Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Black Death - Review

Black Death is a print and play game. That means you hand over some of your hard-earned and in return get your hands on compressed zip file that contains printable parts for the entire game. I might add that the designer, or rather whoever put the package together was very thoughtful and helpful!

The theme of this board game is virus' spreading across ancient Europe. Players take the parts of various virus' and the winner will be determined by which player manages to kill 30 million people first. The theme is a little on the sick side and the rules admit that and treat the whole thing a little tongue in cheek.

The board is based on a map of Europe. Large population areas are represented by white squares, that are used to place counters on. Very large concentrations/cities are made up of 2,3 or 4 such white boxes. Some boxes are marked with a +1 or a -1 and these are referenced when the virus attempt to spread.

Between the city boxes a number of paths are scribed, and these indicate the routes along which the Virus' may spread. Some such as those that require long sea journeys or paths across mountains have a -1 or -2 value indicating extra movement point costs.

With regards the print and play aspects of the board, the designer has been really helpful. Not only has a large single image been provided we have the same board broken down into four separate printable parts. But wait! Not only this, the board also comes in Black and White! These are really helpful, allowing you to print the board in a number of ways and thereby much more convenient to the average print-and-player.

The rules are well written and as I mentioned earlier a little tongue in cheek, but this does not get in the way of the clarity and straight forward explanation of how to play the game. It's all liberally sprinkled with historical information. This is a good set of well written rules.

Next we have small deck of cards. Players will get a card to start another once they kill 5 million, another at 10 and another at 20. These cards contain text that describes a one time use special effect. The player can play this as appropriate and it's then discarded. As with the board, the designer has provided this in colour and black and white.

Next up we have counters. Each virus has it's own colour and a pattern that is in fact a close up photo of some virus or bacteria that's been colourised. Each player has roughly about thirty counters. interestingly enough this is not enough counters to take over the whole map which is just as well or the more virulent virus would indeed take over the whole map!

Each player also gets a play mat for his virus. This describes some special features of the players virus, such as it more virulent in north because it is cold adapted. This mat also contains two numbered tracks, these allow you to track your virus' Virulence and Mortality. Before play starts you will spend 6 points across the two tracks and set your markers appropriately.

Finally there are some quick reference sheets that nicely summarise the playing process and rules.

So how do you play it? Very simply. You start by rolling two dice, you'll use one to try and spread your virus ( place more counters on the board in adjacent white boxes ). You ll then use the other as movement pips, allowing you to move your existing virus counters along the paths between white city boxes. You get choose which die you use for which virus.

When you're spreading your virus you one attempt per pip on the die. You roll the die and try to score equal to or less than your virus' Virulence rating, if you succeed you place your counter into the space ( removing any other there ). There are penalties and bonus that may be applied.

For movement, you may only move any one counter a single space and as I mentioned earlier some paths cost extra. Note that I said any counter, that includes your opponents pieces as well, and as some locations have paths that lead off the board your able to move the others players piece off the board!

The next phase is where you check for deaths caused. You roll a die and cross reference the result with your virus' Mortality. Results vary from one in two down to one in six or even "Cure". A result of one in six means you have to remove that portion of your counters from the board, but you do score one million deaths per one of these counters. So success costs you board position.

And that's it for your turn. Simple like I said.

Game play in my experience is going to be a couple of hours for newbies but could be considerably quicker for experienced players.

I really like this game. The simple mechanics hide the actual tactics in the game. very turn you will be carefully choosing where you attempt to infect and move. It's always advantageous to try and take over your opponents counters but that is harder than taking over an empty space. Careful play of your precious cards is also a hard choice as is using your Virus special abilities.

It's good. You can get it from WargameDownloads.com and RPGNow.com

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