Thursday, April 16, 2009

Review -- LANCER


There are always those games which are just plain old fun, even if they aren't particularly well-known.
If you are a fan of checkers and of Chinese checkers, then Lancer is likely to be one of those games which is just plain old fun.
Released in 1973 by Waddington Games, Lancer really combines elements of both aforementioned games, in what is a pure abstract strategy game.
Each player has a force which contains two types of pieces, a set of smaller pawns that make up the bulk of a force, and then larger pieces which are defence only.
Lancer is played on a board of hexagons. The board is a sort of muted pink colour, that screams the 70's. A tad loud to be sure, OK really it nearly hurts the eyes, but that was the era of disco too, so what should we expect.
The hexagonal board allows for movement and capture can take place in six different directions. As an opponents piece is jumped it is removed from the game. Any number of captures can be made in one turn and pieces may jump over their own men.
Jumps are not mandatory so you can't force a foe into a trap.
The combination of six avenues of attack, and the ability to use your own pieces to set up long combination moves allows for some massive offensive strikes. One miscue in terms of keeping your main forces with a strong defensive formation can be a huge mistake. In one move a significant portion of your force can be lost in a single extended jumping sequence.
In that regard Lancer tends to favour those who can best manage their forces in terms of a creating a defensive formation, that allows for the quick attack once an opponent makes a mistake.
Defensive positions are on one hand made somewhat easier to maintain by the ability to hopscotch your lead forces forward, although the hexagonal board means that protecting your forward flanks are critical, or you can be left open to an attack which simply zigzags through your pieces capturing along the way.
Another interesting aspect of Lancer is that the board is reversible. One side has a playing surface for two players, the reverse allowing for three-player action.
Since very few abstracts allow for three-player games, it is a nice feature with Lancer. Like most three-player game attempts, it usually comes down to two players focusing their attention on the third, eliminating that opponent, then turning on each other.
That said, because Lancer does favour a flare for defence, a player can 'turtle' their forces in the face of a combined enemy, and work to pick off pieces when the moment is right.
The more dramatic the attack, the more likely a flank will come open, and that is when the turtle has to come out of his shell.
Now it might sound like the goal of Lancer is simply the elimination of the opposing force, but that is not the case.
A player must actually traverse the board with his pieces in order to enter what is essentially the opponent's goal. In the two-player game you have to have two pieces in the opponent's goal area (a four-space area). Once a piece is in the goal, it can still be captured, so you can't get a piece in the goal unprotected because it won't last long.
In three-player action you have to get one piece in the goal area of both opponents.
That is where the defender pieces play a significant role. Since they are not allowed beyond a certain point on the board, they are there primarily to guard the goal, a last line of defence if you will.
The defender pieces are another aspect of the game that is purely 70's in flavour, made of clear plastic, embedded with glitter. Again sort of garish, but part of the period charm of Lancer.
Not well-known, but the game plays quick, is simple to learn, and offers challenges that make it fun to play, and you get a healthy dose of retro-70s to boot.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper March 25, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

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