Designer: 与儀新一 (Shinichi Yogi)
Publisher: Hobby Japan
Time: 20-40 minutes
Times Played: 4 times with review copy provided by Hobby Japan, 5 plays with first edition (by 77spiele)
Rumble Nation was a highly anticipated SPIEL 2019 game for me; I had been introduced to the original release (then called Tenka Meidou) by James Nathan; but, of course, like all of the great JP games of his that I have played, it was essentially out-of-print and quite unavailable by the time that I learned about it!
The rights to the game have been acquired by Hobby Japan, and the game is being released to a wider audience. It has had rave reviews from most gamers, and it certainly merits its “award-winning” status; it is the 2018 Tokyo Game Market Awards Grand Prize winner.
The game itself is simple – I will baldly paraphrase James Nathan’s text here:
Rumble Nation is an area-majority game. The board shows a map of Japan divided into 11 areas. (The map is two sided, blue and yellow, but the maps are otherwise identical.) During setup, tokens with numbers 2 through 12 are randomly assigned to the 11 areas. Each of these areas will be worth an amount of points equal to the value it has been assigned, and half-points will be available for 2nd place in 3 and 4 player games.
To offset the inherent value-gulf between the 2 and the 12, the areas are resolved at the end of the game in ascending order, and the player with the most cubes in an area is able to add 2 reinforcement cubes to each adjacent area which has not yet been resolved and which has at least 1 of their cubes.
Cubes are initially placed out by the roll of 3 dice. You may reroll once – but it must be all 3 dice if you choose to reroll. The dice are then split into a pair and a single: the sum of the pair determines which location you will place cubes in and the single determines how many cubes (half the die value rounded up).
Alternatively, from a thin deck of cards, a number of cards equal to the player count plus 1 is dealt face up at the start of the game. In lieu of rolling the dice, a player can once per game use their turn to acquire and use one of the cards. These will be actions such as moving cubes to an adjacent territory or replacing an opponent’s cube with one of your own.
The game play will end, and the scoring resolutions will begin, once each player has placed all of their cubes onto the board. The first player to run out of cubes takes the highest tie-break marker and also triggers a rule that the cards may no longer be used. Each subsequent player takes the next highest available tie-break marker as they exhaust their cube supply. Afterwards, the ascending majority resolutions I discussed earlier occur, and the player with the most points wins.
This new 2019 version is identical in rules, but the components have been updated. First, and foremost, the board is mounted and it actually fits in the box! Second, rules are provided in both JP and EN which makes this a lot easier to play (though having home-brew pasteups of 12 cards really wasn’t a huge deal with the original). The artwork is thematic, though I might actually say that I prefer the line art of the original board as I find it a bit easier on the eyes.
My thoughts on the game
After about 7 or 8 plays, I now finally feel like I appreciate the surprising depth of strategy here. There are so many things going on given the simple action choices you have on each turn. Keeping track of your armies and the board situation is paramount. I personally don’t like to place 3 cubes out on early turns as I feel that it commits my pieces earlier than I want and gives me much less flexibility in the latter stages of the game; especially so if I run out of cubes and am forced to watch my opponents breakdown my position with their own cubes.
It also takes a few games to learn how the cascading nature of the endgame scoring is going to work out. Being able to add two cubes to a neighboring area really makes the lower numbered regions as valuable as the higher regions. Of course, you have to look ahead and try to foresee who will win the different regions and where they will place their bonus cubes. It can a devastating strategy to use a early win to trigger multiple wins down the chain that will eventually end with a victory in a high scoring region; but this is not without risk as a single hiccup along the way can disrupt the entire cascade.
The special actions on the cards can be quite strong, but there is a lot of strategy trying to figure out when is the best time to try to use them; and of course, if you wait too long, someone else might beat you to the card that you want!
On the whole, this is a delightful 30minute game that gives me as many tough decisions as a longer, more complex game. I am extremely glad that I have a copy of this in my collection, and it’s also great to know that other gamers now have a chance to get a copy for themselves as well.
Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers (from the previous review)
James Nathan: I’ve had a chance to play the game at 2, 3, and 4 players so far and I prefer them in that order. For me, this game works brilliantly. The pressure of the all-or-nothing reroll. The tension of when to use a card before an opponent might. The biting-your-lip moments debating if you place your last cube to gain tie break. The plotting your strategic course of reinforcements. The die rolls may run counter to your strategies, but the way you combine them and the reroll means you can usually find a way to make them useful –even if not ideal. The cards, while not explicitly affecting die rolls, serve as a suitable counter in many cases, as they allow you to manipulate cubes on the map in satisfactory ways. Much of the graph theory of the map is similar, with territories having 3 or 4 adjacent regions. There are some cards that distinguish between land and sea borders, but otherwise these are identical. Of note, are the two extreme regions that only share a single sea border with the rest of the map. In my games so far, these have led to several interesting decisions, as these areas will tend to be less useful for reinforcements and may not be worth the most points. Your first thought may be to not place there, but this has been delightfully countered by a lack of competition so far in my games. Points are points. I’ve had a chance to play against well-seasoned gamers and friends who rarely play a game and it has gone over well in both settings. For me, it has an older Michael Schacht type feeling of a svelte ruleset that blossoms into an interesting super-filler.
Lorna: I’ve only played a few time so far but I admire the design. The mechanisms are clean and simple but the game provides interesting decisions at many points. Which die to use for what what, reroll? Management of how many soldiers to use is also key, when to use your one and only card action. It’s good. Rating may improve after a few more plays.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it! James Nathan, Dale
I like it. Lorna
Not for me…