Diving back into the post-apocalyptic survey of Neuroshima Hex factions.
There have been some developments in the world of Neuroshima Hex in the two years since I wrote my original series and Portal shows no sign of slowing down, with rumors of even more factions emerging every few months. So I thought I'd dive back in and explore not only the one faction I left out in my initial assessment because of scarcity (and absurdity), but also the two new factions that have emerged since the Sand Runners wandered in from the desert. Thus, I present: Doomsday Machine, Troglodytes, and Beasts.
Doomsday Machine: Warriors x17 (Alpha Shooter x2, Gauss Cannon x2, Gamma Shooter, Tripler x2, Delta Shooter, Omega Shooter x4, Doom Net Fighter x2, Fireblast x2, Trap), Modules x11 (Medic x5, Officer x2, Scout x2, Main War Processor x2), Actions x6 (Battle x4, Push Back, Small Bomb.)
So, flat out: this faction is insane. It was originally released as a promotion along with the 3.0 version of the main game and has long carried the label "This particular army may not be played in tournaments." That warning is partially because of the highly unusual circumstances that its various redirection warriors can create, but also because the army itself can very easily become unstoppable against almost any other faction in the game. Whereas most armies are about proper positioning for when the next battle emerges, the redirection capabilities of the Fireblasts, Doom Net Fighters, and Triplers obviate some of that concern and strategic thinking. As long as you can get a shot into an entry point, you can redirect said shooting to the target of your choice (or, in the case of Tripler, three targets of choice.) With the HQ's ability to rotate any unit once per turn, the game of positioning becomes even less of a concern. While all of the Shooters except the Gauss Cannon are your typical ranged units and few of them with a good initiative (only Alpha Shooter has a 3), there's a fair amount of Armor and Toughness mixed in, along with double attacks from Delta and successive attacks from Gamma. It's relatively easy to set up a field of fire where even opposing units with their own Toughness will be easily eliminated and, again, with the redirection abilities, Armor usually isn't as much of a concern as you'd expect for a faction with no melee attacks whatsoever.
On top of that, Doomsday is the only faction other than Neojungle with modules that function at a distance. And, unlike the latter, they don't have to be connected to a constant network that can easily be interrupted. Doomsday modules can simply function one space away from their intended recipient; again, often removing the need to make tough choices about placement and, as many players do, sacrificing a module to keep a warrior alive. On the contrary, Doomsday can often keep its 5(!) Medics out of direct harm's way and make sure that their warriors get the aid that's coming to them. The only modules that don't have that particular advantage are the Scouts, which can be important when faced with a fast army like Borgo. But the mass destruction enabled by the other tools at Doomsday's disposal means that even losing a key unit or two to some fast attacks won't make up for the swaths of devastation one can accomplish with a Gauss Cannon hooked up to a Tripler. The one area of potential weakness for Doomsday is in the action tiles, since it only has 4 opportunities to start a fight and only one Push Back to enable rearrangement of the board. But, again, with a free rotation and the diverse angles of its attacks, that usually isn't a huge problem. If any nut is too hard to crack, Small Bomb can often be just the softener required, as well. Dropping Trap in a key location to clear out multiple enemies is yet another quandary for anyone facing Doomsday. Despite the tone of my description, I don't dislike the faction, per se. It can present some interesting puzzles. But I usually find that it breaks one too many of the game's essential rules and rarely has effective counters. When I've won games by significant margins (15+ to 0) before the last battle even occurs, it's almost always been with Doomsday.
Troglodytes: Warriors x22 (Frost x2, Archer x2, Tundra x4, Icicle x5, Bear x3, Icy Mistress x2, Ice Monkey x2, Kids x2), Actions x12 (Battle x7, Move x3, Avalanche, Cannibalize the Enemy)
In contrast, Troglodytes introduce a main mechanic that makes things quite challenging for the user to wrap their mind around: Cannibalize. Every warrior in the faction can feed on another warrior, removing them for bonuses to their own effectiveness. Most often it's for a basic Initiative or melee damage boost. However, said boost lasts for the entire game unless you choose to swap it out for another one (which, of course, means removing yet another of your units.) However, the HQ and the Bears allow for Greater Satiety markers to be placed which are either more effective (+2 to Initiative or melee) or more exotic (double Toughness or double Mobility.) The key to the Bears' Bloodlust is that it allows the greater bonus to be provided if they're Cannibalizing or if they're the one being Cannibalized. In that respect, timing your once-per-turn devouring of your friends becomes really important, as you'd like the boosted unit to have some staying power when the next fight comes along and not necessarily lose two units for a one-time effort by the feeding warrior. In that respect, Troglodytes presents a steeper learning curve than many other factions. One more obvious aspect is that placing your HQ centrally to expose as many units as possible to the option of Gourmet (Greater Satiety tokens) is probably a wise approach. With only four units that have shooting attacks (Archers (surprise!) and Kids), you're often dependent on proper positioning and dishing out as much melee damage as you can inflict before your guys die, similar to Borgo. However, being able to shoot units from what most Hex players would consider an oblique angle (along the lines of the hexes) can create some interesting traps for your opponent. Unlike Borgo, though, Troglodytes are not a high Initiative army, which further emphasizes the need for proper Cannibalism to speed up your execution in battle.
Similar to Iron Gang, this faction is all about warriors, with only a module function available to the two Frost units. Said function is also only about freezing other modules (similar to netting them) which I've found to be generally subpar in its effectiveness; to the point where I basically ignore that it's there and simply take advantage of having a 3 Initiative, bi-directional melee warrior. Against certain armies that are dependent on their modules (Neojungle, Moloch), Freezing is significantly more impactful than I've usually found it to be, but overall it's pretty lacking. Troglodytes is much more able in the action token realm, with a healthy dose of Battle tokens allowing them to choose when to Cannibalize before a fight and Move tokens to help make up for the general lack of agility for the army (only Rotation on the Archers and Push Back on the Kids.) But the Avalanche token can be massive to deal with dug-in shooter nests (uh, see above) and Cannibalizing the enemy, even if only once, can be huge in a crucial fight, as you can remove a key opponent and boost one of your own guys. That removal is key to the faction's lack of mobility, as well, since part of learning their strategy is realizing when clearing a space, even at a cost of one of your own, can put you in a far more advantageous position for the upcoming battle that you're about to trigger. A Frost in a bad spot that a tri-directional attack Icicle would make better use of? Chow down and boost something that's already there and then turn your position into a far more threatening one. Again, it's the gradual education of when to make that sacrifice that is key to really succeeding with this army.
Beasts: Warriors x17 (Cerberus, Alpha, Hive x2, The Ram x4, Acid-Spit x2, Bug x2, Urchin x2, Vulture x2, Arachnid), Modules x6 (Ranger x3, Officer I x2, Scrabbler), Actions x12 (Move x2, Battle x6, Hunt, Grab x3)
Speaking of factions with more difficult strategies, welcome to Beasts, the faction that kills its own units and doesn't even benefit from it! Careful counters will notice that the above number of tiles comes to 35, rather than the usual 34, plus HQ. Beasts is unique in having 36 tiles, since the HQ is effectively two tiles, with the Cerberus unit always being attached. The other unique aspect is that, unlike every other faction in the game, your attacks on all but 6 units in the army (plus the HQ) can damage and remove your own units because of a trait called Friendly Fire. Herein lies the most basic of Neuroshima Hex mantras: Positioning is important. However, in all other cases, one can build a position that ignores the multi-directional aspects of your units' attacks. That's not the case here and you'll have to account for potential losses inflicted by your own forces in every forthcoming struggle. What makes this even more challenging is the fact that Beasts is an almost all-melee army, with only two units (Acid-Spit) with a ranged attack (which doesn't have Friendly Fire, thankfully.) There are some more subtle advantages built in, such that units with four (The Ram) and five (Hive) directions of attack have a higher Initiative (2) than is often found in other armies, which means they'll get those multiple attacks off more often than not. But they can still regularly be killing your own units to no appreciable gain for you. Also, the overall Initiative level of Beasts isn't an obvious advantage, unlike Borgo. Similarly, having a solid unit like Cerberus automatically protecting one side of your HQ is a real help. But having its Mobility limited to orbiting around that HQ- which lacks any other ability to aid the rest of your army -can be of questionable use if your opponent is heavy on shooting and simply stays away from you.
That's not to say that it's all bad. Vulture is one of the best units in the game, in any army, since it can't be hit by melee (which means it can sit there and pick on your opponent's HQ for the entire game without dying to the HQ's attack) and can move to any empty space on the board after each battle, which is huge. In direct contrast, Arachnid, which would be a brilliant net fighter in most forces, is difficult to use at all without very specific placement circumstances, since it nets your guys, as well. Likewise, the Agony ability on Bug and Urchin, which allows them to strike when dying to a higher Initiative enemy is interesting, but the likelihood of being able to use it to target enemies across the board as suggested in Beasts' manual is very low. To compensate for the mostly melee nature of the faction, the Grab action and the Scrabbler module present the long-awaited converse to Push Back, as you can bring opponents up close and personal where you'd like them to be. The Hunt is also an interesting tile, as it combines both re-positioning and attack in one. But, so far, Beasts is the first faction I've ever encountered where your own positioning is often more detrimental than what your opponent creates. I don't want to declare the army a "failure" because it's the newest and I've obviously had fewer games with it than any other. But I have to say that all of the games in which I have played Beasts have been well below the usual enjoyment that comes with playing with the Hex people. It feels like there was another design idea right on the cusp of what Beasts is presenting and which didn't quite make it. I'm definitely open to more positive opinions, though.
So, that's the latest in the Neuroshima world. Despite what sounds like a mixed bag, I'm definitely still interested in whatever new factions Portal might come up with, as I really like Sand Runners and am also a fan of Troglodytes. Doomsday Machine also remains good for a laugh and a potentially really challenging game, if that's what you're looking for in the post-apocalypse. (Is there a "post-" scenario for a faction called "Doomsday"?)