime has a card that allows him to turn into his truck form, move several spaces, and cause damage if he finishes adjacent to an opponent - the name of the card: "Ram 'Em!" I think this is a great use of the theme, and anyone who enjoys transformers will get a kick out of seeing this sort of thing.

I don't really have much more to say than that: Nice theme, nice miniatures, great artwork, so-so card quality, great game mechanics. Definitely a keeper.

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