In which we look at the mutations of Moloch (instead of humans), the rat people, an intelligent virus, and an Outpost plan gone awry. In other words, the weird factions.
SMART: 15 warriors (Gauss Cannon x3, Transporter x3, Cyborg x2, Net Fighter x2, Golem MK3 x2, Ripper, Twister, Bio-droid); 8 modules (Officer x4, Mother x2, Scout x2); 11 actions (Battle x4, Move, Push Back x3, Terror x2, Sniper)
SMART is a segment of Moloch that split off from the main brain and, like the Neojungle that surrounds it, ended up fusing somehow with living organisms to create a whole new being that now marches to its own electronic drum. Despite all that cool background, I can never think of the faction without thinking of this clip from The Simpsons. Where most are inclined to look at Moloch as a shooting faction, SMART really are, as they have all of two warriors that can engage in melee combat: Twister and Ripper; the images of both being fine examples of the more insectoid nature that SMART displays. The interesting aspect to them is that their HQ provides Mobility to adjacent units. This gives another dimension to their shooting nests, since they can redeploy around the HQ every turn. On top of that, the versatile Transporter unit can be placed in the line of fire, survive, move on its own, move again with the HQ, and then replace itself with a unit that can dish out damage. Like, say, a Gauss Cannon, of which SMART has three.
Using those movement tricks to burn down a whole line of the enemy that he thought was safe? Sweet. Thanks. Compounding this is the presence of Terror in the faction’s action tiles. If your draws haven’t been good enough to set up the board the way you like it, simply prevent your opponent from adding anything until you draw something better. Like, say, Bio-droid, which can be part of your draws for the rest of the game if it keeps getting destroyed. Its shooting angles are awkward, but it has two of them on initiative 3, so it can be a persistent pest for your opponent and they know that if they don’t neutralize it with a net or something like that, it will keep returning to irritate them again. However, something that the faction carried over from Moloch is the low number of Battle tiles, at 4. But given the flexibility inherent to SMART, the fact that you’ll often be letting your opponent have more choice of when to pick a fight isn’t too daunting a reality. Especially if you can Transporter your way into a Mother module on your Twister before the next one starts…
Neojungle: 16 warriors (Slicer x4, Crusher x3, Net Fighter x3, Nightshade x2, Swarm x2, Monster, Wall of Trees); 8 modules (Medic x3, Symbiont Gamma x2, Vines, Symbiont Alpha, Symbiont Beta); 2 foundation (Roots x2); 8 actions (Battle x4, Castling x2, Move, Small Bomb)
Neojungle is one of the more unusual factions, in part because it’s one of the more unusual concepts. Like SMART, Neojungle is a splinter of Moloch where the mechs fused with the jungles of the Amazon and began spreading their interpretation of it, known as the Motherland. Anything connected to the Motherland can take advantage of any modules connected to it, no matter where they are on the board. However, Neojungle is an entirely melee army, with no shooting at all, so it means that you’re going to be subject to a lot of abuse until you’re able to expand the Motherland far enough to reach your enemy. Your units can function independently of the Motherland, but most of them, other than the Slicers, can be fairly underwhelming if on their own. They’re slow, have no mobility (the faction has only one Move tile), and will usually just be picked off before they can bring their powerful attacks to bear.
However, if you do manage to spread across the board and have the Symbiont Beta (+1 initiative) or one of the Symbiont Gammas (+1 initiative and +1 melee) somewhere in the network, you can start to do some real damage when a fight rolls around. All the Symbionts have Armor and the Alpha and Beta have Toughness, so they can endure some problems. The key, of course, is guarding them against melee enemies with a unit that will operate faster than said enemy. Your 3(!) Net Fighters will also be key here, since that’s more than most factions have access to, which means they should be readily available to really interfere with enemy formations. The use of Small Bomb can also be important in breaking up opposing deployments until you’re able to slime your way in there. Medic modules also tend to be even more important to Neojungle than other factions. Many NH players don’t use Medics as well as they could. Being able to apply its effect anywhere on your board can be brilliant. Neojungle is also the other faction in the game that uses Venom, aside from those quirky Southerners. It only appears on the Nightshades, though, and while the ultimate move for any poison-using army is still in play (Poison the HQ!), it will be much more difficult with the plant mechs than with the humans. Neojungle is the one faction that I’ve never had a great deal of success with, but as with all of them, I continue to be educated with every game.
Sharrash: 16 warriors (Explosive x4, Mutant x3, Mortar x3, Rats x3, Plague x2, Beast); 9 modules (Medic x2, Transport x2, Scout, Mother, Officer, Landfill, Underworlds); 1 foundation (Hole); 8 actions (Battle x5, Move x2, Paralysis)
I played Warhammer Fantasy Battles for many, many years and played several armies while I was involved with the hobby. My all-time favorite and the only one I still own is the Skaven. Something about the viciously evil yet awesomely self-destructive race of ratmen appealed to my quaint sense of humor. So, when Portal released the Sharrash for Neuroshima Hex, I knew I’d be a fan. They remain one of my favorites, largely because they captured the identity of the Skaven so well; from the self-destructing Explosives to the cowardly HQ castling away every turn, this is the Skaven brought to (hex) life. It’s a largely melee-focused faction, as only the three Mortars can engage in ranged combat, but they can also do so by ignoring one blocker, so the lack of direct fire is often a bonus. But the melee attackers in question are also considerable threats, such as the dual-attacking Plagues with Mobility and Toughness, the triple damage Beast and, of course, the Mutants.
The latter are both fast (initiative 3) and also use Paralysis. That means that sticking a Mutant on an opposing HQ will require your opponent to remove it with something other than the HQ, since their base won’t be attacking for the rest of the game if they don’t get rid of it. Mutant efforts and the Paralysis tile can be turning moments in any number of fights, as your opponent loses important attacks that he/she was relying upon executing. You’d also think that, with one-shot units like Explosives or the specific-targeting Mortars, deployment could be a crucial concern for the Sharrash. However, the castling ability of the HQ obviates some of that, since you’ll always be able to protect your HQ better than most other factions in the game. Furthermore, if you’re fortunate enough to keep the Underworlds module out for a decent period of time, you’ll be able to hopscotch with any unit that you have in play. With two Transport modules and two Move tiles, the Sharrash can also engage some surprising movement capability for a mixed damage force. And, in my experience, one of the more disruptive tiles in the game is Hole, since you’ll frequently be able to drag an opponent’s unit out of its “perfect” position and be sure that it will be dead at the end of the next battle if he/she doesn’t make the effort to remove it. Hole is the “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!” tile of the game and is perfectly matched with the army that may have always been out there; even before Moloch destroyed the world.
Death’s Breath: 13 warriors (Infected x3, Gripper x3, Anomaly x2, Zombie, Mutant, Corpse, Devourer, Beast); 7 modules (Scout x3, Medic x2, Officer x2); 14 actions (Battle x8, Move x3, Reappearance x2, Castling with the Opponent)
Speaking of the living dead, we go from the union of plant and machine and the rat people to an intelligent virus that has infected everything organic, wholly or partially, in its path and become a threat in the Moloch zone. Most of this faction is based around the HQ’s passive ability, which allows it to place wound tokens where enemy units have died in battle and use those tokens to revive its own, improved warriors at the end of the fight. At first glance, many players immediately think that sounds outrageously powerful. And, draws and careful play permitting, they can be right. But draws aren’t under your control and neither is the timing of the opponent’s action tiles, so you can be stuck in situations where you simply can’t inflict enough wounds to take proper advantage of Revival. Given that Death’s Breath has 8(!) Battle tiles, you should be the one dictating when everyone gets to shootin’, most of the time. But, even when that happens, you have to be able to get the hits in and, with a solely melee-based faction once again, it can be challenging (see: Neojungle, Iron Gang, almost Borgo, etc.) The upside is that tossing your decent-but-not-great units out there to die can often lead to you having a force of pretty brilliant units the next time a fight rolls around.
What makes that even better is a couple of the tricks that DB can play, like Charge. Your Infected hit in two directions on two different initiative phases and can move into the space that they clear both times. Corpse does the same thing, but does it even better when it’s revived. Similarly, being able to recycle Devourer means that you can take your score from a losing position to a winning one (Narrow margins!) and even more easily when it returns. Also, don’t forget to take advantage of the versatility of Tentacles. Yes, it’s annoying when you have multiple Grippers and/or a Mutant out there and have to pick one to be your net fighter. But most net fighters don’t get to switch their target. You can do so on every turn and without sacrificing a precious Move tile. That makes them units that your opponent doesn’t want to deploy next to, because the trap can come down whenever you want it to, and not just when you happen to draw into a net or a Move. Your Scout modules are also huge, given the melee nature of your force and the mediocre average initiative that it possesses. Timing will be key with this faction and it’s one that I’d recommend for the often underused “Save” choice when you draw, moreso than most others. Just knowing that you might be able to trigger a fight and turn their units into more of yours is enough to make many players hesitant; almost like they’re afraid of the undead.
Mephisto: 1 “warrior” (Mephisto; the HQ); 27 modules (split into 12 actual modules: Claw x4, Accelerator x3, Probe x2, Toughener x2, Muzzle; and 15 Implants that require activation: Incubator x3, Jaws x2, Tail x2, Tentacles x2, Limbs x2, Left Quill, Right Quill, Transmitter, Drill); 7 actions (Battle x3, Move x2, Castling x2)
Now we get into the genuinely weird factions and, I’ll confess up front, Mephisto is probably my favorite faction in the game. It’s tempting to think of the big worm as just another runaway element of Moloch, like SMART and Neojungle. But there’s something more there, lurking deeper like the Sharrash or Death’s Breath. Maybe Mephisto has been resting beneath the radioactive soil for decades and just waiting to emerge when the world was thrown into chaos… The combo play provided by the dizzying array of modules and implants is one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in a game of NH. As you may have surmised over the course of these articles, my time with the game has shown me that utterly destroying an opponent’s HQ is a relatively rare event. Even games that I’ve won with a significant lead over the opposition have rarely ended before the final battle and usually with both HQs still extant. The majority of those rare events have come when I’ve been playing Mephisto. The opportunity to simply deal out chunks of damage to the enemy by getting the combination of Claw, Incubator, and Left or Right Quill in play comes up a lot more often than you’d think. Of course, given that you only have one thing to do damage with and usually up close and personal-like, you’re going to take some hits on the big worm, too. But that’s (hopefully) what the Quills are meant to alleviate.
Many people will talk up Muzzle as being a key element of play for Mephisto and, while I like it, I think that the Probes vastly outstrip it for essential modules. Given that you can rotate the HQ every turn, I often don’t find the lack of the other three attacks to be as important as being able to activate Quills AND an Incubator AND pick a fight (with Jaws) all in the same turn. It’s basically like getting to use all three of your draws, instead of having to discard one of them, which is breaking one of the cardinal rules of the game and, thus, giving you a ridiculous advantage. And, of course, RIP your opponent if you’re able to keep the Drill implant alive and repeatedly activated for any significant length of time. It’s possible to think of the Incubator as a replacement for Claws and the Accelerators, but remember that those latter two don’t need to be activated. They’re always on, no matter where you are on the board, so take some time to protect them. Their placement is malleable with the worm’s Rotate ability and their Armor, but keeping them away from nasty melee guys is useful, since you can’t remove the threat without taking time with your HQ away from their HQ. Or using a good Castle. Or Tentacles. Or a well-timed Acid Thrower. <<em>shudder> So many good options... Seriously. It doesn’t feel like proper NH. It feels better. Go try the worm.
Dancer: 3 “warriors” (Object Blue, Object Red, Object Yellow); 3 “modules” (Object Blue (Officer, ranged), Object Red (Officer, melee), Object Yellow (Scout, Healing); 32 actions (Battle x8, Move x10, Push Back x7, Action x7)
I can’t help it. Every time I think about this faction, this song comes into my head. That’s not saying anything detrimental about Dancer (especially if, y’know, you’re an ABBA fan.) It’s just a thing. Honestly, the theme, artwork, and incorporated mechanics behind the faction are awesome: The Outpost experimenting with a genetic, vat-grown superweapon to strike back against Moloch which breaks loose and tries to find its collective way in the world. I think it’s great. It’s also really difficult to win with. Unlike the other factions or even Mephisto, Dancer is such a departure from normal Neuroshima Hex that it takes a lot of practice to become competent with the Objects. The first problem that most players run into is that it becomes really difficult to find a viable position on the board when you’re outnumbered in the first couple turns and then for the rest of the game. We’ve all been in those situations where we draw a majority of action tiles and a minimum of placeable units, such that the opponent is able to build their position easily and pick off the scraps that you finally start drawing into. That’s going to be Dancer from the very beginning.
What makes them viable, of course, are the Action tiles, as you can use them to eliminate crucial parts of your opponent’s formation between actual fights, so without any risk to the Objects. Plus, you always have the option of the Dance to simply reset your position and try to get a better footing in subsequent turns. For any other faction, discarding all three tiles could be crippling. But for Dancer, it’s often merely a prelude to some proper violence. In many ways, it’s an utter contrast to a faction like Mephisto or Sharrash, where there are so many good things in the draw pile that you know you’re going to be able to get to something transformative. With Dancer, you work with what’s on the table. That’s a very different perspective for most NH players and I think it’s useful to have that kind of game every so often, since it gives you good training for doing the same with other factions and how to deal with those times when the draw simply isn’t working out. This faction, alone among all the rest, may be the one where focusing on the enemy HQ is actually detrimental to victory. Since you’re 50% ahead at the start (30-20), you’re not ill-served by simply clearing the board at every opportunity and maintaining that lead without turning toward the enemy HQ at all. The hindrance to that is, of course, that key attribute once again: Initiative. Dancer’s is pretty awful, so you’re going to take some hits in every regular fight, unless you can keep Object Yellow positioned perfectly. Let me know how it turns out. I’m’a be over here trying to keep a Power Supply in the right place…
Neuroshima Hex is a brilliant game. Its core concepts are easy to understand. It plays quickly. It has great lore behind it. The one criticism that can be targeted at it is that it really plays best as a two-player, so if your group is larger than that, it can be tough to find table time for it. One ameliorating factor is that you can play a game in 20 minutes, so even if you’re waiting for the rest of the group to arrive, you can get one in before you turn to something that plays more. But if you do have a regular 2-player partner, then you can spend hours and hours on just this game, matching different factions and seeing what works and what doesn’t. I hope my little tour through the post-apocalypse gave you some insight that might inspire you to try it out or bring it out more often.