Alone Time: Three Sieges

On Lassadar day, on Lassadar day. In the morning.

I saw three ships (come sailing in)…

Siege at Nem

Apparently we lost the siege at Dalnish, or maybe the reinforcements of Lassadar weren’t quite as overwhelming as we were hoping, because the twelve dread barons are still besieging everything they can get their hands on (poor Baron Amdal’s cat!). This time they’ve come to the port city of Nem. They’ve also learned a hard lesson about not attacking a Warden citadel directly, so instead of marching everyone forward to rub against the ivory walls and hopefully topple them by force of friction, they’re sending in a fleet to assault the city at its weakest point: the harbor.

Siege at Nem is more immediately recognizable than Siege at Dalnish, which confounded me and my wife Somerset by not being at all what we were expecting. Nem is a different story. What with all those terrain hexes, unit counters of various strengths, and a handy deck of regular tarot or playing cards to drive the game’s action and event system, you’ve got a wargame brewing!

An interesting side-note is that in a total reversal of our expectations, we struggled to learn Nem far more than we did to learn Dalnish. Whereas Dalnish had a massive set of rules (for most Print ‘n Play games), Nem is a microgame, theoretically inked onto a single sheet of paper. I say “theoretically” because you’ll probably want to print out two sheets so that you don’t have the rules and the map on opposite sides of the sheet, at least until you have a couple games under your belt. Nem is slightly tricky to learn, though in one sense that’s a good thing. See, this is one of those unusual Todd Sanders games that can be played either as a solo game or with two people. We’ll talk about the difference between these two modes a bit later, but for now the important detail is that Nem‘s two sides are highly asymmetrical. And that’s one of the most awesome things about it.

The forces of Lassadar, the besieged Wardens of Nem, just need to hold their citadel for seven full rounds, at which point… well, I’m not sure, since reinforcements start trickling into Nem from the northwest on the fourth round, so maybe the barons just give up? Seven is a lucky number? The dread barons fear battles that last eight days? Not sure. Anyway, that’s Lassadar’s goal: hold out for seven rounds, and don’t get dead in the interim. On the other side of this bloody coin, the Barons need to take that citadel, but should also take care to protect their precious baron unit, because if he dies, the siege falls apart. This creates an interesting dynamic for both sides as they divide their time between offensive and defensive actions: as Lassadar, do you retreat to the citadel, hold the city’s two gates, or go baron-hunting? As the Baron, do you have some troops linger to protect your leader, or send everyone forward for the much-needed push on enemy chokepoints?

Taking the concept of delicious asymmetry even further, the Baron can bombard the city with his ships, though doing so costs a whole bunch of action points you’ll be tempted to spend on more complex maneuvers; Lassadar can retaliate with powerful but limited spells that happen to sink ships, provided they’ve drawn and held onto the right spell card, haven’t wasted their mana on other options, and can get one of their spell-flinging Mind units into range. Then the Barons might counter by moving some Lych units into Nem to start draining away that pesky mana; then Lassadar could kick back with reinforcements through one of their secret passageways that the Barons can’t access. Even the way units move feeds into the unique feel of the two sides: the native Wardens know their way around Nem, but it costs twice as many action points for the Baron’s forces to figure out its streets and alleys.

If you're playing as the attacker, you have to deploy the Baron first. Otherwise, you'd never bother deploying him.

The Baron and his forces make a beachhead.

This brings us to the card system. Drawn cards determine what happens as the battle progresses — for instance, if you’re playing with regular face cards (I didn’t have a tarot deck handy), drawing something from the suit of spades means the Baron gain actions, while drawing diamonds gives actions to Lassadar. This means sometimes you’ll pick up a whole string of actions in a row, while at others you’ll only get to move a single unit before it’s your opponent’s turn again. Certain other cards have special meaning, like the hearts cards that go to the Lassadar player to be used at her leisure as spells, like the above-mentioned boat-sinking trick or the ability to heal your troops, swap the positions of two of your units, or increase your defense in combat. The two clubs cards will alternately refresh the Baron’s armies if they’ve moved into the city or recharge the Lassadar player’s mana pool. And lastly, there’s the joker, signalling the end of the round (provided both players have taken at least one action) and bringing the battle closer to its finale.

At its best, this system is a fantastic way of dynamically feeding roughly the same number of actions to both sides (roughly, because it’s possible for cards to get used up in combat instead of giving actions to someone). It allows for tense fights where neither side knows whether they can count on having action points immediately or at some indeterminate distant moment — so do you risk moving that force of Arms over to reinforce your Elder, since they can’t make it all the way in one go and you’ll need just one more action before the enemy moves to cut them off? Or should you play it safe and wait for a bigger action card that might get wasted in battle? Or should you cast a spell and hope the king of clubs will make an appearance and restore your mana? It’s a system that revels in the inherent chaos of battle, and it can be sublime.

Still, it’s often a bit fiddly. As I already mentioned, it’s possible for one side’s best action cards to get whiled away as combat numbers, since you draw from the same deck when comparing attack and defense values. It’s also a bit tiresome to constantly refer to these cards instead of a dedicated deck — rather than the card just saying “THIS IS A SPELL YOU MORON,” it sends you through a process of “Okay, this is the jack of diamonds so that means you, the Lassadar player, can have all the units of one stack take two actions. Oh wait, because you’re not used to seeing red cards other than diamonds, it’s actually the jack of hearts and you made a big mistake this turn because it’s a spell and you should have held onto it instead of taking those actions. YOU MORON.” Maybe it’s just me (and Somerset), but this entire system wasn’t quite as satisfying as it could have been. Which isn’t to say it makes Nem a bad game, or that we didn’t enjoy our time with it; rather, it made full games take a bit longer than advertized, and wasn’t quite as smooth as we would have liked. Of the three games in the “Lassadar Siege” trilogy, this is the only one that struck us as somewhat unpolished, in no small part thanks to the odd card system.

By sneaking out through a secret passageway! AWESOME.

An Arm of the Wardens assassinates the Dread Baron to end the siege.

I mentioned above that Siege at Nem can be played as either a solo or a two-player game. Up till now I’ve been talking about it as the latter, though the rules and mechanics remain much the same when you remove one human brain. The main difference is that when playing solo, the Baron side is programmed to run a certain way, and it gets a bonus action each turn and an additional point of combat strength as a handicap. No matter what happens, it’ll always advance its goals the same way, bombarding if it has enough action points, deploying the strongest possible unit, running the Baron away from Lassadarian assassins (“Lassassins”), and marching ever closer to the citadel of Nem. This programming is serviceable, and especially with its bonuses and the luck of the draw it can still provide a decent challenge. Still, it will never march around to the North Gate, or prepare ambushes for fresh reinforcements from the northwest, or hide away its pair of Lych units to drain your mana each round.

The final verdict is that this is a largely fun two-player game, definitely something to try if you’re interested in a wargame that only takes a single piece of paper and not too much time to play; but at the same time, it isn’t the most attractive solo option out there.

On page four, the war nears a conclusion with the Siege at Kurth!

Posted on September 13, 2013, in Board Game and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. i like the photo across the Dalnish tower. one of my favorite bits of that game i thought up is how you basically look out over 3 dimensional ramparts made out of the eurocubes. and how you really get a sense the tower is taking damage as they are removed

    • That’s exactly how I felt while defending the tower from the baddies. I really felt like I was defending an actual tower and needing to worry about my cannons, archers, and Elders staying healthy enough to keep on defending well. It was exciting and fun!

      • She even used those exact words: “Dan, this is exciting and fun!”

        Either that or she was muttering swears at the un-killable row of Arbalests that hounded her for a full 90% of that game.

  2. thank you for the review of al three games. you really made my day!

  3. Easily one of the best Alone Times yet. I’ve played some of Todd’s games before, mostly from Aether Captains and the first Lassadar series. Looks like there are a few more I have to try!

    • I haven’t tried any of the Aether Captains yet, though there are a couple I’ve had my eye on. I wanted to finish up the Lassadar stuff before making the jump to another of Todd’s universes.

  4. I’m determined to actually put some of these together. Or get someone else to. I don’t have any friends into board gaming, but my arty younger brother assembled the first Lassadar game for me, and it was awesome, even if it took me a while to figure it out… hey, as I said, I’ve never really played these kinds of things. Dalnish, Nem, and Kurth, here I come!

  5. the iOS version of the Siege at Dalnish is coming along rapidly.

  6. Printed out Dalnish and the original Risen game today. Can’t wait to try them out!
    Have you had a chance to try the solo pnp Delve the Dicegame? Sanders did his own version as well.

  7. It’s a few years old, but when it came out a lot of people were really excited. It’s a solo dungeon crawl dice game that came with originally 4 characters and 2 maps and has since been extended by both the original creator and Sanders to have like 10 maps and 12 characters. It looks fun, although I haven’t tried it yet.

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