Buzzworthiness: Leviathan

Thanks to Past Go Gaming for providing a review copy of today’s game.

Call me Ishmael.  Actually, never mind, don’t call me that, that’s ridiculous.  Instead, let’s talk about

image by BGG user designer78

Leviathan is a two-player game by Greg Loring-Albright that is to be published by Past Go Gaming, pending the success of its current Kickstarter campaign.  The game is based on Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby-Dick.  One player controls Moby Dick and a pod of whales, while the other controls Captain Ahab and his crew.  Both sides have one goal – destroy the other.

Leviathan will come with 18 cards.  That’s it.  Ahab gets four ship cards, three tactical cards, and a directional card.  Moby gets six whale cards (two of which represent a trick of the light), three tactical cards, and a directional card.  Ahab sets up his side of the table by placing the Pequod on the edge, pointing towards the other side of the table.  Moby sets up by mixing the six whale cards and placing them all on the opposite edge, face down so Ahab doesn’t know which is which.

image by BGG user chansen2794 – prototype components

The whales go first.  One by one, each whale will make one movement.  This is accomplished by placing the directional cards that the back is touching the arc on the whale’s back and the front is pointing in the direction you want to go.  You’ll then move the whale so that the back of the card is touching either the minimum or maximum line.  Every whale will move, and whales can touch each other with no consequences.

Once you’ve completed this movement, you will choose from one of three options for your second action.  You could do an extra movement with one of your whales.  You could also choose to do an underwater movement, which means that you flip a whale 180 degrees around or switch the positions of two hidden whales.  The other option is to perform an attack, which you can do if your whale is touching a ship.  I’ll explain attacks in a minute.

After the whales, it is Ahab’s turn.  First, you move each of your ships (in the beginning, just the Pequod).  This is just like moving the whales.  Next, you’ll choose from one of two options for your second action – an extra movement with one ship, or drop a ship off the side of the Pequod.  This is how you’ll get extra ships in play.  The final thing you can do is an attack.  Note that this is your third action for the turn, NOT an option for the second action as it is for the whales.

Attacks are very simple.  They can occur when a whale and ship are touching.  If the whale is face down, it gets flipped face up before the attack starts.  If it’s a “trick of the light”, it is removed and no attack takes place.  Every whale and ship has an attack and defense value.  If the defense is higher than the attack, nothing happens.  If the attack is higher than the defense, the attack is successful.  If a whale is defeated, it is removed.  If a ship is defeated, it is capsized.  If the Pequod ever crosses that ship’s spot again, the crew is rescued.  You don’t get the boat back, but the Ahab player gets a tactical card back (each player has three tactical cards which can be used at any time, but each can only be used once per game).

The game ends when the whales destroy the Pequod, or when the ships kill Moby Dick.

image by BGG user designer78

COMPONENTS: I received a prototype copy of this game, so I can’t speak to final component quality.  It is kind of cool that they were able to fit a tactical battle game based on one of the longest and densest books in American history into just 18 cards.  The cards are laid out well – there’s not a whole lot of information on the ships and whales other than the arcs to help maneuver through the water.  The arcs on the whales are longer than those on the ships, which makes sense thematically.  I will say that my copy came to me with sleeves, and I don’t think I would recommend that while playing.  A lot of the game is dependent on cards staying in place, and the sleeves really made the cards too slick for us, especially when measuring distance.

THEME: My confession at this point is that I’ve never read Moby Dick.  I know the general arc of the story, I think – Captain Ahab is intent on revenge after the white whale took his leg, and comes up the loser in the final battle between the two.  I know, I know, that’s a ridiculous oversimplification of one of the great works of literature, but again, I haven’t read it.  So I’m only working off of the way this game plays.  It makes sense that the ships are less maneuverable than the whales, and it makes sense that you really have to be on top of your target before attacking them – it’s the 19th century, not a galaxy far far away.

MECHANICS: The interesting thing about Leviathan is that you get the mechanisms of a miniatures based game like X-Wing condensed down into an 18-card game (I only say X-Wing because I otherwise have zero experience using measurement tools in movement).  Rather than having several different lengths, the measurement has been boiled down to a single card you can overlay, and that showing two distances.  Directions are condensed down to a single arc on the moving card.  It’s a pretty cool system in its simplicity.

Combat in this game is very easy to understand.  If you have a higher attack value than your opponent’s defense, you win and they are destroyed.  There’s no dice, and no random factors to determine the outcome.  In fact, there’s no randomness at all in the game.  There is some hidden information as the whales are secret at first, but they get revealed soon enough.  The tactics cards give the players a little extra they can do on top of the standard movements, and help to add a little more asymmetry to the proceedings.

STRATEGY LEVEL: Leviathan is a fairly tactical game.  There’s no randomness in the game, which means that the players are completely in control of how things play out.  So it becomes a battle of wits – where will you send your whales, where will you send your ships, when will you use your tactical cards, and so on.  You only have one goal in the game depending on your side – destroy the Pequod or kill Moby Dick.  There aren’t multiple paths to victory, just the one thing to do.  So it could be said that your basic strategy is to accomplish your goal, and you have to perform all kinds of tactical maneuvers to accomplish that.

ACCESSIBILITY: There aren’t a lot of complicated rules in the game, so it’s fairly easy to pick up.  The theme might be a turn off to some – it is, after all, about whaling – but Moby Dick is a well-respected book, and that might help people with their enjoyment of the game.

REPLAYABILITY: The two sides of this game play very differently, which means that you can get a new experience depending who you are.  The real thing that affects replayability for me, however, is enjoyment of this type of game.  I’m not really big on tactical combat games, so I don’t find myself wanting to play it often.  That’s more of a me problem than it is a game issue, however.  I do like some of the suggestions in the rules, especially that of using obstacles – just put cups or something around the play space as areas you cannot cross.

SCALABILITY: This is only a two-player game.  I don’t really think you could have more players without making it some kind of team game.

INTERACTION: The very nature of this game is interactive – everything your opponent does will drive everything you do.  This is not a “do-your-own-thing” game.

FOOTPRINT: The games is only 18 cards, but you still need some room to move around – 2-3 feet of table space on each side is recommended.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I don’t really think that this is a game for me.  That’s not to say it’s a bad game – I just don’t really tend to go for this type of tactical one-on-one battle games.  If you’re the type of person who is looking for a good tactical combat game that can be played in a short amount of time and can be carried around anywhere, then definitely look into this one.

Thanks again to Past Go Gaming for providing a prototype copy of Leviathan for review, and thanks to you for reading!

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