This week let's take a look at a game which may have the best mechanics, game play of any abstract strategy game created in the last couple of decades, coupled with one of the worst marketing plans in the history of board games; Navia Dratp.
Navia Dratp is a recent creation by Koichi Yamazaki, and released in 2004 by BanDai, so yes it is from Japan.
Let's start with the good stuff, the game play.
Navia Dratp is very much a game in the style of chess, well to be more accurate it's a game in the same vein as Shogi, the Japanese version of chess reviewed here last week. That said Yamazaki has added a bunch of new elements to the mix to make Navia a definitely unique game.
Players start the game, played on a 7X7 board, with nine pieces on the board, called gulled stones, which really equate to pawns. The actual pieces are rather cheap looking, which is odd since the rest of the components for the game are great.
Like pawns the gulled stones have limited movement, but in Navia Dratp they have an essential purpose. Each time you move a gulled stone you earn gyullas, which would be far better off being called something simple like gold pieces. You can start to see a major flaw developing on the marketing side with all the near impossible to pronounce terms.
Anyway, gyullas are an important aspect of the game, so you want to earn as many as you can.
Players also start with a Navia figure on the board, essentially a chess king in female form. If your Navia is captured you lose the game.
Each player also starts the game with seven Maseitai, the major pieces of the game. The Maseitai start off the board, and can be summoned onto the board on specific squares in lieu of any other action on your turn.
This is where it gets interesting, each Maseitai has a specific movement pattern, as well as a dratp cost. Pay the dratp cost with gyullas and you can flip the movement key, exposing a new movement pattern, or other enhanced or special ability. This again leads back to Shogi where most pieces can be flipped for enhanced moves.
The Maseitai pieces are fairly large, nicely detailed pieces, with a definite fantasy/anime-look. They are actually quite stunning, and next to the mechanics, are easily the best aspect of this game.
Also each time you capture an opponent's Maseitai you gain it's drapt cost in gyullas.
If you have 60 gyullas you can dratp your Navia and that is an automatic win, one of three win conditions, the others being capturing the opposing Navia, or getting your Navia across the board to your opponent's end line. Having three win conditions is a major plus of the game.
The game is also collectible, meaning there were boosters packs of Maseitai available. With two starter packs and two booster sets, there are 44 Maseitai out there to choose from, and since you only have seven in play, the options are rather diverse, even though the game lasted only a short time in terms of new product.
As a game it plays great.
However, marketing wise it was a huge failure.
On one hand chess fans were no doubt turned off by the weird language, and believe me when you start looking at the names of the Maseitai it gets even worse with Sungyullas, Agunilyos and Coydrocomp just three examples.
For younger people more into the world of Japanese anime, a definite influence here, the fact the game is a chess variant wasn't likely a big draw.
The game also came with two distinct starters, but you needed both to play. Can you imagine buying a chess set and getting only half the pieces in the box and then having to buy another set to play.
Navia Dratp is an amazing game, but you do have to cut through a language barrier of sorts to get into the heart of the mechanics to appreciate it. It is worth the effort though. You can still find starters on ebay quite easily, and if you like chess at all, or just a great strategy game, this is a must to find.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov. 26, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada