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Introduction

"Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel" is a tabletop board game, which I shall be calling "Mutants" from now on because life is short. Originally available in 1993, Mutants is no longer produced, but widely available on eBay. I recently acquired a copy and my friends and I have been enjoying playing it regularly over the last several weeks.

In brief

Mutants is a kind of role-playing action-adventure board game, similar to Heroquest or Space Crusade. One player controls the Dark Legion (a horde of disposable bad guys) and up to four other players each control two Doomtroopers (the heroes). You are encouraged to play the game as a "campaign", where you record the score of the hero characters between game sessions, and each hero team gains access to better weapons and abilities as they level up. Innovatively, the campaign rules suggest that the players in your group take turns playing the Dark Legion (of which more later).

The stuff

This is one of those marvellous games that comes with loads of exciting stuff in the box, enough to make a gaming geek very happy and anybody else wonder what the hell they've got themselves into.

Miniatures

You get about thirty unpainted, plastic miniatures, in various colours. They're about 4cm tall, compatible with Games Workshop figures. The bulk of these represent the Dark Legion, and these are mostly rather nicely sculpted, within the limitations of being single-piece moulds. The heroic characters are, oddly, slightly disappointing by comparison, being almost universally posed in an unlikely arms-and-legs-splayed position. They're fine, just not as nice as the monsters.

The Ezoghoul character gets a special mention; the fearsome dreadnought of the Dark Legion army, twice the size of the other figures, it's the only model made of several parts. It's a kind of demonic centaur, modelled rearing up on its back legs. The previous owner of my set only painted this one figure, and chose to model it on a zebra, for reasons I will never know. Also, it's not been glued together, earning my model the nickname "Mr Floppy Horse" from my gaming buddies.

Terrain

The game takes place inside the titular Citadel. Eight square board sections are provided, each one being a grid of squares that measure the models' movement. Each section represents a part of the interior of the citadel, and has some internal walls marked on it, and some reasonably nice artwork for the floors of the rooms and corridors. They are arranged in various configurations according to the instructions in the Mission Book. Some missions use only a few of the eight sections, some use nearly all of them.

One of the eight squares is on a vacuum-formed shell which raises it up higher than the others, and has stairways set into it. This adds a little variety to the terrain, but the rules for line-of-sight around the stair areas are a bit fiddly.

Also included are some some vertical walls to stand on top of the board, again, according to the Mission Book. The vertical walls look nice but they don't serve a gameplay purpose, and they're so absurdly tall that they sometimes get in the way, in which case they can be removed.

Panels

Many gamers will be familiar with the notion of a paper "character sheet", where you record the current status of your character; equipment carried, experience gained, and so on. Mutants instead provides you with some rather nice status panels. They are made from pleasingly sturdy plastic (unlike the flimsy equivalent in Space Crusade) with a cardboard inset. The inset has little holes in it, and plastic pegs are used to keep track of various statistics about each Doomtrooper team. (Remember, the "Doomtroopers" are the good guys, confusingly.) The pegs sit snugly and it's very satisfying to move the peg up a few notches to record the points you've earned by killing a monster. They're secure enough to stay put between gaming sessions, too, which is very useful if you are playing a campaign.

Cards

By the gods, this game has a lot of cards. They are playing-card sized, with good quality full colour artwork on both sides. There are various little decks but the majority are Equipment Cards, representing the vast array of gadgets and weapons that the Doomtroopers must select from at the start of their mission. Should you take the "Violator Sword" or the "Gehenna Puker"? Choices, choices.

Dice

Obviously no such game would be complete without special custom dice. Mutants dice are simple; each face is either blank (boo) or marked with an EXPLOSION (yay explosions!). They come in white, red, and black, the difference being that white dice have the least explosion faces, and black the most. You only get three of each colour, which isn't really enough; I made some more.

The plot

The board game is a spin-off of an RPG called simply "Mutant Chronicles". I'm not familiar with the RPG, but here's what little I can gather from the board game: It is The Future. Sinister corporations vie for dominance and hire brutal mercenaries (these are the GOOD guys!). A terrifying citadel spews forth undead monsters (no, I have no idea why). The corporations form a shaky coalition to team up and destroy the menace of the scary citadel.

So, it's bollocks really. The interesting point is that the Good Guy players are only superficially aligned. In the game, the effect of this is that you are allowed (encouraged!) to screw over your supposed "allies" and claim more monster-killing glory for yourself. However, the mission goals are too hard to achieve if you don't team up to at least some degree. It's a good balance.

The rulebook

Ah, the rulebook. The only serious blot on the Mutants copybook. The rulebook is a bit rubbish. It starts with rules for a "simplified game", and then goes on to later explain the rules for the "real game". This is all well and good, but, alas, various of the fundamental rules about shooting and moving and so on are scattered more or less randomly between the "simplified" section and the "real" section. It's really hard to find anything. There are also far too many confusing ambiguities. There's nothing really wrong with the rules themselves, but the presentation of the rules is really below par.

I went through the rule-book and produced some summary sheets, which were a huge improvement, but, really, shouldn't be necessary.

The game

Campaign

The game comes with a Mission Book. Each mission takes an hour or two to play through. You can play individual missions, but, really, the campaign mode is where the fun is, and that's what I'll be focusing on here.

Each player picks a Corporation, which they will use for the whole campaign. The various Corporations are broadly similar, but each has one unique special power. For example, the Mishima mercs can move slightly farther each turn than the other mercs; the Cybertronic mercs roll an extra defence die, so they're harder to kill; and so on. This is good, because everyone gets to feel a little bit special.

For each mission in the campaign, one player must control the Dark Legion. Brilliantly, players take turns to perform this task, so that no one player has to be the Dungeon Master for the whole campaign. Each player keeps one Doomtrooper team for the whole campaign, but sets them aside for the mission when taking a turn at playing the Dark Legion.

During the mission, players get "promotion points" (like XP!) for each monster killed, and at the end of the mission are awarded "credits" (distinct from promotion points!) depending on whether or not the mission objectives were achieved. Whichever player is controlling the Dark Legion also wins points and credits, for injuring the mercs, or stopping them from achieving their objectives, and applies these to the Corporation team they usually use. This is great because it encourages the Dark Legion player to make life hard for the Corporation players, even though they will be playing alongside them on the next mission.

Abilities

Before a mission starts, the Corporation players take turns to pick gadgets and weapons from the equipment locker. The available equipment is limited by a team's credits and points. However, the points and credits are not "spent" and at the end of the mission the equipment is returned. So, on the next mission, the player may take an entirely different set of equipment. As the campaign progresses, and players accumulate more points and credits, they are able to take more and better equipment with them each time. So while you might only be allowed a bog-standard Plasma Carbine on the first mission, on a later mission you can take the more impressive Deathlock Drum, and fit it with a laser sight. The promise of getting your hands on bigger and better hardware is a great incentive to do well.

Cleverly, the hit points and attack dice of the various monsters is determined based on the number of points the players have. So, the monsters level up alongside the players, to keep it challenging.

Missions

The missions are pleasingly varied; naturally there are some of the "Wipe them out. All of them." variety, but there are also missions like "Run the hell away from them." and "Blow up their computer.". Also, some missions instruct players to take a "Secondary Mission" card, which will detail a secret mission for that player. The secret missions are imaginative: e.g. "Your superiors aren't convinced that your troops are trying hard to succeed in battle. Do not return until both troopers have lost most of their hit points."

Gameplay

Turn order is randomised; every player gets one turn per round, in a random order. This limits your ability to plan too far ahead. In a social light-hearted game like this, I think this is a good thing; you don't end up waiting ages for your turn while someone plans a five-round strategy.

On a player's turn, they may move and/or attack with each of their troops; the Troopers have two mercs each, and the Dark Legion has somewhere between a couple and a dozen monsters, at any given time. Tactics mostly revolve around trying to do the most damage to the enemy whilst ending your turn with your troops out of enemy range. The various special weapons and bonus abilities mix this up and make it interesting, plus of course there are the mission objectives to worry about.

On top of this, each merc player has a few "Doomtrooper Cards" which they may play at any time. Each card has two effects - one will be a useful boon (e.g. "Disintegrator beam: Add 1 to all attack rolls this turn") whereas one will somehow screw over one of your supposed allies (e.g. "Surveillance Systems Hack: Your troopers fake evidence to claim extra kills; steal 5 points from another player"). Only one effect may be used, so you must choose whether to be a team player or a treacherous scumbag.

Adding even more the the mix, the Dark Legion player draws an event card every turn (just like the alien player does in Space Crusade). The effects of these vary; maybe all the monsters can move farther this turn, or perhaps one of the monsters will be allowed to teleport behind the mercs and shoot them in the back.

Conclusion

Mutants is tremendous fun. It's clearly been plagiarised from Heroquest and Space Crusade, but lovingly and expertly so. It's too unpredictable to be regarded as a serious strategy game, but great for social gaming, where the goal is to have a good time, and winning is secondary. The various special ability cards allow for dramatic feats of unexpected heroism, or sudden death. The scoring system in the campaign mode is such that every player is almost bound to earn points for every game, even if they don't achieve their objectives, so there's not a terrible sting in defeat. My little group are playing mission 5 out of 10 tomorrow and I think there's every chance we'll keep playing right through the mission book.

Overall, highly recommended, but do beware the crummy rulebook.


See pictures and read more at the excellent BoardGameGeek website: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/1621

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