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Updated: Apr 3, 2023

Don't be fooled by the economic packaging and light fantasy theme: Zaberias is a serious strategy war game. Don't bother looking for an unboxing video because this game doesn't come in a conventional box: publishers HaKubia and E Mobility Now package each of the four factions (Guardians, Orcs, Humans and Undead) in their own thin sleeve comprising a mapboard and a board that has all the faction components mounted onto it. That's your various buildings and armies, plus the five matching coloured custom six-sided dice used in combat. It's all very streamlined and efficient, and it works!

The various faction boards are combined to create the playing area, with its size obviously dependent on the number of players (2-4). The various factions differ in flavour and certain army abilities but we've found them well balanced, not least because the equivalent units all share similar stats. You'll start off with just one 'wooden' building, which means you can initially only recruit relatively weak armies that bear the wood symbol. Any new buildings you add always start off as wood but you can pay to upgrade them first to metal and then to gold. The higher level buildings give you access to more powerful troops but those units will be expensive to recruit and players only start off with five gold and a modest income per round. Players will therefore want to occupy gold mine locations to generate additional income.

Set up is quick and the rules are straightforward: army unit tokens show their cost, their base strength, the number of dice they roll in attack, their range if they have ranged attack capabilities and their movement. Some units will have special abilities affecting themselves and other units in play. Designers Brachya Glueck and Benny Goldstein have made the game intuitively easy to play, with the explicit aim of making Zaberias playable by children as young as 6. And the game's cute and gore-free art adds to its child-friendly appeal. But tho' Zaberias can be played and enjoyed by quite young kids - and it even lays claim to incorporating an educational element in reinforcing early counting skills and developing elementary strategy, including resources management - it's a tactical war game in its own right that has enough depth to hold the attention of quite seasoned grognards. Adults can expect a two-player head-to-head game to play in a filler-length 20 minutes; children's games will almost certainly run rather longer, especially if they're playing with a full complement of four players.

We've especially enjoyed the pacing of Zaberias. There are no mandatory actions and no limit on the actions you take or the order in which you take them - so turn length varies widely through the course of the game. The only limitation on your actions is that you cannot interrupt a unit's move and then move again: you can, for example, move and attack, or attack then move, but you can't move, attack then continue your movement. The game is a Battle Royale-style game that's won by the last player left standing so, by definition, Zaberias is a game with player elimination. That's obviously not a problem in a two-player game but it's an issue to bear in mind where children are playing at higher player counts: early elimination in a four-player game could mean a child sitting out for an hour while waiting for the game to finish.

There's additional content planned for Zaberias later this year, with the prospect of minis to replace the cardboard unit tokens and presumably a conventional box to fit them in. It'll be on Kickstarter but if you have difficulty finding the game now at your local game store, you can click here to order it direct from the publishers.

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