Type: Programming / Co-Op

Time to play: < 60 minutes (Teaching: 10 minutes)

Best played with: 2-4 players (Best with 4)

You can take two actions – what, that’s all? Well, you can take one more each turn – OK. You have to do that every turn though – what everything? Yes and you take damage!

That’s what will go through your head as you start to read the rules for Mechs vs Minions, but this brilliantly simple game is tough, well balanced and very innovative. If you have played a programming gaming, like Colt Express, you will recognise the core mechanic of this game; a game where you find yourself guessing what will happen in the future, where other players will be and what will you get next turn!

Mechs vs Minions starts with a very basic mission where you have plenty of time to think about how things work and where the enemies are coming at you slowly. If this all feels a bit pedestrian, it quickly becomes complex as you realise that executing the same command line time and time again means you go forward a lot more than you mean to, or that you end up facing backwards!

Now I don’t want to put any spoilers for the campaign in this review, but this is a game that builds as campaign develops. You will fight tougher opposition. You will suffer worse damage. You will get more time pressure! All of this will build up the pressure you are under to achieve a really interesting challenge.

So what can I say without spoiling the campaign. Well this is a game that really benefits from a full group of players taking on the spirit of the instructions – let each other make choices and try to complete the campaign objectives. The game leans into this with a complex set of choices for each player – it’s hard to track your own path over multiple turns let alone the whole team! As for focusing on the campaign – each campaign setting is very thematic. It builds on the map pieces available in the box, and adds new rules and pieces throughout.

Every time you think you have the game figured out there is a new little mechanic that just perfectly ups the difficult one step further. It’s not taking it beyond the players, but it’s adding a layer more for the players to think through with each new card.

The game is also incredibly comic at times – whole player turns spinning on the spot, or one player doing the equivalent moves to the time warp! These are the moments where re-programming or repairing are needed, but are also the turns that make the game. This comic lack of control as you execute exactly what you planned, makes this game feel like the wacky races of minion fighting dungeon crawl games.

I would also add that players can drop in and out. The difficulty does move up but in small steps and not leaps – players dropping out and in will feel familiar with old problems and not overwhelmed by rules. Even new players late in the game can jump in and leave it to the rest of the party at first as they build out their own command line.

Does this mean the game is for everyone? Sadly not, and it’s not just the access to a copy of this (which is now very difficult!). The game is a comic and short game, but it doesn’t present opportunities for real heroic actions or for great conflicts. The game’s simplicity is part of its charm but it does seem to prevent this developing to a more filling and memorable campaign. So if you have come looking for an epic novel in a board game – you will be disappointed.

Of course, it’s a co-op and that brings the usual alpha gamer risks, and the potential for players to feel they barely contributed to the win (particularly if you spent half the game facing the back wall). However a little co-operation goes a long way here and the team is demonstrably better together than the four solo players.

Last notes,

  • If you like puzzles and well paced, light co-operatives you will find a lot in this box
  • If you have a need for a deep story arc, characters that matter or agency that develops – perhaps time to dust off the D&D books and stay clear of this
  • If you win at this game, crack open the next envelope!