Friday, August 28, 2015

Quantum: Eric Zimmerman's Work of Staggering Genius

Quantum gets very little appreciation, and I think it’s because people find it so hard to define. Like Spock flying into the heart of V’ger, there’s a lot going on. It might make sense internally, but there’s little common frame of reference. Today I’m going to try and as my assistants I will use 3 (decidedly inferior to Quantum) board games as examples.

Stage 1: King of Tokyo

Ships in Quantum are represented by dice. The face up number is the type of ship, 1 is essentially a Death Star, while 6 is a super-fast scout. The numbers in between are ships filling the spectrum of options between these 2 extremes. So the first thing you do in Quantum is randomly generate your ships by rolling dice, then rolling them again if you didn’t like what you got the first time.

The dice rolling is only barely similar to King of Tokyo. Once you’ve established your initial ships, they stay that way until they are destroyed or you spend effort to transform them.

Like in King of Tokyo, combat is encouraged but not completely necessary. Ships gain “infamy” points when they destroy other ships, but there is no penalty for losing in an attack. Your ship can only be destroyed when defending. These infamy points can eventually be used to buy a quantum cube (the victory points to win the game) and also to gain advance cards from the middle of the board (like the mutations in King of Tokyo).

Getting the advances can also be done via research, which a player is welcome to take as one of his or her actions during the turn. Research points accrue like infamy points, and when you’ve earned enough, you get to grab an advance card, this time with no quantum cube.

Stage 2: Catan

Building quantum cubes is how you win the game. The first player to deploy all 7 cubes on the board is the victor. Just like settlements in Catan, as you expand your empire you move closer and closer to winning the game. There are no victory points, and I really, really admire the thought that went into this.

You don’t gain any resources from quantum cubes, but you do get to build new ships in their proximity, meaning you really do get the feeling of an expanding empire. Building also does not require resources, instead you need a special numerical combination of ships (each planet is different) and getting these numbers together can generate the same sort of frustration as missing your wheat payout in Catan.

While quantum cubes can never be destroyed, the primary source of player conflict is in knocking opposing ships out of commission while their owner is sweating over getting just the right number combinations.

Stage 3: Space Chess

The movement of the dice is basically Chess in space. All the pieces have narrow, well-defined movement rules. Each has a special power you need to remember. And besides building quantum cubes, the primary use for ships is blocking opposing players from moving into new territory.

Also like Chess, the player needs to think a few steps ahead since accidentally leaving an opening for your opponent to build a final quantum cube is the eventual winning condition of every game.

Stage 4: The Game is Completely Original

After comparing Quantum to 3 incredibly diverse existing titles, I’m going to go ahead and negate everything I just typed by saying Quantum is like none of these games. You would never play it and say “This is just like Settlers of Catan” unless you were a weirdo committed to finding the parallels like I was. Instead, Quantum is an entirely original creation on both mechanics and style.

After playing over a thousand hands of Race for the Galaxy, I thought I had basically found my space game. But Quantum is most surprising of all to me because after spending way too much time searching for other games like RFTG, I love Quantum even though it has almost no similarities.

Designer Eric Zimmerman is a genius. I have absolutely no familiarity with his work before or after Quantum, but I’ll be doing my research. I found out about Quantum by playing on BGA, and now it's on my list to get. Do yourself a solid and check this game out. Then try to figure out why nobody seems to be talking about it anymore.

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