Interstellar conflict has long been a perennially popular board gaming theme. From 4000 AD (Waddingtons) through to Twilight Imperium (FFG) and beyond, it’s the great expanse and epic sweep of space combat that makes it a theme to which board game designers and players frequently return. And that’s without touching on the many IP-inspired space opera games set, for example, in the Star Trek, Star Wars and Dune universes.
Tho’ designer Rob McBride and publisher Syther Gaming are revisiting well-travelled territory, they have nevertheless succeeded in bringing something fresh to the table because OverBattle combines typical ‘eurogame’ mechanics with those more often found in ‘Ameritrash’ combat games. The result is an area control game that has the look and feel of a 4X game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) but which utilises strategies more commonly found in ‘eurogames’.
The most immediately striking thing about OverBattle tho’ is the fabulous quality of production. Inside the box, you’ll find trays for the numerous space ship and troop pieces for each of the four factions and a tray of d12 dice and ‘control crystals’ for each faction. There’s a fabric map of space and, fittingly like space itself, it’s huge: more than 7 foot by 4 foot. If you’ve a large enough table, then this becomes the tablecloth. The map of space tho’ is the underlay for the modular board that you’ll create by laying out on top the various neoprene mats that are the planets, moons and asteroids that the 2-4 players will be claiming, taking resource income from and ultimately trying to achieve the game’s area control win condition: being the sole player with exclusive control of your home world plus control of at least one area on another player’s home planet. Sounds easy enough but you’ll find that OverBattle plays at first like an economic game, as players place out control in order to earn the income they need to build their space fleets and defences. If your games play out like most of our Board’s Eye View plays, you’ll be four or more rounds in before players come into serious conflict with each other.
This is a game with >1000 components, and not a cardboard chit among them! Despite that, it’s actually not a game with a lengthy set up. Indeed, in OverBattle, the set up is an integral part of the game. Players place out their home and secondary planet and moons, and position the asteroids on the space map. The positioning of these, particularly relative to others, involves some tactical choices because the planets’ proximity have a distinct impact on the dynamics of the game.
There’s a slight asymmetry between three of the four factions in the game, but only in the mix of units with which they start. And given that as part of set up, players have a generous choice of what other units they ‘buy’, this asymmetry is barely significant other than in its contribution to flavour text. The key asymmetry comes with the fourth faction: the Cyn. This faction starts off the game in alliance with all three of the other factions: sharing locations and resource income and helping to defend areas from attack. It’s played then as a semi-cooperative faction, except that it switches mid-game to full-on competitive… It all adds to the excitement and tension of play, and it’s why, tho’ the game scales for two or three players, we much preferred OverBattle as a four-player game that uses all four factions including the ‘semi-cooperative’ Cyn. Just be warned tho', you can expect a four-player game to average at an appropriately epic length of around three hours.
OverBattle incorporates several notable features that help it stand out from other epic space opera games. Rolling each round for initiative to determine turn order was a plus for us. It injected further excitement into the mix – especially when it resulted in a player getting two turns consecutively (going last in one round and first in the next). We liked the fact that ships don’t just auto-repair. If your ship is damaged in combat, you need to spend resources to repair it and, depending on the d12 damage die roll, you may also need to move your ship to a location that has the capability of repairing it. We also liked the ‘CASy’ Combat Assault System which allows the attacker and defender to move in relation to one another through the rounds of battle. Units involved in combat are repositioned on the game’s three-tiered platform as a nod to the three-dimensionality of space battles.
OverBattle doesn’t have an overly demanding rules overhead, and the turns are structured well but the rules could be more clearly laid out, especially for anyone coming new to the game. There’s an updated version of the rules available online, and, as a plus, the cards with all the stats for each unit type have QR codes on the back that players can scan with their smartphones. These take you to a page of flavour text and a ‘3D’ picture of the unit. If nothing else, this is helpful in distinguishing the various ship shapes – which we found otherwise rather fiddly on our first play.
One of the reasons why epic sweep games are so popular is that plays can often turn out to be memorable experiences. And that’s certainly true of OverBattle: The All War!