Wednesday 11 July 2012

Review - Battleship Express

Recently, work commitments have meant I have not been able to keep my blog as up to date as I would like, so while I try to find the time to do some new reviews I thought I would quickly recycle this old one that first appeared on back in February 2011.

Battleship Express

Battleship Express
Published by Hasbro
Designed by Reiner Knizia
For 2-4 players, aged 7 to adult

So, I'm walking through my local supermarket toy aisle and I see Battleship Express sitting on the shelf. I've heard of the game before, but never really paid it any attention, but there it is... sitting there... and it's only £4. Any game that sits in the same price bracket as a drink at the bar is going to get my interest, but when that game also has a little note on the back cover saying "designed by Reiner Knizia" then how can I refuse? Add to that, the game can play from two to four players in 20 minutes or less, and I'm sold.

Having made the purchase, sneaking it into the shopping trolley between the bread and milk in hope of hiding it from the wife, what are my initial impressions? Basically, I think Knizia may have phoned this one in...

The game is nicely presented in a plastic case which also doubles as the pod for rolling the dice in. Inside this case you will find a deck of 20 ship cards; these are thick, good quality cards die-cut in an unusual shape with one convex side and one concave side. This shape is completely unnecessary, but makes the cards look like the epaulets on a captain's jacket, so it's a neat touch. The shape also makes it easy to remember which card is at the front of your line of battleships and which card is at the back of the line.

Battleship Express - the cards
The cards are shaped like little epaulets - cute!

The rest of the game comprises eight special attack dice. These are simple black plastic with stickers affixed to each face. Five sides of the dice show a picture of one of the types of vessel in the game as a silhouette while the sixth side shows an explosion symbol.

Battleship Express dice
Typical Hasbro dice - chunky, with stickers affixed.

Instructions for a basic game and an advanced game are printed on a small leaflet. Clean and easy to read. Why there are basic rules is beyond me, because the advanced rules are still incredibly simple and I can imagine even very young children grasping them without any real difficulty.

Battleship Express rules
The rules are clear enough - you can skip the basic ones.

Overall, I was happy with the presentation and feel I got a good deal for my £4.

To play, each player takes five cards: one submarine, one battleship, one patrol boat, one destroyer, and one aircraft carrier. These cards are colour coded and show a pretty uninspiring image of the vessel, the number of hits required to sink it, the number of dice to roll when attacking with it, and any special rules. Special rules are only used in the advanced game, so the backs of the cards show a simplified version of the same vessel, without special instructions, and with some modified stats.

Each player lays out the cards in a row, in any order desired, and then the game can start.

You need to choose a start player, and I would suggest dicing off for it in the first game and then moving around the table, as the first player tends to have a big advantage over players that follow, particularly in two player games.

On a turn, you can pick any of your vessels to make an attack. You select the card for the ship and move it to the FRONT of your line of ships. Then you pick a target: any opponent vessel that is either FIRST or SECOND place in their line of ships. So, as you can see, when you pick a ship to attack with, it is in turn moved to a position in your line of vessels where it can be attacked by an opponent on their turn.

You then roll to attack. Look on your card to see how many dice to roll, and then read the special instructions to see how many TIMES you roll, and then get rolling...

When you roll, any dice showing the silhouette that matches your TARGET is a hit. I thought this would be a bit tricky to see quickly at first, but the silhouettes perfectly match the outline of the ship drawings on the cards, and the background for the silhouettes are colour coded to match the ship cards, so it's really easy to work out hits. Also, any explosion symbol is also a hit.

Any dice that are hits are set aside; any dice that are not hits can be rerolled. You get the number of rerolls specified on your ship card.

If you are playing the advanced game, each ship gets a special power:

The aircraft carrier rolls six dice once before selecting a target, and then rolls again. Also, it does not move to the front of the line when attacking, which is a good thing because the aircraft carrier is one of the easiest ships to sink.

Battleship Express ship card
Comparing the basic and advanced version of the Aircraft Carrier.

The destroyer gets six attack dice and two rolls, and explosions count as two hits.

The patrol boat gets five dice and three rolls, but no special powers.

The battleship gets eight attack dice and can roll four times, but explosions do not count as a hit.

Finally, the submarine only rolls three dice and gets no rerolls, but any explosion symbols count as an instant kill. Furthermore, the submarine can attack ANY enemy target, regardless of where they are in the line.

That's all there is to it. In a two-player game, play until one player has no ships left; in a three-player game, play until one player has sunk four ships; in a four-player game, play until one player has sunk three ships.

The game is incredibly quick to learn, set up, and play; as you would expect from an "express" game. It is also incredibly light. Even lighter than I was expecting. Considering it is a Knizia design, I was expecting something that would create a few interesting choices, or which would have an interesting scoring system, but really this is very simple. However, the theme is surprisingly strong, and the special ability of each ship really seems to match up with how you would expect that ship to work - the aircraft carrier can attack from the back by launching its planes, the submarine can attack any enemy ship from underwater, the battleship is inaccurate but can soak up lots of hits, and so on...

I actually quite enjoy the game. As a 20-minute filler it is perfect, and I can see me cracking this out when my parents are visiting for tea. Unfortunately, after even a few plays I think the available strategies are quite obvious and you never really feel like you are torn between making interesting choices. You are always going to try to sink the patrol ships and aircraft carriers first in games with more players, as these ships are the easiest to sink (only three hits required) and you only need to sink three or four ships to win. In a two player game, you are always going to try to take out the hard hitters: the destroyer and the submarine. Only the destroyer and submarine have a good chance of destroying a battleship, so if you can destroy them both then you have a good chance of winning. This is why the first player tends to have an advantage. If the starting player can sink a ship on the first turn, an opponent is always going to be on the back foot.

For £4, I would recommend it as a light filler; just don't expect Knizia at his best. In fact, don't really expect to feel like you are playing a Knizia game at all.

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