Publisher: Final Frontier Games
Designer: Richard Davis
Artist: Richard Davis
Release date: TBC
45 - 60 mins
Fast rolling dice battles over precious mined resources in deep space whilst being hunted by a greedy roaming alien……..welcome to Amass !
Returning to Kickstarter on August 10 2021, Richard Davis of Dark Frontier Games is bringing out a re-worked version of his original design. And although I never played the first iteration, I have been rolling, fighting and defending my way around the newest prototype for Planet XS.
Battleships? The one with the little peg boards and cries of “hit!” and “miss!”?
Rest assured, there are no plastic grids or shouting in this game (well, there might be some hollering and howling – I guess that depends on who you’re playing with and how well you are doing!). But it was the first things that popped into my mind when I read the rules for Amass.
And that is because one of the core mechanics in Amass is hidden movement.
COMING ON 10 AUGUST 2021 - FAVOURITEFOE RAPID REVIEW VIDEO OF AMASS
Allow me to set the scene. At the beginning of each turn, you deploy your eight crew members in secret. This is done by placing them on your personal player board which is tucked behind a screen (“Planning phase”). As your opponents do the same thing, you will not know where your opponent’s crew members are going to be. It is therefore a mystery as to which resources each of you are gunning for, and who will be going hard and heavy on defending the ones they have already harvested.
But resources there will be. Because, before you each decide where to send your crew out to do battle, the nominated first player that rounds sets up the main board and distributes the space booty (“Distribution phase”).
Choosing one of the top two Resource Cards, small coloured cubes are placed on the locations indicated, and these represent the coveted mining resources. Varying in value (green = 1 up to orange = 4), they will be distributed between mines spread out over 8 zones.
The card also sets the position of that greedy Alien I mentioned at the start. And be warned, as it moves to a new zone each round, it will pick up any resources left on mines in the area it passes through as well as stealing from the players’ bases located in those same zones.
Duck, Duck, Galactic Goose!
Seeing where the resources are located now presents you with choices. Are you going to target the highest value cubes (“mining”) knowing that others might be planning to do the same? Alternatively, are you going to try and hoover up lower value resources dotted around the board? Your base (which is hopefully full of the spoils of previous space wars) also needs “protecting”, however. And other players’ bases are full of mined resources……..just sitting there……..ripe for “raiding”.
But with only 8 crew members in total, and a limit on being able to deploy more than three at any one location (not to mention the ban on placing any in the zone where the greedy Alien is located), worker placement is going to force you to make sacrifices. And, if you have suffered any casualties in prior skirmishes with your space foe, you may have even fewer crew to deploy on your latest turn, as those who lost their previous fights recover temporarily in the medical bay.
All is not lost, however, as there are some handy “action” cards which become available when you have multiple crew members in the medical bay. These cards (which are carried out just before the “Combat phase" below) give you powers like automatically winning a fight or removing an opponent’s defender etc. and can help mitigate the effects of lost crew members (or simply being out gunned at a specific location).
It may not seem like it initially, but their tactical advantages become more obvious as the rounds go on. You can also pick one up by deploying crew members back to attack the Alien’s own camp to collect some. This sounds tempting but remember that it will mean fewer crew members elsewhere attacking or defending your existing resources on that turn.
You Gotta Fight for your Right…..To Mine, Steal, and Save!
But I said Amass was a battle based game, right? Well, now, with resources on the board ripe for picking, and your crew members hustling up behind your screen, the Combat phase begins. Brace yourself as it is now on like deep space Donkey Kong.
In a dramatic sweep (taking care not to knock resources flying!), each player then removes their screen, and transposes their crew members to the spots they have targeted (“Deployment Phase”). Some players may have been doing their best to put you off the scent. Others may prefer a poker-face approach.
Either way, at this point, it will become clear who is gearing up to do D6 battle and where. Primarily because any location where the crew outnumber the cubes has to be resolved by way of a fight.
Of course, if there is a lonesome crew member standing in front of a pile of cubes (or there are enough for each crew member to take one), they can take one (and only one per crew member!) which will get dropped into your base during the subsequent “Deposit phase”, and then happily spacewalk back to your player board ready to scrap in space next turn.
For all those mines where crew out number cubes, players fight it out and roll for the win. So, first player gets to choose which of their own battles they wish to resolve first. And each crew member is represented by a dice. So, for example, if two Alpha players (red) are facing off against two Echo players (blue) at a mine location, each player rolls two dice. Highest number on each dice wins with cubes and crews returning to the victors. By contrast, the losers go to the medical bay. Their starting position on the “wound track” is the difference in value between the dice (so e.g. a 5 v 3 will result in 2 “damage” which will place that crew member in the “moderate” damage bay). It will take them another turn to move through minor damage and back out into the game, but if you lose enough (or badly enough to be put straight into major damage), at least you get an action card!
The next player then chooses which of their battles to resolve. This could be another mine location, or it could be one where they have placed crew at another player’s base – a direct hit against an opponent, ouch!
Bases are slightly more complicated because you can’t just raid a whole base and take cubes. In the earlier Planning phase, you have to have decided which direction you are going to be attacking from as there is a resource store at each of the four compass points. And with so many potential options and cubes, there could be multiple battles and raids going on at a single base – you versus another attacker, you versus the defending crew team. The order in which you want or need to fight won’t necessarily be down to you, and so you have to remain flexible in terms of fighting fitness.
Round the R…
This pattern continues until all the battles have been resolved. Then the wounded move up the wound track (hopefully being released back into the game), and the board is set for the next round.
Available crew members disappear behind the screen and players analyse the zones, planning and plotting where to target and whether to defend their store of mined (or stolen!) resources.
The game ends when a player fills the resource stores in their own base with 20 cubes (or the cubes run out), and the winner is the team crew leader who has Amass-ed the most valuable resources overall!
Solo Space Skirmishes!
You may have noticed that the game plays from 1-6, which may seem strange for a battle based game. But the designer has included an AI who will attack, defend, and mine open resources in the absence of another competing crew or two.
Using a unique card to emulate the AI’s planning phase on its “go”, and then a set sequence of moves which repeats every turn, the AI requires little thinking or action on your part, although one of you will have to roll the dice for it (and get blamed for the results!). And in fact, to keep the battlefields more dynamic and unpredictable, the inclusion of the AI is also recommended at 2 player count. We took the designer’s advice, and found the AI injected a useful dynamic, making decisions not far off what we would expect of a real third player.
Final (Dark) Frontier Thoughts!
Amass has eye catching styling. The pixel art/8 bit graphics make it stand apart from many other space themed games which concentrate on throwing as many minute details into each image and scene as possible.
It also reinforces the feeling of those older, more basic computer platform games. And that makes sense because, at its core, I get the feeling that Amass is intended to be a fun, simple to learn, punchy (excuse the pun!) game with a few quirks and rapid fire decision making.
Certainty, to me, Amass doesn’t feel like a game where players should be pondering and deliberating where to go, or who to fight for any length of time. Once up to speed and playing at a pace, Amass is better when gut governs head. Rapid fire decisions based on informed instinct rather than drawn out analysis.
And on that point, I do feel that the prototype I tested could benefit from a little refining in order to make it the game it clearly wants to be (and is 99% on its way to being).
Firstly, the current rule book makes Amass sound a lot more complicated than it is or needs to be. Of course I appreciate the designer’s desire to keep the theme strong. But, sometimes, stripping out the background and keeping it simple at the learning stage works better.
And whilst there are large sprawling, narrative driven space themed sagas out there, I don’t believe Amass is one of them. As such, I think the rule explanation would benefit from some tweaks to make it clear to anybody considering it that Amass is a game which can be picked up quickly. A game that centres on lots of rapid roll for the win situations with a sprinkling of tactical choices.
The zones on the main board would also be clearer by being contrasted better with the mines and bases which currently share similar colours. Likewise, more guidance on the board itself would help players keep momentum by speeding up set up and resource storage. This is particularly true of the bases, where rules surrounding AI movement, AI battles and the storage of cubes must be followed in a very specific way. A small AI turn summary would definitely help reduce delays caused by trying to remember its prescribed moves.
Happily, having discussed the same directly with the designer, he is working on some refinements and clarifications which will make Amass the fast rolling, resource moving, battle driven, worker placement game it was always intended to be. Richard has worked hard to cram a lot of different mechanics into a simple game in a way that doesn’t lose momentum. And on that basis, if I am given the opportunity, I am definitely looking forward to trying the finished form!
[Please note that I was provided with a prototype copy of Amass from the designer/publisher for the purpose of this Kickstarter preview/playthrough, however, no fees were paid, and any opinions expressed are unbiased and my own]
KS Campaign: Pre-launch reminder link coming soon - (Campaign launch date August 10 2021)