Subtitled 'the turbo-charged arena sports game', Mantic's OverDrive is a tactical combat game for two players that brings in sports elements to give you more to think about than just how to smash your opponent. With the eponymous 'Overdrive' ability to use once per round as well, there's a lot more scope for strategic decisions than you might expect at first sight.
Although designers Rob Burman and Matt Gilbert offer different game modes in the rules (including 'capture the flag', 'pass the bomb', plus two others), the main game is all about scoring points by taking out your opponent's monsters and having your monsters in the scoring zone at the end of the round. In order to achieve this, you'll need to take into account the very different strengths and weaknesses of each of the six characters in play, including their unique special abilities and Overdrive abilities. Each player will only activate their characters four times per round, and only one of those activations can use the Overdrive ability, so choosing which of the three characters' Overdrive abilities to use and when is a big part of the game.
There's a lot of interesting decision making and swings of fortune that do feel evocative of the sports setting that the game is trying to convey. One player might seem down and out, but things can turn around surprisingly quickly. Some might see it as 'swingy' but that's how sports can be sometimes, and it can add to the excitement. Losing all your players in one round might be a bit of a disaster but they can all come back in the next round and things could be very different.
The rulebook creatively intersperses thematic interludes with explanations but unfortunately this leaves far too little space for examples and clarifications. The generally swift gameplay is often interrupted by rules queries which can be tricky to work out. Of course, keen players will get past these frustrations after a few games so the lack of player aid shouldn't matter, but having one would certainly have been helpful for beginners.
One of the distinctive features of this game is the three-hex stands. This has some interesting impacts on gameplay but mostly leads to frustrating awkwardness. With art by Jose David Lanza Cebrian and Edwin Gunadi Hasan, the minis are impressive, but they don't all comfortably fit within their three-hex bases, making it difficult to place them close to others. Peculiarities arise: for example, it's free to pivot 120 degrees but if you want to just turn 60 degrees you will actually need to move to do so.
Still, there's a lot of scope for memorable fun with OverDrive, just so long as you don't get bogged down in the rules, and the expansions providing extra monsters offer added replayability. If you enjoy smashing your opponent rather than merely trying to outwit them, this could be a good one for you.
(Review by Matt Young)