The ABCs of Gaming: N is for…

We’ve reached the Ns in the ABCs of Gaming.  N is for…

image by BGG user muka
Fantasy Flight version – image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Nexus Ops was designed by Charlie Catino and was originally published in 2005 by Avalon Hill.  Fantasy Flight published a second edition earlier this year, and those are the rules I’ll be using for this overview since I don’t think they changed much.  It’s a sci-fi wargame for 2-4 players ages 12 and up that takes around 90 minutes to play.  The game is played on a modular board, and battles take place between different races of aliens that have different powers.  Nexus Ops won the poll that ran shortly after the announcement of a second edition, but well before the release, with 17.7% of the vote.

Layout – image by BGG user Abyad

One of the most striking things about the original Nexus Ops was the transluscent neon pieces.  Fantasy Flight, of course, redid the sculpts in their own style.  There are 164 plastic figures – 12 Rubium Dragons, 16 Lava Leapers, 24 Rock Striders, 32 Crystallines, 32 Fungoids, and 48 Humans.  There are 17 terrain tiles – 7 single hex tiles, 6 double hex tiles, and 4 triple hex tiles (those are home bases).  You also get 96 cardboard tokens – 24 exploration, 71 rubium, and a first player marker.  Additionally, there are cards – 32 Energize cards, 36 secret mission cards, and 40 Battle Victory/King of the Hill cards.  You also get 6 six-sided dice and 4 reference sheets.

At the start of the game, everyone will get a faction, taking the reference sheet and associated beasties (3 dragons, 4 leapers, 6 striders, 8 crystallines, 8 fungoids, and 12 humans).  The terrain is set up with the monolith tile in the middle, the other six single hexes randomly arranged face down in a circle around it, and the six double hexes likewise randomly placed around those.  Each player’s home base is placed in a position determined by the number of players before the terrain tiles are revealed.  A random exploration token is placed facedown on each hex (except home bases and the monolith).  The first player starts with 8 rubium, and each subsequent player receives three more rubium than the player before them (11, 14, 17).

Nexus Ops is turn-based, so each player takes a turn before the next player does.  On your turn, there’s a deployment phase, a movement phase, an exploration phase, a battle phase, a mining phase, and a draw phase.

DEPLOYMENT: During this phase, you can buy and place new units.  Each unit has certain attributes:

  • Humans cost 2 rubium each.  They can’t enter magma terrain or the monolith, and during combat, hit on a 6+.  They also battle last.
  • Fungoids cost 3 rubium each.  They can’t enter the monolith, and hit on a 5+ during combat (in the forest, it’s 4+, and in the crystal spires, it’s 6+).  They battle fifth.
  • Crystalline cost 3 rubium each.  They can’t enter the monolith, and hit on a 5+ during combat (in the forest, it’s 6+, and in the crystal spires, it’s 4+).  They battle fourth.
  • Rock Spiders cost 6 rubium each.  They move two hexes when moving through rock plains, and hit on 4+ during combat.  They battle third.
  • Lava Leapers cost 8 rubium each.  They move two hexes when moving through magma pools, and hit on 3+ during combat (2+ in magma pools).  Additionally, on a 5+, you get to choose the casualty.  They battle second.
  • Rubium Dragons cost 12 rubium each.  It can move to any hex from the monolith.  If a dragon is in a controlled hex at the end of its movement, it may make a free attack on an adjacent hex that hits on 4+.  In standard battle, a 2+ hits for the dragon.  They battle first.

Units are placed in your home base.  You are limited by the number you have in your supply, and defeated units go back to your supply for future purchase.

MOVEMENT: Here, you may move each of your units once.  They only move one hex (unless an ability allows you to move more).  Movement stops immediately when you enter a hex with enemy units (again, unless an ability changes that).  You cannot move from a contested hex to another contested or enemy-controlled hex (control is determined if one player has the only units in the hex – contested means that there are multiple units in the hex).

EXPLORATION: Reveal any facedown exploration tokens in hexes where your units are present.  You may get new units, or it may be a refinery where you can mine, or both.

BATTLE: You’ll now battle in each contested hex where your units are present.  There’s a specific battle order – all Dragons attack first, followed by the Lava Leapers, followed by the Rock Striders, etc.  Each player rolls one die simultaneously for each of the battling creatures in the hex, scoring a hit for each result that matches the combat value.  Each hit results in the removal of one of your opponent’s units, and your opponent gets to choose which one goes (this is why you want humans around – they’re expendable).  If the attacker succeeds in destroying all of his opponent’s units, he gets to draw a Battle Victory card.  If the defender loses, he gets to draw an Energize card.

MINING: Collect rubium from each refinery in a hex you control that contains one of your miners (humans, fungoids, or crystalline).

DRAW: Draw one Secret Mission card.  These are revealed when fulfilled, stay hidden until then.

The game plays until one player gets to 12 or more victory points, or when another player is eliminated from the game.  You can be eliminated if all your units are off the board and you can’t afford any more.  In either case, the player with the most points wins.

Nexus Ops is really a fairly light wargame.  There’s some good tactical decisions to be made – stock up on humans, when to buy the big fighters, where you need to put more forces, etc.  The randomness of the dice rolls can mess things up for you (the one time I played, one guy probably broke a record for the most ones rolled), but the units you’ll be losing most of the time are pretty cheap.  The secret missions add another layer of randomness, but it’s all pretty well balanced.  As I said, I’ve played the game once, and it was pretty fun.  More fun than I thought it would be, in fact.  It helped that I won, but that just goes to show you how accessible it is – I’m not a wargamer, but was still able to pick up on the strategy enough for the win.

I’m OK with Nexus Ops winning this letter.  I did not vote for it, I voted for No Thanks (more on that in a moment).  However, I do think this is probably an excellent gateway to heavier wargames, and I think I would suggest it to people interested in trying out the genre, but don’t have ten hours to spare on a single scenario.

Let’s take a look at the rest of the poll:

  • No Thanks! came in second with 15.2% of the vote.  This filler by Thorsten Gimmler was my pick in the poll.  I love its simplicity – you can explain the game in about two minutes, and play it over and over and over.  It’s a classic push your luck game where you’re trying not to get points.  If you’ve never played it, you need to – it’s great.
  • Navegador (2010) and Notre Dame (2007) tied for third with 14.5% of the vote.  Navegador was the highest ranked game on the list, and is the second highest ranked game in the rondel series of Mac Gerdts (Imperial is the highest).  Notre Dame is a big box game from alea and Stefan Feld, and is  one that I really like.
  • Neuroshima Hex (2006) came in fifth with 12.6% of the vote.  Another sci-fi fighting game, though this one is closer to an abstract game.  I’ve never played the physical version, but I’ve been enjoying the iPad app.
  • Other came in sixth with 8% of the vote.  Nominees included Napoleon’s Last Battles, Napoleonic 20, The Napoleonic Wars, Navia Dratp, Nemo’s War, Neuland, New York Chase, Ninja: Legend of the Scorpion Clan, Nottingham, Nuclear War, and Nuns on the Run.  I haven’t played any of them.
  • Netrunner (1996) came in seventh with 6.2% of the vote.  This cyberpunk themed game was Richard Garfield’s much less successful collectible card game.  Many people consider it to be better than Magic, but it’s been long out of print.  Reprints are always rumored.
  • Napoleon’s Triumph (2007) came in eighth with 5.8% of the vote.  I don’t really have much to say about this, or the rest of the poll winners.  This one is a Napoleonic wargame.
  • Necromunda (1995) came in ninth with 2.8% of the vote.  A miniatures wargame from the Warhammer universe.
  • Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign, 1815 (1974) came in tenth with 1.6% of the vote.  Another Napoleonic wargame.
  • Nefertiti (2008) came in eleventh with 1.2% of the vote.  An Egyptian themed auction game that is not Ra or Amun-Re.

And that does it for N.  Thanks for reading!

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