Chances are whenever you see the word “quantum,” that rather than bearing a passing resemblance to the actual meaning of the word, it pretty much means whatever the author needs it to mean to get the plot rolling. And in Quantum, the new board game by Eric Zimmerman, that rule is taken to the extreme. Why is it your goal to plop cubes down onto planets? Quantum. How is it that your ships can reconfigure into entirely different forms, transforming from a tiny scout to an indefatigable battleship without so much as winking in the direction of the law of conservation of mass? Quantum. Why is the logical endpoint of your imperial research program to suddenly become nomadic? I’ve said it already: quantum.
Quantum is, uh, Victory Points or Energy or Something
Okay, so forget about all that quantum stuff, because as much as the game would love to explain it — even to the point of including a timeline that opens with the discovery of quantum dice in 1952 (not a joke) — it’s really just an excuse for the game’s highly stylized and dice-centric setup. It comes with the same sort of modular space-map you’ve seen a dozen times before, only this time, in place of little starships of different shapes and sizes, it’s got a whole bunch of brightly-colored (and slightly translucent, giving them a vaguely outer space-y glow) six-sided dice. And these dice are more than just a way to save on production costs, because whichever number is showing is the combat value and travel speed of that ship — so a 1 is a trundling but powerful battlestation (the low number wins combat), while a 6 is a scout nimble enough to travel across nearly the entire galaxy in one go, but so weak-sauce that you can’t expect it to do much of anything once it arrives.
This makes Quantum instantly readable, which in turn makes it fantastic for new or casual play. There’s literally no time spent on decoding the positions and identities of a bunch of figurines. Sure, each ship type has a special action, and that complicates the proceedings somewhat, but their vital stats are printed right onto their faces. And anyway, Quantum understands the need for a straightforward reference sheet to help newer players avoid confusion. These make Quantum so easy to figure out that just last night my brother-in-law beat me and two others on his first try. His requested reward was that I mention it in this review, so there you go, Josh.
Quantum Mechanics: Not Just for Babies
As a professional board game player and all-around studmuffin, it’s only natural that the thought rattling around your head right should be, Hey, I’m not some newb. This ‘Quantum’ thing sounds fine for babies, but what about a badass like me?
Good question, you rogue! Consider this:
Your goal in Quantum is to be first to deploy all your “quantum cubes,” which represent colonies or continent-sized power plants or something, and let you deploy ships to the orbit of the planet they inhabit. The main way you’ll place these cubes is by orbiting planets with the correct strength value — so a “10” planet requires you to orbit a total of 10 points, no more no less. At first this is no sweat, since players begin far apart and there isn’t much competition as you begin expanding into the universe.
However, once everyone has set up a couple cubes on the board, the early quantum-rush comes to an end, and you have to start trying to place cubes in harder-to-reach locales, like the center of the board or planets other people have already staked a claim on. Suddenly a switch goes off and everyone’s traveling past each other and trying to block their opponents’ efforts while they forward their own goals at the same time, which can be brutally tricky since you only have so many ships to work with at any given time. Since your dice-ships create bottlenecks, and since there are limited spots to build quantum cubes in, suddenly players are forced to jostle for premium positions. And let me tell you, these little scuffles see both elbows and teeth getting their fair share of use.
Domination, Research, and a Steady Hand: Three Elements of a Successful Space Empire
Further complicating matters are three additional elements, the first of which is domination. Whenever you blow up an enemy ship — which you can only accomplish on the attack, since a successful defense only causes the aggressor to retreat — your domination counter (another six-sided die) moves up by one, and the losing party’s goes down by one. If you manage to reach six, your domination die resets and you get to place a quantum cube anywhere on the board — including in the most difficult, remotest, most blockaded planet in the galaxy. It therefore goes without saying that players have a vested interest in keeping any one player from becoming too dominant, though of course your buddies are constantly thinking up ways to kill that isolated frigate of yours without leaving themselves open to counterattack.
The second element is research. Just as in real life space-wars, it’s the eggheads back home who’ll likely spell success or defeat for your empire. It’s therefore possible to use one of your three actions to conduct research, increasing your science die by one. Reach six and you get an advance card. These confer all sorts of meaty benefits, whether one-time boosts to increase your fleet size or instantly boost your domination, or permanent upgrades, like my recent Agile/Intelligent/Nomadic race that could move farther than anyone else at the table (to the point that I could teleport between planets), and could set up new quantum cubes with ease.
This hints at the third element, which is that Quantum is one of those games that excels at forcing its players to make do with an ever-restrictive number of actions per turn. There’s always so much to do, whether you’re reconfiguring your ships into new forms, deploying new vessels, researching, jetting through space and attacking enemies, or just trying to figure out when you’ll be able to construct a new cube. There’s always more to do than you have actions to undertake, and much of the game’s best strategy comes from trying to make use of all your ships’ free special abilities and maximize the efficiency of your actions. All while trying to topple your opponents’ plans, naturally.
Quantum has so much going for it, from the agonizing positioning of your space-dice, which is done so well and allows for so many opportunities at blockading and screening that the little detail that they’re dice is all the more hilarious, to the tense balancing of your ever-scarce action points.
However, the biggest surprise of all is that Quantum is so easy to teach, set up, and play, that it’s actually a borderline filler game. The back of the box claims that a game takes an hour, and that can be true if everybody’s figuring out the game’s nuances for the first time or in a match where everybody’s figured out ways to constantly screw with one another’s plans, but I’ve blown through three- and four-player games in as little as half an hour. And considering how much fun we had in the span of those thirty minutes, Quantum sports a fantastic fun-per-minute ratio, space-dice and all.
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Through the magic of QUANTUM, and also just normal computers too, you can support Space-Biff! by buying Quantum through Amazon using this space-bending link right here.