Friday, January 9, 2009

Reviewing collectible games from a wargamer's perspective: Navia Dratp

There's not much to see here, from a wargamer's perspective. Navia Dratp is an abstract conflict game similar too chess, or, even more so, shogi. While it's a wargame in the very generic sense that chess or shogi are also wargames, Navia Dratp has even less thematic appeal to sort of things that wargamers generally appreciate such as history or military terms.

Indeed, the theme is wholly bizarre, and, I think played a big role in the game's failure to catch on. It's simply too alien from players' frame of reference. This is a shame, because underneath the odd theme there's actually a pretty interesting abstract strategy game.

Players control an army the comprises one Navia (an anime-style female figure that plays the role of a king in chess); seven black "gulled" which are pawn-like pieces that provide an added benefit of giving the player one "gyullas" (the game's currency) each time it moves, two red gyullas which can move a bit farther than the black ones and provide a bonus of 3 gyullas every time they move and seven "maseitai" which are the collectible pieces in the game. Each maseitai has unique movement ability and usually some other power as well. These other powers come into play when a player pays the "dratp" cost of the piece, which allows it to rotate a patented "compass" that reveals the maseitais enhanced powers. Sometimes this power is merely expanded movement ability, but there are many other powers as well that can affect friendly and/or opposing pieces. The more powerful the pieces, the greater the cost in gyullas to dratp it. Also, the dratp cost of the piece is how much gyullas the opponent can score for capturing the piece. It's sort as if a chess player scored a bonus of 3 victory points for capturing a knight.

Adding to the game interest and tension there are multiple ways to win. Perhaps the most common way is to capture the opposing Navia, similar to checkmating a king in chess. If a player can accumulate 60 gyullas he can "dratp" the Navia, which results in an instant win.

Harder to accomplish, but still posing a threat, if a player can move the Navia all the way across the board then they can also win. "

The Navia and the black and red gulled pieces start on the board, but all the maseitai start off board in a player's "keep." Instead of moving a piece a player can summon a maseitai to one of the summoning squares on the board. This means, in chess terms, a players risks losing tempo every time he deploys a new maseitai, providing another interesting strategic decision.

Compared to chess, most Navia Dratp figures have very restricted movement. The vast majority can move no more than two squares, and usually in quite restricted directions. A few pieces, once dratped, gain powers similar to chess bishops, rooks or the queen, but generally the game will develop at a slower pace than a chess game.

Mitigating the short movement ability, the board is only 7x7 squares and there's a lot of important game action that doesn't necessarily involve much movement.

Once you get used to the odd theme and terms, Navia Dratp is an interesting abstract strategy game. The collectible aspects are muted by the fact that the game went out of print before getting too far along. There are only 30 maseitai in the two expansions, in addition to the 14 that come with the two starter sets. All are still available online. While there are seven different Navia figures, from a game function standpoint they are all the same, so you don't need any besides the two in the starters.

As far as whether the game is recommended or not, it really depends on whether you're a wargamer who also happens to like abstract strategy games. Many wargamers like chess, but I'm not sure that they like chess out of proportion to the general population. So if you happen to like chess-like games, you may find Navia Dratp of interest.

If, on the other hand, you're pretty strictly a wargamer then take a pass on Navia Dratp. It bears not resemblance at all to a fantasy or sci fi wargame, let alone a history-based game, and, if anything, the bizarre theme will be too annoying to deal with.

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