300 Board Game Review (Blog)
Category: 300 News | Posted by: DaisyMay
Article Date: November 30, 2007 | Publication: Gateplay.com | Author: Mark Farr
300 Review: We march... from sacred Sparta... for glory!
This is not my first review, but my first for a game that already has one. I had previously sought to avoid submitting reviews for games already covered, as there are plenty of prolific reviewers far more knowledgeable and articulate than I. I am making an exception for 300: The Board Game because it has really grabbed me. I feel it deserves a few ardent promoters, as it seems to have a fair number of automatic detractors because of the film. If you did not like the film, you might be put off by the game's faithful resemblance, but I think that there is more game here, and certainly more fun, than most people expect. Of course, the fact that I am taken with 300: The Board Game doesn't mean that you will be. You could check my game ratings and played list, but they are too poorly maintained to provide an accurate indication. I would like to make it easier by providing you with a short history of my time in the hobby.
The first game I purchased since I left the army in 1989 was Memoir '44. I bought it purely on a whim and was pleasantly surprised to find a boardgame so different from those I had played as a kid, that looked so good, and that was so entertaining. I quickly collected all the Days of Wonder "big box" games, with Ticket to Ride being the standout favourite in my family. I began to look for more and more games and that eventually brought me here, where I soon learned that Puerto Rico, Tigris & Euphrates and Caylus are the sort of games real gamers should be playing. I felt ashamed that I had been suckered into liking a kid's game and set about trying to collect and play proper games.
I then went through a phase (I'm almost through it, I think) of purchasing just about any game I did not already have, prioritising the higher ranked ones (when I could find them). Tigris & Euphrates and El Grande are two of my favourites. Twilight Struggle and Power Grid really appeal to me, but Caylus and far too many others remain unplayed, as my main gaming group is most often comprised of my wife and 8 year old son. My son is too young for most of these (clearly putting him well below average intelligence, judging by the reports of other people's children here) and my wife simply doesn't fancy them.
I consoled myself with the fact that I was merely playing these lesser games because my family liked them. It's like watching a "chick flick" because you have to let your wife pick a DVD (and then keep her company through it) every now and then. That makes it OK, doesn't it? Sure, I enjoyed aspects of these games, but that's similar to being tricked into smiling, laughing, or (dare I say it?) getting something in your eye during one of those emotionally manipulative "chick flicks", right? It doesn't mean anything.
It took me some time to make peace with the fact that I honestly like Ticket to Ride. I still like Memoir '44 too, far more than BattleLore, which I had purchased to replace Memoir '44 because it had some credibility (at least when I bought it). My favourites remain influenced by the people I can get to play them with, but I personally enjoy all of them. Leaving 300 out of it, at the time of writing, my top 10 games are:
Tigris & Euphrates
Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit
Fire and Axe: A Viking Saga
Ticket to Ride
Carcassonne (played competitively, 2-player, with a seasoned opponent)
I hope that wasn't too long-winded, but I wanted to provide an idea of the sort of games I like, and my background, to enable you to better assess my opinion of 300: The Board Game. If there is nothing you enjoy on this list, you now know that I clearly like rubbish and can save yourself some time by not reading any further.
When I arrived at the store to pick up my order of 300: The Board Game, I was immediately impressed by the box cover. It is slick and glossy, and the artwork so faithful to the film that nobody who has seen it will need to ask you what game it is (the unmistakable "300" splashed across it does help). Like or hate the film, this is a striking box.
The board is quite thick, sturdy and large. It measures 91 x 56 cm (36 x 22 inches), which is significantly larger than I thought it would be. This is apparently to give you more than enough room to arrange the bits (tokens) comfortably, which it certainly does, but it also adds to the whole experience. A nice big board just seems appropriate for an "over-the-top" encounter like this. Having received a fair number of warped boards in other games recently, it's nice to see a thick, solid board like this that readily lays completely flat. The artwork is not spectacular, but nonetheless very appealing to me. I have read comments that the rocks look like crumpled brown paper and they do a bit (see the background of the title image at the top of this review), but it's very easy to read the board (no confusing jumble of shapes and colours here). There are several small touches in this game that I love. For example, there is an arrow on the board to remind players that the Persians may only attack Spartan units in the Hot Gates with a maximum of 3 units. This arrow (see image below) is shaped like the stylised Persian arrows from the film (and graphic novel). A trivial thing for many, but for me, little touches like this make me feel that a lot of thought and passion went into this game.
I was not thrilled to see that the cards had sharp (90 degree) corners. In my experience, this is never a good sign, invariably indicating less than impressive card quality. These cards were no exception. I rounded the corners using my wife's scrapbooking corner punch (see image below), but could do nothing about their flimsiness. They are quite functional, but a little thinner and flimsier than I would have liked. I read somewhere that they (Neca, presumably) wanted to keep the cost of the game down. It certainly was a bargain. The staff at the store were very surprised by the price being so low. More than one person did a double take when handling the box. For what you get for your money, I shouldn't complain, but I would have been prepared to pay more for better (not that what I would do should influence any reasonable company's decision).
All units are represented as cardboard tokens, instead of miniature figures. I think many would have preferred to see minis, but again, this keeps the cost down. Personally, I rather like the tokens. Having the unit stats easily visible on the token, and being able to flip it over to the wounded side when wounded (when the stats can be different), is very handy. Also, with battle games, I have always felt that sculpted miniatures are best used in conjunction with 3D terrain, as they tend to make the 2D features on boards and maps look extra flat. By using tokens, this is avoided. The quality of the tokens is quite satisfactory. They are nice and thick, fairly easy to read, and come pre-punched.
The dice could perhaps be more thematic, maybe with a faux stone look about them, with numerals carved into the surface. As it is, they are made of a transparent red plastic more reminiscent of a casino. Again, I suspect it's a cost issue. These dice are exactly the same as the dice in Sin City, also from Neca. They don't bother me at all. They look quite attractive, and the translucent red on the sepia tones of the board does not look out of place to me.
Some people have been unhappy with the rules being on 3 separate sheets of paper, instead of in a book or pamphlet form. I have a fondness for laminating and have cut player aid pamphlets into single sheets from games such as Commands & Colors: Ancients and Tide of Iron in order to laminate them. The way I see it, Neca have just saved me some effort. One of the sheets, printed on only one side, contains simpler "First Play Rules" for those wanting to start off light (not that this is a heavy game by any means). The other two sheets, printed on both sides for a total of four pages, constitute the "Main Rulebook". Both are well laid out and easy to follow.
Overall, the components are good. There is a plastic box insert to hold everything and it does that job fairly well. The two recesses for the card decks (one Persian, one Spartan) are perhaps not quite deep enough (even without card sleeves), sometimes allowing the top few cards to slide around in the box, but that's not really an issue.
This really is a two-player game. It will support up to four, but you've still got two forces (Persians and Spartans) going up against each other. In a three-player game, two players share the Spartan forces. For a four-player game, there are two players on either side. I have so many games that do not support two players at all, or not very well, that I wanted this game to be two-player anyway. I will refer to the Spartan player(s) as simply "the Spartans", and likewise for the Persian player(s), from now on.
The Spartans set up their units on one side of the board (in the Hot Gates), and the Persians on the other (the Coastal Plain). Both areas are divided into two rows of spaces. This initial arrangement appears in the rulebook, but is very easy to remember. Both sides have a camp on their side of the board, behind their units, where their reinforcements reside. The Spartans have only 7 units as reinforcements to begin with (and can never get more), whereas the Persians have 4 leader/special units and 2 war beasts to begin with and the dead (except for leaders/specials) are continually recycled back into their reinforcement pool.
The game is played in 5 to 6 rounds. At then end of each round, Ephialtes (there is a token for him) moves one step closer on a track (the goat path) towards the Persian camp. When he gets to the last space on this track, the game ends. As there are 7 spaces on this track, and he starts the game in the first, this allows for 6 rounds. However, the Persians have a card in their deck that moves him one extra space as long as he is not already too close to the end. In a game in which this card is drawn in the first 4 rounds (the card cannot be played unless Ephialtes is at least 3 spaces away from the end), the number of rounds played could (and probably will) be only 5.
The Spartans win the game if they manage to accumulate 100 glory points. In a game with three or four players, the Spartan player who reaches 50 glory points wins the game. They gain these points by eliminating Persian units (the point value for each Persian unit is printed on the respective token) and for advancing out onto the Coastal Plain, towards the Persian camp (points are gained for moving into these spaces). They can lose points if the Persians advance into the spaces constituting the Hot Gates, and if Dilios (the storyteller) is eliminated. Losing any other unit, including Leonidas (their king), does not cost glory points but, as Spartan units are not recycled, losses will make it harder for them to win battles. The Persians win if they can hold out until Ephialtes makes it to the end of the goat track, or if they advance all the way to the Spartan camp, before the Spartans achieve their glory.
At the start of the game, the players draw the top 3 cards from their draw decks to form their initial hand. The first round then begins. A round is divided into 4 phases, performed in order, with both players acting in each phase.
The Draw Phase simply involves each player drawing one card from his deck and adding it to his hand (even on the very first round). There is no limit to the number of cards that can be held in hand, and no limit to how many can be played in a phase, round or game. The cards state when they may be played, naming the phase prominently in red text (the rest of the text is white).
The March Phase allows each player to reinforce and move units forward (each unit may move a maximum of one space). There are stacking limits (six units for spaces on the Coastal Plain, and three units for spaces in the Hot Gates). The Persians must move troops forward and reinforce if possible, reflecting the relentless onslaught of their forces (and giving the Spartans a fair shot at their goal). The Spartans may march forward if they wish, but are not compelled to. Should the Spartans reach the very last space before the Persian camp, they are returned to the Hot Gates where they can be set up as they wish (limitations permitting). The Persians can and must move forward only, to spaces within the same row, whereas the Spartans can move forward or sideways (from one row to the other), if they choose to move at all. Neither side can ever choose to move backwards.
Battles are resolved in the Battle Phase. If there are any spaces adjacent to each other that contain opposing forces (called "Battle Spaces"), a battle occurs. Battles follow a specific order that is really very simple and easy to follow. The battle start sees players alternate in playing cards (that must say "Battle Start") until both players pass in succession. Then, players add up the attack values of all their units involved in the battle (this value is printed on each unit token). This total is compared to a Battle Chart printed on the board, which gives the number of attack dice they roll. The total of the roll is the amount of damage inflicted on the opponent. Player then select casualties to satisfy the amount of damage inflicted on their units. There is no rolling of dice for defence. Instead, each unit has a defence value printed on it. Discarding a unit satisfies damage equal to this value. If there is less damage remaining to be satisfied than the defence value of a given unit, that unit may be flipped to the wounded side instead. If a wounded unit is used to satisfy even one point of damage, it is immediately considered killed and removed (but does satisfy the amount of damage equal to the defence value printed on the wounded side). All Spartan units may be wounded, but some Persian units (infantry and cavalry) have no wounded side and are always killed when used to satisfy damage. Any Persian units killed have their glory point value added to the Spartan score, before being added to the Persian reinforcement pool (except for the four leader/special units). If one of the forces completely eliminates the other, they have conquered that space and may immediately move into it, if they choose to. Furthermore, the units in space directly behind them may also advance. Since this advance is optional, the Persians may choose to advance only some of their units (the Spartans are never forced to advance). If the Spartans advance into a Costal Plains space, they receive glory point equal to the value printed in that space (3, 6 or 12). If the Persians advance into a Hot Gates space, the Spartans lose glory points equal to the value printed in that space (3).
In the Ephialtes Phase, Ephialtes is moved one space closer to the Persian camp. If he has not yet reached the final space, and if the Spartans do not yet have sufficient glory points, a new round begins.
It does not seem like a lot happens, but the flow of the game and the solid, easy to follow rules make it very satisfying for me. I think there is a real polish to this game. I knew that the cards all had lines of dialog lifted directly from the film. This sounded like a bit of a gimmick to me when I first read it, but having played the game, I am very impressed with the way the effects of the card tie into the game. For example, the Spartan card "Nooo!", the anguished cry of the Captain when his son (Astinos) is killed, can only be played when Astinos is killed and the captain is in a battle space, and the effect is that all Persian units opposing the Captain are eliminated. This kind of detail makes card plays feel so much richer. Not all the cards are this impressive. "Here We Stand!" simply adds one to the defence values of all Spartan units in a given battle, but I think such cards are necessary too.
I have tried this entire review to avoid using the word "elegant" to describe this game. Doing so would place it alongside all the other games thus described, and I think it stands out as offering something else. I have just over one hundred and eighty games, many of which have been described as elegant. Of those, precious few play as quickly, or cleanly, and with as much fun and order as this one. It is easily my most satisfying purchase in many months.
There are some games that turn out to be nice surprises. In particular, there are the sort that appear to be too simple, or too strange, to warrant your attention. I felt that way about HeroScape Master Set: Rise of the Valkyrie, never wanting to go near a game that featured World War II soldiers fighting against (and/or alongside) dragons, robots, knights, and/or all manner of beings and creatures. I eventually bought it anyway, for my son ("Yeah, right." I hear you say), mostly because the terrain building aspect looked interesting. It turned out that the simple (yet solid) rules made for a lot of fun with somehow more than it seems should be there. 300: The Board Game is the second game to offer the same sort of nice surprise, only the theme has never worried me (I have no issues with the film). I think I'll go and convince my son to play a few games with me as soon as I get up from the keyboard. I hope that you'll at least give this game a go, if ever you get the chance.
Last edited by Tobold on 2007-11-30 18:11:42 CST (Total Number of Edits: 1)