March of the Ants is a one- to five-player game for ages 13 and up by Ryan Swisher and Tim Eisner, who also did the art for the game. It’s published by Weird City Games, and it takes 60 to 90 minutes to play. It can be played competitively or cooperatively, where everyone wins or loses together. It retails for $45.
How it works:
Players each play an ant colony trying to win the most points over several seasons of the game. It plays in phases, the first of which is the work phase. Players can pay food and ants or larvae to perform certain actions: turning over new parts of the meadow, moving, drawing cards, and playing cards. Each time a player does an action, the other players get to do one, too, though it won’t be as grand.
Then comes the soldier phase, where players battle each other, and sometimes battle centipedes, as well. Battle is calculated by the number of ants in a hexagon in the meadow, and players can secretly add values from the cards in their hands. If they have evolved their ant’s head (by playing a card), that helps them in battle, too.
During the queen phase, players can harvest food, larvae, points, and cards from the collection sites they inhabit in the meadow. They have to feed their ants, and then they get more food and larvae.
In the slumber phase, players check to see if they have accomplished any goals they set aside, and they gain points for those, as well as for having control of hexes attached to the center of the board.
Why you might buy March of the Ants:
This is a well conceived game that ties in aspects of many other games into a seamless whole. Everything about the game works. It’s fun, too.
No one part of the game takes over another, so it’s very balanced. You get a point for winning in battle, for example, but even if you win, you lose some of your ants. And there’s usually not a guarantee you’ll win.
This is an unusual theme for a board game, and the designers did a lot of work to make evoke a feeling. Even though your ants are cubes, and you’re pushing them around on hexagons, you see the theme in every move you make.
Because each player gets a reaction after one person plays, everyone stays involved.
The cooperative version of the game is especially strong. The centipede horde has three possible actions, but you never know how strong those actions are going to be, since they’re determined by the draw of a card. Every player has to beat the centipedes for the ants to win, which pretty well solves the problem of one player taking over.
The game comes with several variants, including an advanced one, so you’ll want to keep playing and trying new things.
Why you might not buy March of the Ants:
The two-player version of the game isn’t nearly as good as when you play with three or more. It’s all right, but you can avoid battle almost entirely if you want, which makes the game less interesting.
If you don’t like bugs, you might want to move on. The card art is quite good, but you might find it creepy.
If you don’t like direct conflict with other players, March of the Ants may not be for you. You can try to play without fighting, but it won’t be as fun.
The cards add quite a bit of randomness, which some folks don’t like. Some cards are definitely more powerful than others.
I think this a great game. I’m not generally a fan of cooperative games, but I think I like the cooperative version of this one even more than the competitive one. It’s very tense, and it’s tough to win.
But the competitive version is great, too. There are so many things that seem familiar that it’s easy to pick up, but the designers took those familiar concepts and gave them a fresh twist. This is brave game design, and it works.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of March of the Ants from Weird City Games. I wasn’t required to give a positive review. These are my honest opinions.