Neuroshima Hex 3.0 is a fantastic game. Set in a post-apocalyptic Mad Max style world, it places each player in control of one of four vastly different armies. The amount of strategic and tactical depth on display in Neuroshima Hex 3.0 is staggering, and the conflict that comes into focus as you play is brutal, bloody and incredibly interesting. The most amazing thing about the game is that it manages to not only be complex, deep and fun but oozes theme and has a playtime that clocks in at 30-ish minutes. It successfully accomplishes all of these things as an abstract tile-laying game.
Indeed, Neuroshima Hex 3.0 is a tile laying game. Each player's army is represented by 35 hexagonal tiles, three drawn at random each turn, that players take turns placing on to a fixed grid on the game board. Once the final space on the grid is filled with a tile, a battle begins and units act based on their initiative. While placing tiles, players need to protect their army's Headquarters from sustaining damage while simultaneously attempting to deal as much damage to their enemy's HQ as possible. Players play until one Headquarters has taken 20 damage or until all tiles have been played and a final battle has been fought. If both players' HQ's are still alive after the final battle the player whose HQ has sustained the least amount of damage is the winner.
Upon first blush, the best strategy seems to be to place your biggest baddest dudes next to the enemy HQ and let them bash away. What keeps the game interesting, and the main reason that there is more to consider, is the asymmetry of the different factions in the game. Smart placement that plays to your chosen faction's strength is far more likely to be successful while ignoring the things that play to your opponent's strengths can often lead to a swift and punishing defeat.
While there is a random element to the game, with three tiles being drawn per player turn, the fact that each deck only consists of 35 tiles means that even if your opponent gets their heavy hitters out early in the game, you can be confident that you will be drawing yours at some point and should be able to even the odds. Even though three tiles are drawn per turn, each player is required to discard one of those three before they take action on their turn. Tiles that may not seem useful at one moment in the game can absolutely swing the battle in another moment. It is possible to overextend yourself if you get too anxious and smart play can turn a game from one that looks like a landslide defeat into a come-from-behind victory.
The game box also contains 55 puzzle cards that outline certain, increasingly difficult scenarios and then task the player with figuring out how to solve the puzzle using the conditions and resources outlined on the card. These are an absolutely fantastic addition to the game. Not only do the cards provide interesting and fun puzzles for the player to work through, but they also help teach strategy and highlight the tactical abilities of the different units in the game. With the solution listed on the back of each card, they are not only a great way to get better at the game but are also and ton of fun to try to work through.
A note on balance: The armies in Neuroshima Hex 3.0 are asymmetric and feel and play very differently from one another. Moloch is slow yet tough and has a lot of ranged attackers and the ability to call in a devastating air strike. Borgo's units tend to act quickly and are very mobile. Hegemony tend to like to get up close and personal and hit hard in melee. Outpost units tend to like to move around the board and keep their distance.
Despite the differences in the army layouts and abilities, the game is extremely well balanced. There is no single 'best' faction and clever play can triumph over sheer might. Another great thing about the unique factions is that they not only keep the game fresh for players who like to switch between factions but allow players to choose and focus on their preferred faction, which in turn allows players to come up with different strategies and tactics to use in various situations.
A note on player count: Neuroshima Hex 3.0 can be played with 2-4 players out of the box. While it can be fun to add in additional players and play in team games or play an all out chaotic free-for-all, the game is at its absolute best when played head to head with 2 players.
A note on “chrome”: The art and components in Neuroshima Hex 3.0 are excellent. The iconography in this version is much easier to understand than in prior versions, and the art is clean, clear, evocative, while the art style is consistent. The box, while standard size for a board game, has more room than is necessary for the included components, although that is a very good thing if you plan on picking up any of the army expansions. The game box also includes four spinning HQ life counters that, while neat, are completely unnecessary as the board itself has a track to keep tally on. Even though they are unnecessary, they are a fun little bonus and can be used in any game, such as Magic The Gathering, that require players to keep track of a 20 point life total.
The bottom line:
Neuroshima Hex 3.0 is a fantastic, fun and deep game. Despite its abstract tile-laying game-play, the theme is surprisingly strong and each army feels unique and powerful. Neuroshima Hex 3.0 is amazingly well-balanced considering the asymmetry of the factions, and it's a ton of fun to try to outwit and outplay your opponent. The quick play-time and tense, thoughtful game-play make this a wonderful 'filler' game to play between other, longer games although it stands on its own and it's hard to resist the temptation to shuffle up the tiles and play 'just one more quick match'. The inclusion of the puzzle cards is icing on this already excellent cake.
Get this game if:
You enjoy head to head strategy games.
You enjoy games with asymmetrical factions.
You enjoy the post-apocalyptic theme.
You want to play a game with great depth and strategic options that plays in 30 minutes or less.
Avoid this game if:
You dislike head to head conflict.
Neuroshima Hex 3.0 can be purchased directly from Portal Games here.
Rules for Neuroshima Hex 3.0 can be found here.
The copy of Neuroshima Hex 3.0 used for this review was provided by Portal Games.