Updated: Aug 25, 2021
To the uninitiated, science has always seemed a sedate and scholarly affair. We have a mental picture of wise but probably nerdy individuals beavering away in isolated laboratories in search of some esoteric factoid but with the hope of unearthing a world transforming discovery. As this game title from Alley Cat Games suggests, science and scientific research is an altogether more cutthroat business.
In Lab Wars, players control competing labs, investing in and utilising laboratory items and accumulating research points (the currency used in the game) with the ultimate aim of building the greatest reputation and impact. In the basic game, players start with five different character cards, each representing the five members of their research team. All players start with these same five cards and, each turn, players simultaneously reveal the character they are playing for its effect. Once played, these cards can only be recovered when the Professor character card is played. In addition to their main effect, the character cards also have a ‘sabotage’ effect on a specified character played by an opponent. So, for example, the Post Doc will steal 2 research points from another player who that turn plays the Professor. A player who sabotages another receives an Action Card. These mostly provide a yet further opportunity to profit at an opponent’s expense.
Playing with the Legends of Science expansion pack introduces a sixth character for each player, and no two of these extra characters are the same. Among other changes, the expansion introduces ‘news article’ cards which set players secret objectives with which they can score victory points (referred to as 'impact points’).
The artwork in Lab Wars is well chosen and the game generally works well, although some of those I’ve played with complained that the ‘news articles’ in the expansion, though otherwise a welcome addition, were not fairly balanced: some are certainly easier to achieve than others and the rewards in ‘impact points’ don’t always accurately reflect the relative difficulty. This small quibble aside, if you like ‘take that’ games, then Lab Wars is definitely one to look out for.