I really enjoy March of the Ants. It combines a unique thematic approach with grand strategy 4x gameplay and distills it down into a fun, tight experience. It hits just about every high note that 4x games are known for—exploration, expansion, exploitation, and extermination—without taking an entire day to play, and so, when designer Tim Eisner from Weird City Games reached out to me and offered to send over a prototype of their upcoming Minions of the Meadow expansion, I jumped at the opportunity.
Note: All components shown are prototypes, and are not necessarily representative of the final product.
Minions of the Meadow is great. If you already enjoy March of the Ants you are going to want it, and if you've been on the fence about getting it then wait no longer. The additions in Minions of the Meadow build upon the existing mechanics logically in ways that integrate perfectly with the theme. It doesn't just add new rules on top of the old though; it also adds quite a bit that fleshes out existing mechanics, expanding the strategic options of the core game in fun ways and encouraging players to interact with each other more often, both in combat, and out of combat.
The biggest new addition to the game are Aphids. Four new starting hexes, and a handful of new cards, allow players to place Aphids onto collection sites on hexes. Individual ants are able to herd one Aphid, and can move them around to different hexes. An individual Aphid doesn't do much on its own, but, as the number of Aphids in a hex grows, players are able to reap larger and larger benefits from successfully herding them with their ants. An unchecked Aphid farm can give one player a serious advantage, so the presence of Aphids increases the incentive for players to get more involved, and be more aggressive, in initiating direct inter-player confrontations. Aphids can also be consumed by players' ants, at the cost of a few "steps" during ant movement, in order to immediately draw a card. The ability to consume the Aphids for a short term benefit really adds that extra bit of "oomph" to the Aphid mechanics, turning it from interesting and fun to game-changing-excellent. The ability to chomp down on an Aphid in order to draw a card when your hand is depleted, and you know a battle is coming, is an awesome option to have.
Minions of the Meadow also introduces a new type of ant, called Major Workers. Major Workers are aptly named, as they can perform all of the actions that normal ants can and then some. Additionally, they get much more powerful as players play Evolutions into their colony. On top of the standard ant abilities, Major Workers allow players to place two Larvae into a contested hex to fight with them during the Soldier Phase of the game. This allows players to have a threatening military presence on the board at a lower food cost. Since Larvae don't need to be fed until they hit the board as ants, they can be kept in reserve, ready to be called in to fight as soon as they are needed along side the Major Workers.
New cards are also on offer that include new Events, Evolutions, and Colony Goals with some twists, including Parasitic cards and brand new Tactic cards. The Parasitic cards are played onto a player's opponents, who becomes the Host, while the player who played the card becomes the Parasite. The Parasite gets bonuses based on actions taken by the Host. It's not all doom and gloom for the Host player though, as many of the cards can have a small benefit to the Host player, and the Parasitic Evolutions can even help that player gain Colony Points by completing an Evolved Ant Body.
Tactic cards are played face down during combat and have various effects based on the outcome of the battle. Tactic cards are interesting in that they allow players to effectively "cheat" in effects, Evolutions, etc by playing them smartly during battles and, as with Parasitic Cards and Aphids, further increase the incentive for players to participate in direct player interactions with their opponents. The Tactic cards can also be used in battles against March of the Ants' Predators, and Minions of the Meadow beefs up that aspect of the game as well.
Minions of the Meadow adds two new Predators to the mix in the form of a Trapdoor Spider that jumps around to different hexes, eating ants as it goes, and a new Black Centipede that grows stronger over time. Both of these nasty creatures can be brought on to the board via cards played by the players, and they can be used as effective deterrents, or as smart-bombs by savvy players who want to throw a wrench into the gears of their opponents' plans.
The new additions in Minions of the Meadow are all worthwhile, yet each piece can easily be added or removed from the game modularly to accommodate players who may not like a certain piece, or simply to increase the game's already high replayability by playing with different pieces game to game. March of the Ants is already a great game in its own right, and Minions of the Meadow only makes it better. Everything included in the expansion meshes seamlessly with the core game, both mechanically and thematically. The Kickstarter is live now, and I strongly recommend backing it if you own March of the Ants, or if you have an interest in getting it.
The prototype copy of Minions of the Meadow used for this preview was provided by Weird City Games.