Gammarauders


TSR, 1987, 2-6 players, ages 10 and up. In Gammarauders, each player controls a "Cryptic Alliance" - a collection of soldiers, hovertanks, gammajets and a large "Bioborg". The object of the game is to trash the fortress (home base) of each of the other players. The first player to do so wins.

Playing pieces are typical 80's-style stuff (IE, lots and lots of chintzy little cardboard chits and flimsy playing cards). The board consists of twelve different hexagons that are arranged differently each time you play. Each player starts with a fortress card (upon which their fortress defenders are placed), a fortress counter (placed on the board), 5 cards drawn from the card deck, 12 army units (the aforementioned soldiers, hovertanks and gammajets), a bioborg counter, and a large bioborg card (upon which weapon cards are placed).

Turns start out by dealing out the turn order cards (IE, turn order is random each time). Each player then draws a new card (cards are either weapons, reinforcements or "factoids"). Factoid cards (generally speaking) give your forces some sort of one-shot benefit and then go away. Next, "pods" are placed at random spots on the board (once picked up, pods can be burned to either generate reinforcements, repair a trashed fortress, or give you an extra die roll in combat). Next, players play cards or burn pods to build reinforcements (placing them on their fortress). Next, players move their forces around the board (soldiers move 3 spaces, tanks move 4, bioborgs move 6 and jets move anywhere). Each area on the board represents a different type of terrain, thus interfering with movement (EG, tanks can't move through mountain spaces and soldiers can't move through water spaces). Much of a player's movement involves trying to collect pods (only soldiers and bioborgs can transport them).

Once everyone has moved, the fighting begins. This is generally limited to opposing forces that wound up in the same space, although some forces have the ability to fight at range. The combat system is pretty simple - basically the attacker and defender add up the combat values of their forces - 1 point each for the army units and the combat value of any weapon card used (weapons can only be used by a bioborg or by a fortress). Each side then gets a number of dice thrown in as well (which can be increased by burning pods). The loser loses any weapon he used, a card from his hand, and some or all of his army units (depending on how far apart the respective die rolls wound up being). If an attacker succeeds in defeating another player's fortress, he is awarded with a trophy. Once a player has a trophy from each of the other players he wins the game.

The main power in the game are the bioborgs. Players place weapon cards on them (the power of which varies depending on the combat value printed on the card). Whenever a bioborg is involved in a fight, the owner chooses which weapon card is being used. If a bioborg ever loses a fight, said weapon card is discarded. If a bioborg loses its last card, it has to go back to the owner's fortress and can't be redeployed again until such time as it is refit with new weapon cards. Fortresses use cards in a similar fashion when defending against an attack (played from the defenders hand as opposed to being placed on the fortress card). Once a fortress has lost a battle (been trashed) the owner cannot deploy reinforcements until such time as it has been rebuilt (by burning a pod). Until it has been rebuilt, it also can't be attacked by another player.

This is an decent enough game, I suppose. The rules are clear and concise and you can get started playing pretty quickly. Then again, it does have a number of problems. First off, everything is just too danged big. The hexagonal board pieces eat up most of good sized table, leaving precious little room for the giant bioborg cards (and everything else). This game is much more fun with a lot of players (forget about a two-player game - totally boring), but good luck finding a table large enough to accommodate a five or six player game. Aside from being cheap and chintzy, the game chits are supremely annoying insofar as they are printed with a different army unit on each side (IE, you have to be very careful not to accidentally flip them over and turn your army of gammajets into a bunch of foot-slogging soldiers).

The strategic aspect of the game (as far as building up forces is concerned) is pretty simplistic. Ultimately, the game boils down to a lot of chess-like movement - IE, trying to get a lot of guys with a lot of pods over to somebody else's fortress in order to trash it. And in that regard, the factoid cards inject way too much randomness into the equation. You can spend a number of turns moving forces around in workman-like fashion, only to have somebody play a "teleport" card and come swooping in from out of the blue with all his forces. Another problem is with the bioborgs and their special abilities (generally an enhanced movement ability or combat bonus). An interesting idea, but they seem pretty unbalanced (with some special abilities being markedly superior to the others).

This game reminds me a lot of Avalon Hill's "Monsters Menace America" game (and who knows? MMA might actually be some sort of Gammarauders knock-off). However, I think MMA pulls off the basic concept of "giant creatures running around and smashing stuff" a whole lot better.



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