Thank you for checking review #106 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
An overview of Hoplomachus: Origins
Hoplomachus: Origins is a board game designed by Josh J. Carlson and Adam Carlson that is published by Chip Theory Games. The box state it plays 1-2 players and has a playtime of 15-30 minutes.
Hoplomachus: Origins takes you back to where the story begins, within the small battle arenas of 3 unique civilizations. You will represent one of the warrior houses found in these cities and will be battling for the right to represent your entire civilization in Rome. Quick fights, 3 exotic arenas, and competitive drafting of unique warriors, are what set Origins apart from our other 2 games in the series. Of course, it wouldn’t be Hoplo if you weren’t playing with premium 11.5 gram chips, neoprene mats, and custom dice!
One of the coolest things about this game are the components in here. The chips are wonderful in quality and have a nice weight. I wish the health chips were a little thicker and harder, but the presence of having 3-5 chips stacked beneath the character’s chip is pretty darn cool. It has some nice custom dice, and it comes with three box-sized playmats to present three different arenas for combat in the game. What comes in the box is a really good quality.
I like the different factions within the box for units and how you can mix-and-match to form your own unique teams. I love a good deck construction game, and this lets you prepare your teams for the trials ahead of you. And with what you’ll encounter, sometimes a change is necessary in order to overcome a specific challenge.
The game is extremely simple in rules and execution. This is something you can teach in a few minutes and allow people to have fun chucking dice and deploying units on the mat. Combine that with the production value and table presence and, well, this is a game I want to show off. That means photos when playing solo, and I can only imagine how it could grab crowds at a convention or game day.
Setup, teardown, and playtime are all extremely quick in Hoplomachus – even when choosing a new team it can go at a relatively fast clip. This means the game is easy to pull out on any given night, even on an impulse, because there is no consideration about if there will still be enough time to play the game. The only question you’ll be asking yourself is how many times will you play it before putting the game away for the night. Resetting things for a rematch, or to move to the next task, are relatively simple as well which helps encourage it getting to the table often and staying there for multiple plays in one session/
I love how this box comes with three playmats, and each of them operates in a different way. Two of them have a pair of victory conditions, and the other is a kill-the-leader approach to the gameplay. This means you aren’t necessarily forced into just wiping out the enemy forces – in fact it can often be advantageous to pursue the other victory condition instead.This also means that in a given night I can play three matches and have them all feel very different if they each use a different map. They would have been cool as just aesthetic differences, but the fact that they play uniquely is incredible.
The solo mode in this game is interesting because it provides twenty trials to accomplish, and you move up the “ladder” so to speak as you complete each trial in order. They get a lot harder, and less straight-forward, as you go along and provide some interesting challenges along the way. Perhaps even more interesting is that losing once costs you nothing, but if you lose it a second time you drop down to the previous trial and must complete that one all over again. It feels like you are a gladiator team clawing your way up through the crowd’s favor.
The game is random. You’re rolling a few dice in order to try and damage the opposing side and no matter which die you roll there is a chance of failure. Sometimes you’ll be rolling four dice and need just one hit, yet get none. Sometimes you’ll need three and get three. It happens. With just a few units per side, a bad turn or two can be crippling – or a good turn can lead to a rout. This game plays so far, though, that it can be forgiven for the randomness. And between recruiting your forces and how to deploy and use them, there is plenty of room for strategy even in this small, fast experience of each game.
There are too few units in the game to keep a player satisfied for long. Games should feel like a self-contained experience that players can add expansion content if they want more. But this almost feels too restricted in size for the number of units in the game. Considering you are drafting teams of 6 in solo play (and 8-10 in 2-player games), the unit and tactic pool shrinks really quickly and you’ll find yourself relying on the same combinations over and over again rather than trying to find what else pairs well together. Even worse are the lack of dice. Far too often you will be rolling that same die several times for one attack because you just don’t have enough in said color to execute the printed attack.
The rulebook is functional, but definitely needs some additional refinement. The game is quite simple in execution, something that benefits the game and by extension gives the rules a pass, but there is definitely room for it to improve with a nice professional editor. The solo rules could use a little expansion as well, and there are several abilities that might benefit from a visual example (such as Throw) in order to help new players wrap their heads around how the ability works. And recommended first teams, for 2-player and for solo play, might have been helpful to get players into the game quickly – it is hard to make a team when you haven’t a clue about which units are more useful than others, etc. A pair of player aids, also, would go a long way to being useful. One side could have a quick summary of the turn flow, providing gentle reminders such as you can deploy both a Tactic and a Unit at the start of a turn. But mainly, as a place to list what each ability does in brief (with maybe expanded, with examples, versions in the rulebook).
I had heard hushed whispers of the Hoplomachus series in the past, but never paid them enough mind. Had I been a more avid follower of someone like Ricky Royal I might have given the game series a closer look, but the theme never really drew me in for some reason as a solo experience. And then a friend of mine, whose gaming tastes align pretty darn close to my own, was selling his Hoplomachus collection at a really good price. After some conversations with him, I discovered it was because the game played best 1-2 in his opinion and he just doesn’t hit that player count enough to justify the game in his collection. So I started looking into it a little more seriously, as I do whenever I hear a game is best at those player counts, and tried to get a time to have him teach me Hoplomachus before committing. My daughter unfortunately caused that evening of plans to get cancelled, and my friend sold the collection off before I could try it. But the game stuck on my radar.
As luck would have it, I was able to get a used copy of Hoplomachus: Origins at what I felt was a good bargain. It was the smallest set of the series, and provided a low-risk chance to try out the game to see if it lived up to the hype. And all of this is a roundabout way to coming to this verdict: I fell in love with the game from the first play. It is a fast and furious solitaire experience (that is equally enjoyable with another player – something I intend to review later in full) that holds a really unique approach with the Solo Trials list. I’m not very far up the list yet, but I’ve experienced enough to know this game is more than a keeper – something reflected by its high appearance on my Top 100 List.
The game is a perfect balance between strategic planning and adapting to the random results of the die rolls – something that works well here simply because a game is 5-15 minutes at most. A string of rotten rolls means set it up and try again, and a run of luck can carry you up the Trials ladder to greater challenges. Apart from the first night I played the game – learning it rather late at night – I have never played it just once when it hits the table. It is always a series of 2-4 Trials getting played which makes this a perfect solo game for any situation (except on-the-go). The game takes minimal time to set up, because there are so few units to choose from, Everything about this is quick paced – except for the Keywords on the units. I wish there was a better way than looking at the back of the rulebook, but at least it is on the back and organized well. This really only becomes an inconvenience in a 2-player game since you can’t both be looking at the keywords at once.
The game certainly isn’t without imperfections, yet it is a game I’ve come to quickly fall in love with because it is so highly replayable, each play goes by quickly, and there are so many team combinations you can try without much investment beyond this box. My biggest desire in here is that there were more units to choose from, because I’m already finding myself feeling like there just aren’t enough in there for a new player. Which is probably a good thing for Chip Theory Games, because I’m going to be picking up some new content to expand the game and, eventually, probably try to add everything Hoplomachus to my collection.