Leaping Lemmings is adorable. It’s got cure art and a silly, though sort of morbid, theme where you are attempting to get your crew of genetically engineered lemmings to leap to their death in the most spectacular way. Mechanically, one of the big selling points of the game is that it’s an easy way to get your wife and kids to step into the world of war gaming since it has that silly theme and straight forward game play while simultaneously introducing basic concepts like hex to hex movement, zones of control and chit stacking limits. However, Leaping Lemmings is not really a game for wives and children; it is a brutal murderfest of in your face pugnacity that will have you reaching across the table to slap someone while threatening to choke the next bald eagle you see. Seriously, Steven Jr., watch your fucking back.
High pedigree war gaming designers John Poniske (King Phillip’s War, Hearts and Minds) and Rick Young (Europe Engulfed, FAB) show that apparently being awesome at making fun games about killing historical dudes translates really well into making fun games about the murder/suicides of adorable rodents.
The rules are super simple; start at one end of the map, move your little furballs to the other side based on the shared movement card drawn for the round and hopefully leap to a spectacular death off the far end of the map. And oh yeah, there are a couple of asshole eagles trying to eat your face the whole time. But rather than it being some automated system where you play against the game itself or any such nonsense, everyone gets a turn pointing those death dealing talons of misery at the enemy rodents. What this means in the practical sense is that every time you get fucked over, it is the direct result of someone specifically, and usually quite delightedly, picking you as the lucky recipient of their one way ticket to the bone zone.
For a “family game”, this is brutal stuff. If you have lemmings alive at the end, you did something wrong (or the game ended a little early). Yet despite all the adorable bloodshed throughout, ecological minded folks will at the least find some solace in the fact that far more lemmings end up kicking it Mufasa style feeding the eagle’s circle of life than those who live long enough to ritualistically off themselves at the end of the map.
Yet another wonderful aspect to all this carnage is that not only does each clan have a cute little theme which makes them more appealing to kill (eat the rich!), they are all individually named, many times after your own friends and family (which I think is what GMT and the designers did themselves). Personally, I take great joy in the fact that there is a lemming that shares a name with my most common gaming buddy; I don’t think that poor little dude has ever lived past his first move or two.
It’s not the greatest game of all time, but its short comings, if they can even be called that, are generally the result of conscious design decisions made in the interest of maintaining a level of accessibility and streamlined play. For example it might have been nice to have a little more variation between the clans or variances in the terrain, but that would change the overall vibe quite a bit and in reality I’m not convinced it would be good in the end anyway. The replay value comes not so much from there being so many interesting strategies to try out, though there are a lot more than you might think at first, but rather from the unbridled joy to be found in totally screwing your best buds over again and again. There is also a possibility for over thinking each move and bogging things down while you count out every possible option available to you, but you’d have to be a real deal serious ass fun murderer for that and bounce with those dudes anyways. Otherwise, the game plays along at a very fast clip. I think this kind of pacing is so important in a game with this level of screwage; before you have time to get too mad you have ample opportunities for revenge and it’s just as much fun to feel like you’re playing Job’s woe begotten fur clan as it is to rack up the VP since soon enough you’ll be on to the next round.
When it comes to the components, GMT have really been stepping up their production game and Leaping Lemmings is no exception. Both the physical and artistic elements are top drawer all the way. Along with Z-Man and FFG, I think GMT is really setting the high bar as far as overall production quality in hobby games these days.
I’ve played the game with a bunch of different groups and I think it’s one of those rare designs that goes over well with a huge variety of play styles and interests. If you want to get super serious it’s got enough meat to it to keep you interested but if you want to just drunkenly bash each other you’ll also have a great time. And, despite the hyperbole, I think it’s a great game for wives and kids too. It’s fast, it’s fun and it’s really a great time to play. This one gets two thumbs up. And a black eye.
Matt Loter is member of the Fortress: Ameritrash staff.