If you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, then the same holds true for board games as well. Take a look at the cover of Nexus Ops:
Based on that, what are the odds you’d ever pick it up off the shelf at a store let alone purchase it? Slim to none would be my guess, assuming you knew nothing about the game in the first place. I got a copy of Nexus Ops on a whim as it was for sale at a great price over at Tanga. Little did I know a fantastic game was hidden inside that horrific box.
Nexus Ops falls directly into the category I would consider gateway games: games that are good for introducing people to the wide world of newer board games. It takes elements from classics like Risk that many will be familiar with and turns it into one of the best light war games I’ve played.
In Nexus Ops, players are pitted against each other in an attempt to complete missions that earn them points; first to twelve points wins the game. The game takes place on a modular hex map forming two rings around the Monolith in the center. While the number and type of tiles are fixed their locations will be different each game. Each hex also has a random resource tile placed face down. As players explore the hexes the resource tiles are revealed, either showing a mine (to earn players cash) and/or a free unit.
On their turn a player first purchases new units. There are six types of units ranging from lowly humans to the massive rubium dragons with unit costs increasing appropriately. This means you could buy a bunch of cheap humans or a single dragon… it’s your choice. Then you place these units in your starting area and proceed to move as many units as you wish. Some units – like the lava leaper – have special movement rules; typically a unit is allowed to move a single hex. After movement battles are resolved and your turn is over. If you have units on a mine you earn the number of credits listed, take a secret objective card and play continues to the next player.
A couple of things make Nexus Ops stand out from war games many are familiar with (Risk, etc.). First, the combat system is very interesting. Units are ranked from low to high. All hits are determined by the roll of a six-sided die but the number needed to hit the enemy varies based on the unit type; the stronger the unit, the lower you need to roll. For example, the rubium dragons hit on 2+ while humans only hit in on a 6. What really makes the combat work, though, is that combat is resolved from high unit to low unit: first the rubium dragons attack, then the lava leapers, rock striders, crystallines, fungoids and finally the humans. When you take a hit you get to choose which unit to lose. This means humans are least effective in battle as they aren’t likely to hit but are the cheapest unit making them most effective as fodder. Likewise, having a army of rubium dragons look impressive but without fodder to protect them you’ll be taking casualties It’s a very clever system and while not entirely original it serves its purpose extremely well and adds for some fun decision making when figuring out what units to build.
(image courtesy Jezztek @ BGG)
What really makes the game shine, though, are the mission cards. At the end of each turn you take a mission card. These cards list a number of victory points (usually 1 to 4) and the condition needed to meet that objective. You may have a mission that earns you 1 point for defeating a lava leaper in battle: pretty easy. On the other hand you may have another mission to bring two rubium dragons to the middle of the map, teleport them to an opponent’s home base and win a battle; not quite as easy but worth more points.
These mission cards really give the game a great twist. All of the objectives are offense-oriented so there’s no reason to sit back and “turtle.” Generally, if you aren’t attacking someone you are probably doing something wrong! It’s a very fast-paced game and you’ll find yourself working hard to set yourself up to complete the missions you have in your hand. Your opponents are doing the same, though, so you don’t want to leave yourself open for an easy attack. Each battle you lose is one or more points for your opponent so you really have to plan your moves accordingly.
In the middle of the board is the Monolith. If you control the Monolith at the end of your turn you get two combat cards; you’ll also earn a single combat card as a consolation prize if you are defending and lose the battle. These cards do all sorts of crazy things but often help you in battle or give you extra credits or further movement for your units. Combat cards will greatly sway the course of the game so you never want to let a single player dominate the Monolith for too long. This forces all players into the middle of the map, pretty much guaranteeing even more chaos!
I love Nexus Ops, there’s no doubt about it. It’s very easy to learn, fast-paced, has lots of combat, cool figures and plays in under two hours. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better light war game with this much variety, depth and fast play time. The victory point system is brilliant as the cards you pick up determine your focus for the game so it’s more than just trying to wipe everyone off of the map. In theory a player could be fully eliminated but that’s almost never going to happen. Due to the nature of the mission cards you can fall behind and make a huge comeback with a couple of well-played turns. At the same time you draw mission cards at random so it’s quite possible that the missions you have are simply going to be difficult to achieve based on the situation.
(image courtesy paw @ BGG)
Far as I’m concerned, Nexus Ops should pretty much replace Risk as the go-to war game. I really do think it’s a game most people should own. It’s fast, easy, fun and highly replayable. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. Just ignore the box art.