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Dark Mace

Designed by H Ali Hatipoglu, Dark Mace is an area control game that's due to come to Kickstarter later this year. The version shown here on Board's Eye View is a prototype, and the expectation is that the standees shown here will be replaced by plastic minis in the published edition of the game.

Dark Mace plays from two to four players. Each starts off with identical armies and identical decks of battle and power cards. The board is divided into hexes grouped into 'provinces'. The object of the game is to control the most provinces by the end of the 13th round.

Players each start in a four-hex province at one corner of the board. They place out into this province any of their units they choose but no more than one unit can occupy a hex. This means that every player is going to start with four units. On a player's turn, they can move up to four units; recruit further units (place out as many as you like on empty hexes on your home province or any province where you have previously built a barracks); and construct a building (barracks, wall or 'port'). Players can make use of their power cards to enhance the actions they take but the power cards are spent when used so you'll want to eke their use out over the course of the game or save them for their most devastating effect.

When a unit moves into a province that is currently unoccupied, the player puts out one of his flags to denote his control of that province. If he subsequently leaves the province unoccupied he retains ownership but only until another player moves in. Each turn players can construct one building: a barracks will allow them to rapidly place out lots of units; a wall blocks other players from entering that hex; a port allows passage over the otherwise impassable water hexes (although it would seem more appropriate to redesignate the 'ports' as bridges).

Territory on the board is finite and so, within about three turns, you are going to find players contesting provinces by throwing their units into combat. This is the main thrust of the game, and combat rapidly becomes a free-for-all bash 'em up.

To resolve combat, the attacker adds his attacking unit's attack value to the defender's defence value and then draws a card from his battle deck. If that card is equal to or greater than the combined total, the attacker wins and the defending unit is removed from play. The notion of adding together attack and defence values runs counter to the expectations from other similar games where you'd normally expect to calculate the difference rather than the sum of the two numbers. It means that the more powerful units have, in this game, been given lower attack values than weaker units. Again, this takes some getting used to. The system though of drawing a battle card scores over the more commonly used option of dice rolls because players have the knowledge that unlucky (low card) draws early on make better draws more likely on later turns, and vice versa...

Once per game, in addition to their regular actions, a player can claim gold equivalent to where the turn marker is at: so you would only get three gold coins on your third turn but you'd get 10 gold in round 10. The gold is used to replace (bring back into your supply) units previously killed in battle or to buy back previously used battle cards.

There's a reasonable mix of luck and strategy in Dark Mace, with the strategy focused primarily on when to make optimal use of power cards and when best to claim and use your gold. Dark Mace is a low complexity area control game; no more difficult than Risk; and Risk fans will be among those who'll want to check this out when the Kickstarter launches.

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