Review: An Arms RaceNestorgames is a small Spanish publisher specialising in small-run abstract games. Only a year old, they've already published over 40 games both new and reprints. One of their flagship and best-selling games is Adaptoid, designed by Nestorgames's own Néstor Romeral Andrés.Adaptoid is one of those abstracts with just a dash of theme to tie the rules together. In the game, players create armies of crustaceanoid critters which can swarm across the board and attack their opponents. One of the most subtle points of the game is tied up in the feeding rule that makes the most powerful adaptoids also the most vulnerable.The game is played on a 37-space hexagonal board (in the standard Nestorgames mouse pad format). Each player receives a supply of adaptoid bodies in either white or black which are plastic discs with laser-cut sockets ready to receive one of the small pile of claws and legs in the colour of each player. The capabilities of each of the adaptoids varies through the game depending on how many and what type of appendage are added.

Each player turn has 3 phases: Movement, Growth and Feeding. In the movement phase, the player may move one of their adaptoids as many spaces as it has legs. Adaptoids cannot move through occupied spaces, but they can move on top of an opposing adaptoid to initiate a capture.

In the growth phase the player must either spawn a new, empty, adaptoid next to one of their existing pieces or add a leg or a claw to any adaptoid already on the board.

In the feeding phase, every enemy piece is checked for starvation. An adaptoid requires space to graze equal to its number of legs. Any enemy piece which has fewer empty spaces around it than legs starves to death and is removed. Starving your opponent to death (or indeed having them incautious starve) is worth a point.

The resolution of capture move is simple. The adaptoid with the most claws wins and the other adaptoid is removed from the board. If both pieces have the same number of claws, both are removed with a point going to each player. Starved or captured pieces are returned to the supply ready for further use.

The game ends when one player has either obtained 5 points by capturing and starving enemy adaptoids or has been completely eliminated from the board. I've seen games end either way which provides a little tension in your choice to cautiously build up your reserves or to go on an all-out offensive.

Very roughly, Adaptoid is a game of area control, although careful positioning of your adaptoids for battle is also important. I've gone through cycles of appreciation of what strong and weak play actually is, in particular, being initially very dismissive of four or five legged creatures as being too easy to starve. In reality, with enough legs they can be terrific fast-strikers ready to leap in and seize a vulnerable opponent. The forced-growth rule keeps the game dynamic. As adaptoids are forced to add limbs or spawn new pieces, a small fenced off area is a guarantee of starvation, the only hope to break out.

I love the the way that Adaptoid marries the rules with the theme of creating more powerful adaptoids as well as my mental impression of slower lumbering many-clawed creates dragging themselves along with a single leg, chasing those nimbler and more lightly armoured grazers. The depth of the game lies around trying to position your creatures as an unbreakable wall, while still keeping them fed. The game is very dynamic with many opportunities for sudden reversals when an opponent breaks through a wall to start breeding and regrouping on the far side. This is often the time when a piece might be sacrificed in mutual destruction to clear a guarding enemy piece out of the way.

The feeding rule provides an amazing balance to the game. In effect, more powerful creatures become pariahs, forced to keep their distance from both friendly and enemy pieces as well as shying away from the edges of the board where grazing is harder to come by. An incautious powerful piece can be quickly swarmed by an enemy which moves and spawns a new piece, starving it before it can react.

For the curious, I've put together a couple of detailed game session reports of game snippets over at BGG showing the evolution of some games of adaptoids, including sudden and unexpected reversals and careful sweeping walls of destruction, trapping the enemy without a chance. They illustrate a small part of how dynamic the game can be.

Adaptoid is available from Nestorgames in their portable games format and makes a good travel game as well as a medium filer to occupy two players for 20 minuters or so. It's been popular among most folks in my group, even those who lean towards... longer consideration of their moves. Possibly the only weak point is a tendency to become too attached to your little critters when their sacrifice is necessary.