Updated: Dec 10, 2019
Sometimes you come across a game with a theme that feels pasted on. This game, however, takes the cake. Designed by Kuro and published by Japanime, Alicematic Heroes, doesn’t have a theme that’s merely pasted on, it’s a theme that has been glued, stapled and hammered into place, yet it still makes no sense in terms of the game play.
From the publishers' summary: 'The Queen of Hearts has summoned Alice to rebuild Wonderland, which has been devastated by an invasion of Nothing, which is devouring the dreams of all in the land — but the Queen has mistakenly summoned whole armies of Alices! Dozens of Alices abound, and now they're taking sides and forming teams to see who can put the land back together best.'
Curiouser and curiouser. As this probably shows, thematically, this game is as mad as a box of frogs, but how does it play? The surprising answer is very well indeed!
Ignore the tacked on bizarre Alice in Wonderland nonsense, this is a fast-playing 14-turn card-driven engine-building area control strategy game. On a player’s turn they do two things: they play a card to their tableau and they place a control counter on an adjacent territory on the modular map board. Turns are as simple as that.
Of course you need to understand how all of the cards work and what bonuses they deliver. There are several ways of earning points and you need to understand how the engine building aspect works. This means that this isn’t a game you can hope to learn as you play: expect to spend about 10-15 minutes going through the rules before you start. It’s time well spent though because Alicematic Heroes is highly enjoyable and actually rather well balanced.
Alicematic Heroes takes 3–5 players and, once everyone’s learnt how to play, you can expect a game to complete in around 45 minutes. The cardboard chits could be better and, in some lighting, players may have difficulty distinguishing, for example, the lime yellow tokens from the green. You might even want to consider substituting cubes or somesuch from another game, but the all-important cards are commendably clear.
This may be one of the quirkiest games ever published but, once you’ve been down the rabbit hole, it’s a game you’ll want to return to.