Sunday, August 24, 2008

Monsters Menace America -- a wargamer's view

I have a bit of a split personality when it comes to wargames. While my main interest is and has always been historical wargames, I have an undeniable weakness for parody and humor games as well.

So, as a long-time owner of Nuclear War and The Awful Green Things From Outer Space, it's probably no surprise that I have a copy of Monsters Menace America. I probably would have picked up the AH version (Monsters Ravage America) except that its publication occurred during a lull in my game-buying. Still, I think I like the newer version anyway as its production values seem more attractive to non-wargamers and it looks like it stripped out some of the "fiddly" elements.

The game uses an idea occasionally seen before in wargaming to handle the problem of asymmetric situations by having each player play both sides, In this case, each player controls one monster but also controls one branch of the Armed services trying to stop the rampage (Army, Navy, Marine Corps of Air Force). This cleverly gives everyone plenty to do and especially lets everyone have fun stomping around the country as a monster.

The game is very Hollywood cinematic in its theme, and as a matter of fact, Hollywood is one of the places monster can end up. Monsters gather strength by chomping cities and accumulating powers through mutation, while the armed forces try to chip away at the monsters strength. Once enough place have been stomped the game moves into a final showdown phase where the monsters duel until one remains standing.

There's been a fair amount of criticism about this final showdown, with many players suggesting the first part of the game hardly matters and everything comes down to the how the dice fall at the end. To the extent that winning through skill is important to a player, I think they will tend to dislike this mechanism. On the other hand, I can't help that feel that sort of serious player really isn't the target audience here. All parody games seem to have a high random element to them and have rules that are simply unfair. Just the other day I was eliminated from a game of Nuclear War during the opening play of Secrets/Top Secrets before I even ha d chance to play a card. Players of Munchkin know that player skill is no match for lucky cards and the fate of the stalwart crew of the Znutar in Awful Green Things depends an awful lot on the draw of weapon chits.

No, for a parody game the point is to have fun during play, have many entertaining twists and turns, hopefully with plenty of opportunity for mocking, jokes and sound effects. Final victory is just an excuse to end the game at some point and start a new one. One aspect that's common in these sort of games is a short playing time. At 90 minutes, Monsters Menace America is at the longish end of the scale for this sort of thing, but still short enough that a group can plan to play at least twice in an evening.

There's no player elimination, so everybody gets a chance to play the whole game and the final showdown will only take a few minutes, so even the losers don't have too much down time.

There are different strategies available, so players are not merely pawns at the mercy of the dice, and players can affect their final chances, so it's not just Snakes and Ladders. But it's also not chess or Bonaparte at Marengo, either. Luck will play a major role in the outcome. Personally, though, I think just playing with Zorb of Toxicor is cool enough that it really doesn't matter if they get thwacked in the final showdown.

It's a good game for what it is. You don't go to watch Godzilla expecting high concept, so you shouldn't expect it in MMA, either.

1 comment: