Q1: A Review of Rex

I intended to post a visual walk through to teach you how to play, but unfortunately my website is misbehaving and I need to figure out why my images are screwing up. Hopefully I can post it tomorrow.

Wheels within wheels. Keep that in mind. It’s a key theme to the book, a key theme to the world, and a key theme to this game. At the start, you know your faction and their special power. You may have super soldiers, or you get all the money everyone else spends on cards, or you get to look at future events, or you’re immune to terrible things that hurt everyone else.

You have a single Traitor in your hand, or, gulp, four, if you’re one of the factions. The Traitor is incredibly powerful. He or she is the point upon which this entire conflict might depend. If you have your own Traitor, you know that you’re at least safe...well, more safe. If you have an opponent’s Traitor, you have leverage. If it comes to a battle of arms, you can devastate them by revealing the Traitor. If you ally, you know that nobody else can hurt them. Well, as much.

So, you have an ability that is more or less cheating and you know about the Traitor. With those two factors in mind, you scan the landscape and try to figure out how to win. You need to capture some number of strong points.

Are you going to do it by yourself? That requires fewer strong points.

Will you share the victory with an ally? If so, with whom? And why are they valuable to you? This will require more strong points.

Perhaps you’ll merely sit back in your fortress and wait, because you win if nobody else does. Granted, you’ll need to upset things, but that’s standard Machiavellian fare in a game that sleeps with The Prince under its pillow.

Every round, opportunity presents itself in the form of Influence that appears around the map. You know some people know where it’ll appear, so you can tail them knowing they know this, or stay away, knowing they know you know this and may be knowingly trying to fool you. This influence is a distraction though, as you will divert forces away from the strong points towards these pools of Influence which will also eventually face bombardment from the fleet roving around the atmosphere. But, without influence you cannot bring units to the battlefield. Without influence you cannot buy cards that will poison, explode, and protect your forces against the trickery your opponents possess.

Damn it, really. Damn it all.

Setting aside these high level decisions and experiences, Rex is really a wonderful assortment of simple mechanisms. Each round you’ll auction very powerful face down cards. It would seem this is pointless, but one player knows what the cards are, so you can infer the quality of the card based on what they’re spending and what they need. All of the cards are good, so it’s never really a bad bet. However, one player earns all the money spent, so you don’t want to overpay. Or, sometimes, pay at all.

You then Recruit Units and Leaders. You have a finite pool of both and when they die, you must pay to bring them back. You always get some back for free, but mostly, you’ll be paying for them.

After this, players will move, then add units to the map. Deployment costs 1 Influence per Unit, or two if the space is occupied by enemy Units. Money goes very quickly!

Then, you battle. If you’re fighting over a space with Influence, you’re fighting for Influence. If you’re fighting over a stronghold, you’re fighting over effectively the victory points you need to win. I love the battle mechanism, so it deserves further scrutiny.

Players have some number of Units at the site. This is effectively what they are able to wager. On a dial, players choose a number of Units to commit up to the number they have. If you lose? You’re going to lose them all anyways. If you win? You lose the number committed. If you have nobody left, however, you cannot claim the resources. It’s a really tricky decision.

You augment this further with one of your leaders. If you commit 3 Units and a 4 Leader, you have 7 Strength. There are a few things to consider here. If your opponent has the Traitor with the leader you chose? They can win the battle and kill everything you have without suffering a single casualty. Gulp. Plus, there are weapons that can kill your leader. Unlike Units, though, your leader isn’t killed if you lose the battle, proving some leeway to take the risk.

Finally, you can use zero, one, or two cards to further augment things. These might grant you additional strength, kill the leader (removing their strength), or protect against a card your opponent played.

Once all this is decided, the battle plans are revealed, cards are resolved, traitors ruin literally everything, and the player with the most strength wins. The loser loses all Units, all cards played, and must sulk in their shame.

The system is simple, quick, and lends itself to so many mind games. So many delicious, tantalizing mind games. You must think ahead to consider how you’ll get the resources you’ll need, how you’ll move your troops, and which ally will take you home to victory. The game rewards the judicious tactical pivot, but will slowly step on your throat if you never think more than a round or two ahead. It’s the mind games though, that really make it special.

Let me tell you a quick story to conclude this review.

We were playing a four player game. Antonio played as Sol, who win if they can hold out until the end. I played as the Lazax, who have incredibly powerful super soldiers. Matt played Jolnar, who can see some combat information before they need to commit units. Finally, Megan played Letnev, who have four Traitor cards and are therefore incredibly deadly.

What we didn’t know was that Megan drew three of Antonio’s leaders. What we didn’t know was that she was going to blitzkrieg towards the throat shot.

The initial stages of the game went semi-predictably. Matt and I jockeyed for position over on the right side of the board while Megan marched straight at Antonio. I must admit, it was a little surprising to watch her use a Traitor so early, then another one, but surely she was just burning all of her resources early. This war is a marathon, not a spring.

At one point, an Alliance card comes up, which allows us to form an official alliance to win or lose together. Matt and I aren’t really thinking about Megan’s death march. Antonio is getting beaten back, so he’s a worthless ally. We somewhat discuss an alliance. We play at the notion. But, Matt and I are both a.) arrogant and b.) complete pricks, so we ignore the assistance each of us can provide and snicker, thinking how we’re going to win alone.

In the third round, Megan moves into the final stronghold she needs, shocking all of us. Antonio throws his hands up, fully resigned to the fact that he is dead, on the ground, whimpering. Megan just smirks. We have to all win, or she wins. Matt puts up a good fight, but she comes out ahead. Now, it’s my turn.

Remember those mind games? I outthink myself and choose a sub-par move to try to come out ahead. But, in doing so, I gave Megan the win with her superior forces. Megan wins her dramatic three round solo victory. She capitalized on her resources, acted decisively, and profited from our utter selfishness.

It was beautiful and ruthless. It was Dune.