Monday, August 1, 2011

Earthlings Beware: Moongha Invaders Are Here!

Moongha Invaders is a 3- to 4-player game designed by the prolific British game designer Martin Wallace. The game was released in limited quantities by Club TreEmme in 2010. The game artwork was done by Italian artist Luca Zamoc.

I first heard about the game on Mark Johnson’s Board Games to Go podcast. In his 2010 post-BGGcon show, special guest Greg Pettit described his first encounter with this quirky game and I was instantly hooked. What could be cooler than a strategy game centered around competing mad scientists hell bent on wreaking havoc around the globe, commanding terrible monsters created in their laboratories? Nothing. This is the kind of game I enjoy most, a strategy game dripping with theme, and Moongha Invaders delivers in a big way. Unfortunately, the game is very hard to come by and is very expensive. Only a few hundred copies were printed and sellers are now asking well over $100. I bought my shrink-wrapped copy from a seller in Italy and paid to have it shipped to my home in North Carolina. Did I spend a lot for it? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely.


As the adage goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and Zamoc’s cover art for the game delivers spectacularly. The red, white, and black cover drawing is very well done and has a distinctly retro feel, perfectly setting the tone for the game as well as the rest of the components you’ll find inside. Depicting all the monsters you’ll create during the game as you take on your role as mad scientist, the artwork also imparts a definite sense of terror due to both the colors chosen and the frenzied appearance of the monsters. You’ll definitely want to be careful opening the box, lest you inadvertently unleash something terrible!

Inside, what you’ll actually find is a very retro-looking board showing a map of the globe, with twelve different large cities prominently marked. You’ll also find many large colored wooden blocks and discs, smaller colored discs and cubes, a couple of clear sticker sheets, twelve red dice, and the rulebook. The chunkiness of the larger blocks and discs also add to the retro feel in my opinion, as do the images on the stickers, which must be carefully applied to them. This is where one minor gripe about the game components comes in: the images on the clear stickers, when applied to the darker colored blocks and discs, can be very hard to make out, even in decent light. For many of the images, this isn’t an issue that affects game play. However, for those of us who find the theme appealing and feel the images add to the ambience, white ink for the stickers or lighter colored blocks and discs would have been a better choice.

The larger blocks and discs represent the cities you will defend on the board map, the monsters you will create, and the heroes and military units that other players will use to fight them. Each player will be able to create seven different types of monsters, all having unusual names that add a bit of campiness the theme. These monsters have different powers, ranging from the brains behind monster movement to the ability to inflict tremendous damage upon a city. All of the monsters, when spawned and placed on the board, are initially hidden until they begin their rampages or until they are discovered. The heroes and military blocks are “neutral” units that can be used by any player to reveal a monster (in the case of a hero) or attack a monster (a military unit). The monster and hero images are very cartoony and the military units range from street militia to fighter planes to an atomic bomb.

Then there are the dice - twelve red wooden dice with rounded corners and gold pips. The dice are used during the game to determine available actions, decide combat outcomes, and to resolve tests for revealing hidden monsters. I was not happy with the quality of the dice, so I replaced my set with 12 red plastic dice.

The remaining components, the small discs and cubes, are very nondescript, aside from the fact that the colors present a very unusual palette (purple, orange, white, and black) that clashes pretty spectacularly with the rest of the game pieces.

The game is played over eleven or twelve rounds, depending on the number of players. Each round, players take turns executing various actions by taking discs or blocks from six different action pools that diminish until the round eventually ends. The actions allow players to create or heal monsters, attack other monsters or cities, move or hide monsters, and reveal or attack other players’ monsters. A few actions are always available at the start of a round; the rest are determined by the roll of a group of dice. In the early rounds, fewer actions are available, but as the game progresses a crescendo builds as more and more actions are added each round, until the game ends and the winner is determined.

To start the game, players learn which cities they need to defend against the other players; these are kept hidden throughout the game, for successfully defended cities are worth points at the end of the game. Next, each player places his or her monster discs on the appropriate spaces along his or her side of the board. Then, five of the six action boxes are seeded with action tokens and the game begins.

At the beginning of each round, including the first, a number of dice are rolled to add action tokens to the board, determining which actions will be available to the players during the round. As mentioned, the number of dice rolled will increase throughout the game. After the dice are rolled, players begin taking turns, round-robin style. On his or her turn, each player will choose one action to perform by removing an available disc from that action’s box:

Create/Heal – Using this action allows a player to create a new monster or heal one that has previously taken damage, either from other players’ monsters or from military units. To create a monster, the action tokens are banked on the monster spaces along the edge of the board until enough have been collected to spawn the monster (the monsters have varying creation costs). When this happens, the player places the monster in any city on the board, with its hidden side up. To heal a wounded monster with this action, players simply remove a damage cube from an injured monster and return it to the supply.

Attack – Players will use this action to attack each others’ previously revealed monsters or cities. Attacking either will cause the attacking monster to become revealed, thereby making it a target for other monsters or the military units that might be defending the city. To attack, the player will roll a number of dice equal to the monster’s attack value multiplied by the number of attack discs they have collected; any result of a 5 or 6 results in a hit. The defending monster is not allowed to counter-attack or escape, and damage inflicted against other monsters is registered by placing a number of black cubes equal to the number of hits. A monster that is killed is returned to its owner, with the exception of the Moogre, who will capture the defeated monster for victory points.

Attacks against cities are handled differently, insofar as any militia units in the city (infantry and tanks) attack first. Assuming the attacking monster survives, the dice are then rolled and any damage inflicted on the city is first registered against any military units and then against the city, with the city being destroyed after 8 hits.  Hits are indicated by placing cubes on the board in the player’s color; these will be counted for scoring later.  Only Bloobs, Moogres, and Mechoors can attack cities, with Bloobs being able to attack in concert with one another (each player has three that can be spawned).

Move/Hide – This action allows players to move their monsters around the board or hide a previously revealed monster. Reasons for moving might include escaping from another player’s monster or moving to a nearby city to wreak havoc against it. A player might choose to hide his monster in order to avoid taking further damage from another player’s monster or from the militia defending the city. A Spectoor will allow a player to move/hide more than one monster at a time, or two move a single monster twice.

Hero – Choosing the hero action gives a player the chance to reveal an opponent’s hidden monster on a roll of 4, 5, or 6.  If revealed, an immediate attack by any militia units in the city is also triggered. Heroes can also initiate attacks against Drakoors, which cannot be attacked by military units or other monsters (except another Drakoor).

Military I – This action allows the player to place one lower-powered military unit in the city of his or her choosing, as long as the city has one revealed monster (which entirely makes sense from a theme standpoint). This is generally done to defend one of your home cities or to prevent the other player from scoring points.  When placed, an immediate attack is triggered against all revealed monsters in that city.

Military II – These military units are cooler (air force and A-bomb) and more powerful and can also inflict damage upon the city itself. These can attack any city with at least one revealed monster.

In addition to taking actions, players may pass. Passing allows a player to take an action for which there are no more action tokens available, at the expense of taking two turns to do it. To indicate this, the player places his or her action token in the desired action box and waits for his or her next turn. If at least one of the other players did not pass, the player is allowed to execute the selected action when his or her turn comes around. The act of taking a passed action also counts as a pass, so the other players would still have a chance to end the round by passing as well. Until all players have passed, the round continues. Once all actions have been executed or all players have passed, the round ends; any remaining action tokens are returned to the supply and another round begins until the game is over. This passing mechanic is not one I had seen before and really adds suspense to the game.

When the game ends, players will score points in several areas. First, a player may receive points for his or her home cities, depending on how successfully he or she defended them. Destroyed cities are worth nothing.  Next, players score points for having inflicted damage on each others’ cities, with the player having inflicted the most damage receiving the lion’s share of the points. Drakoors placed out on the board are also worth a varying number of points that depends on how many other monsters are present in the same city. Lastly, players who have captured each others’ monsters with a Moogre score a number of points equal to the damage capacity of the captured monster.

With regards to scoring, players tend to focus on attacking and defending cities for the majority of the game, often using Bloobs, Moogres, and Mechoors. Focusing on completely destroying cities as one strategy will earn the player victory points while denying the opponent from receiving points for the city, but a better strategy can be to inflict some damage to as many cities as possible, since points are also awarded to the two players who register the most in each city. In later rounds, players generally try to place their Drakoors on the board. Another scoring strategy, that is sometimes hard to pull off, is to prepare a Moogre to spawn over several turns and then wait for another player’s monster to suffer a lot of damage, swooping down for the kill after no more move/hide tokens remain.

In sum, Moongha Invaders is one of my favorite games, and I’m really glad I shelled out the cash to pick it up. The game has it all: a great theme and satisfying game play with a healthy combination of tactics and short- and long-term strategies. I rate it a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10.