RogerBW's Blog

Melee 19 January 2016

Melee, by Rikki Tahta, is the third of the games I was showing off at Essen 2015; it's an area-control wargame for 2-4 players.

Disclaimer: I demonstrated this game for Indie Boards and Cards at Essen SPIEL 2015 and received my copy as payment in kind.

On the face of it this is a fairly conventional small wargame: you have footsoldiers, knights and catapults, and you're trying to conquer the most territory on a very small map. However, it's raised above the commonplace by its combat mechanic, which is a classic Tahta bluffing game. When you attack, you tell the enemy how much money you have. You hide some of that money, at least one coin's worth, in your fist. The enemy has to try to guess how much you hid. If he's right, your unit is destroyed; if he's wrong, his is, but in either case you've spent the money (to motivate your troops to attack).

Then there are complications: a defender in a castle or in mountains can make two guesses, to represent the terrain advantage. A soldier can only move and attack once in a turn, while a knight can attack as often as he likes, and a catapult attacks all units in an area at once. Knights can't enter mountains and catapults can't fire into them, but catapults in mountains can fire further. Catapults and camps can't move or defend, but are turned to the attacker's side if attacked. And so on. They each individually make reasonable sense, but it's a lot of special cases to have to remember.

Special ability cards, bid on at the start of the game when you're setting up initial forces, can allow units to move further, fight more effectively, etc.

The major constraint, though, is the fixed game length: just five actions per player before it's all over. On your turn, you can raise money or spend it to recruit troops or take those troops off to war. And it can end even sooner: taking an enemy castle is an instant win for the conquering player. Even if it goes to full length, a game rarely takes more than twenty minutes.

The art deserves a note too: it's done in a pixelated video-game style, which is a bit odd but rather appealing.

This isn't one of my favourite games – if I'm wargaming I like to be doing more complex and involved wargaming – but it's more enjoyable than I expected, largely because of that combat mechanism. This is certainly one to play with a bit of table chat, rather than just the minimum amount of talking that's required. I can see myself pulling this down occasionally when I'm in the mood rather than having it out every session.

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