Thursday, November 19, 2015

Strange attraction

Most board games fall into one of two broad categories: they are either a race, where the goal is to accomplish something before your opponents do, or they are a fight, where the goal is to attack your opponents and defend yourself from their attacks. Player interaction in race games tends to be minimal, with players generally more concerned with reaching their own goals, and their opponents' progress acting as a clock to be beaten.

At its core, Gravwell is a race game, but every move depends on what the other players are doing. Players play movement cards in an effort to be the first to move their space ship along a linear path from the center of the board to the edge. It sounds simple, but it's not.

At the start of each round, players draft from an array of card stacks consisting of one face up and one face down card. Cards represent different elements that the space ships are able to gather on their journey away from the black hole at the center of the board. Most of the cards will move a  player's ship anywhere from 2-10 spaces along the board. The catch, however, is that ships must always move in the direction of the nearest other ship, wherever that may be.

A few cards allow movement away from the nearest ship, and two of them (out of 26 total cards) will move every ship on the board towards the ship of whoever plays the card. Each card is marked with a letter from A to Z. Cards are played face down and revealed simultaneously, then resolved in alphabetical order.

Additionally, there are two non player ships on the board whose positions can affect the direction in which a player ship moves.

There is a lot of backwards and forwards movement, but the game's real strategy is in anticipating what your opponents are going to play, and choosing a play of your own that will allow you to take advantage of what order you play in, and the position of the other ships on the board when you move. Once each round, you can use an Emergency Stop to cancel your movement, if a move would take you too far away from where they want to be, but each round consists of six card plays, so you have to be careful about when to use it.

Gravwell is a terrific game in that its rules are very simple, but there is a lot to think about while playing. You simply can't ignore what your opponents are doing, and you have to manipulate the positions of the other ships on the board in order to move your own closer to victory.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) A simple yet engaging game, well deserving of the multiple game design awards it's won.