Note: This is a preview. The game is not yet published, so much of what I say might change, and I was asked to not divulge anything too specific about the system.
Note 2: The designer of the game (Teemu Vilen) is a member of the guild and thus there might be some bias. I’d like to think there isn’t much, but you never know. Also, I let Teemu read this before publishing.
Battle for New Jersey is a game set in near future, where colonizing aliens have landed on earth in order to strip the planet of its resources. I guess they could be characterized as evil, but that would be shortsighted. But not to worry, a small group of humans have banded together to use their disparate skillsets to take back their neighborhood.
… and you know the neighborhood is in the US, because there’s plenty of armaments just lying around.
Its a game of tactical combat, humans vs. aliens. In our test games the human team of four was piloted by four players with a character each, while the aliens were under the control of one player. The way the game and the components are designed, there’s plenty of flexibility in how you play the humans. There’s a set number of characters, but there’s nothing that limits how you divide that number among players. On the other hand, the aliens work with one board, so its better if they are run by a single player.
Its a campaign-based game. The humans learn to fight better, and can gather better weaponry, while the aliens will have more resources over time. We talked with Teemu about the different types of missions, but didn’t get to play that many, so I can’t really say how well they work, or the campaign for that matter, except that humans seemed like utter underdogs in the version we played.
The system itself is pretty simple and intuitive, but still affords plenty of tactical thinking. Hallmarks of good games. I don’t really know how derivative this game is of miniature games, because I haven’t really ever played those, but I didn’t hear any straight comparisons to other games from the other playtesters, some of whom have much more experience with those than I have.
Resolving situations is simple and quick. Most time was consumed by players deciding what to do. Even more time is spent because you basically make these decisions twice. Once when you plan ahead your turn and once when you actually get to act (where you have some leeway with your earlier decision). However, this is generally pretty quick, or at least feels like it, since you are in the moment, always watching what the other players might be doing and how that might affect your future decisions. Well, at least I am. If you aren’t so inclined, your experience might be very different.
The battles themselves seem to be over quickly. I didn’t really time them, and its hard for me to tell. We spent a total of about six hours, during which we played three actual battles, set up games, planned for the battles, discussed the game quite a bit, made some ex tempore rules revisions, and ate. Hard to say how much of that was actual gameplay, but I’d be surprised if it was more than half.
I liked some innovations on the components, but there was a problem with space on the board, where it was sometimes hard to fit everyone where they were supposed to be (damn you ancient Egyptians for not coming up with better geometry for us). On the other hand, despite this handicap, I always had a good idea where everything was.
The only problem with the game (and its a biggie, but also something that can be fixed) was balance. The aliens pretty much kicked the shit out of the humans in each game. The aliens took some minor casualties, but all in all they were able to put down the puny resistance pretty easily.
Maybe I’d like to see a bit more evocative board, but since this was a prototype version, the bloody remains of previous battles aren’t that necessary, or whatever you might want to do.
I think there’s something to this game, and with some more tweaking it might be very good.