Nodes: Review

“Can you hear me now?”  “Can you hear me now?”

Today, Fairway picks up an abstract strategy game that the Verizon guy can love, Nodes.  See if Fairway can find a signal in the middle of a wide open space or whether his opponent’s communication systems were better.

Nodes is a two- or four-player, abstract strategy game by RGBY games in which players control a set of units via lines of communication in an attempt to trap their opponent’s communication towers.  Nodes is currently available as a print-on-demand game from The Game Crafter.

Quick Update: since the publication of this review, the designer has made some significant changes to the overall look and feel of the game. You can see the updates at this link.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. The box and board art is a huge distraction.  Concentric circles repeated ad nauseam, while somewhat thematic, were unappealing aesthetically.
  2. The rule book was written pretty well with lots of diagrams of game play.
  3. There was definitely a strategy aspect to this game like something akin to checkers or chess.

Game Play ^

Nodes is played on an octagonal board with players starting on opposite sides.  Each player takes a set of colored gems (units) and a single pawn (the Node).  Over the course of the game, players move their units and Node until only one player can keep moving their node — he or she is the winner.

While the rule book goes into detail, the game is essentially played over a round-robin series of turns.  During each turn players move their units as many times as they wish and finish their turn by moving their Node. One a player moves their Node, play passes to the next player.

The game centers around unit moves.  To move a unit, it must be in communication with at least one tower.  A unit is in communication with a tower if any of the following are true:

  1. There is a clear, straight line between the unit and any Node, including an opponent’s Node.
  2. There is a straight line between the unit and any Node blocked only by a player’s own color units.  In this case, if you can connect your unit with any Node and the only units in the way is your own, that other unit (or units) merely “relay” the communication.  If an opponent’s unit is in the way, the connection is intercepted and the unit can’t move.

Units can then move any number of spaces so long as they are in communication with at least one Node.  Once they’re out of communication with a Node, they must stop.

The only other special move is a jump. If a unit can follow a straight line from a transmitting Node, a unit can “jump” a single unit of another player along that straight line.  Since that unit will then be out of communication (unless picked up by another Node), it will not be able to move any further.

After all the units move, the player must move their Node one space.  Except along the edges, the Node can only move the in orthogonal directions (shown by thick lines). It cannot follow the diagonal lines (thin lines).  If the player cannot move their Node, they’re out of the game.

On the Green ^

Strategy.  There is definitely something to Nodes. Keeping the lines of communication and protecting your Node open up a number of strategic options.  In Duel mode (player-versus-player), finding the balance of rushing to surround your opponent and protecting movement of your own keeps players thinking about their moves.

Setup and teaching.  This game is a breeze to set up.  And once we trudged through the really long rule book, it was pretty simple to teach. The rule book could use someone to take a knife to parts.  The rules themselves aren’t that hard and the examples and lingo, in some ways, actually made for a higher barrier of entry than necessary.

Where it comes up short. ^

Art and graphic design.  This game needs a lot of help. More than one player had a hard time even looking at the board. It’s unnecessarily cluttered and dizzying.  It is a huge distraction from the game.

Never ending game?  We had two games where a player essentially just ran around the board, protected by two units in orthogonal directions.  This made it very hard for the other player to actually “trap” the Node and end the game. In fact, this run around strategy seems to be effective, generally.  It prolongs the game, though, to the point of creating disappointment.

4 Players.  Duel worked fine.  Four players creates a huge advantage for the player going last.  Essentially all the other players have revealed some aspect of their strategy and potentially give away a few communication paths.  Whereas, the last player’s node isn’t usable by the other players (surrounded by his own units).  For much the same reason, the first player is hugely disadvantaged.

In the Hole ^

Nodes is a interesting new strategy game that pits players against each other in an attempt to maintain their own lines of communication and cut off the other player. While this game has some thematic, art and graphic design issues, players looking to try a different abstract strategy game may find the mechanics interesting and challenging. While I haven’t played dozens of games, I am concerned, however, that certain parts of the mechanics encourage nuisance and boring strategies (like just running around) rather than game-advancing play.

Nodes is in the hole for One Over Par. ^

Fairway was provided a copy of Nodes to write this review. He was not otherwise compensated for the review.

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