Publisher: Past Go Gaming
Game Designer: Greg Loring-Albright
Playing Time: 15-30 minutes
Kickstarter Pledge: $9
Call Me Ishmael
Those are the famous opening words from one of the great literary works that many students know all too well. Now we can do more than just dissect and discuss the actions of the Pequod, and the tragic obsession of her captain. We can step inside the fateful conflict between man and whale in Leviathan, coming to Kickstarter next week from Past Go Gaming.
Tactical micro game
Leviathan is a two-player micro-tactical battle card game with a miniatures game feel, where you take on the role of either Captain Ahab or Moby Dick. Using a mere 18 cards, asymmetrical powers, and a straightforward movement and combat system, Leviathan is a fast-playing, and challenging test of tactical cunning for gamers of all experience levels. Tying this all together is nicely thematic art, and a brief three page rule book, which includes optional and handicapping rules, if you feel the need to change things up.
You will control either Moby Dick and his pod of four cetaceans, or the Pequod and her complement of three whaling boats. There are also two dummy cards for the whale player, to create a larger screen in protecting Moby Dick from the Pequod. Game play uses no board or map, instead taking place on a 2’ x 3’ space on your tabletop, playable up to 3’ x 3’. Players line their cards up at either end before the Moby Dick player, leads off with the initiative, with their cards face down. All whale cards must move at least once, and then any one whale may make an additional movement, or the whale player can carry out a maneuver or attack. Both players must take two mandatory actions on their turn.
Movements are lined up using a card template, where you overlay the movement card on top of the whale card and then slide the card from underneath and onto its new location. It’s simple enough, but can be a bit awkward at times. This is because the whale cards are all inline and touching at the start, and you can inadvertently dislodge a whale card during movement, since they tend to overlap quite often. Be very mindful of this fact, which the rules also do state emphatically.
The Pequod player follows suit, advancing their vessel into position, before lowering their whaling boats to go on the hunt. A 2’ x 3’ space may seem fairly large, but it quickly gets tight, as whales and whaling boats fill the void with a logjam intensity. During this tactical movement phase, the whale player has a distinct advantage over the Pequod player, since whale cards can overlap. If a whaling boat touches another vessel, they immediately collide and one of them becomes capsized and lost for the game. There is one advantage for the Pequod player in this circumstance, which we’ll come back to shortly.
Aside from standard movement, there are maneuvers and three tactical cards that each player has. For the Pequod player, their lone maneuver is to lower a whaling boat, but the whale player has a couple of neat little tricks to choose from. They can either change the facing of one of the whale cards 180 degrees, or swap two whale cards that have yet to be revealed. I really like how this works, it gives the whale player freedom to really frustrate the Pequod player, and the rapid change of direction can put you in a great spot for an immediate counter attack.
Tactical cards allow an additional movement, revealing a whale without attacking, or cancelling an attack for the Moby Dick player. There is also a combat card, which adds two strength to a single combat. The key with this card is that it must be committed prior to the combat in which it will be used. For the Moby Dick player, these tactics cards are lost for good once used, so must be chosen wisely. The Pequod player however, can retrieve a tactics card to be used again, if they rescue a capsized vessel.
This is a nice balance in favor of the Pequod player, who is behind the eight ball at the start. As the hunt goes on, and whales are revealed or defeated, the scales slowly start to tip more towards the Pequod player. If you find yourself in need of a tactics card, you can always sacrifice a whaler and run a rescue operation to get one back. These tactical cards influence, but do not skew the play, and their impact is mitigated by being one-time use. Except for the Pequod player, who can get tactical cards back into play, but do so at great cost.
Combat is very straightforward; when a whale and vessel card overlaps, there is a simple comparison of attack strength versus defense to determine the outcome. Whoever is defeated in the combat is removed from the game, and tactics cards can, as we see above, alter the outcome of a battle. Once either Moby Dick or the Pequod is defeated, the other player is the victor. If the three whaler’s are destroyed, leaving just the Pequod, there are three final turns played, and if no one wins, the game ends in a draw. Games can run longer, hitting the 30 minute mark with two careful players, but generally average about 15-20 minutes.
Thar she blows
Leviathan is an interesting little game that offers unique challenges for both players, while conveying the titanic struggle between Ahab and the great white whale in a concise fashion. Though a small game, there is a good deal of tactical depth to keep you coming back for more. There’s big action in this little package.
While fast-playing, there can be some AP with cautious players. As with most tactical games, you’ll need to be thinking a move or two ahead, while also trying to determine what your opponent will do. The wide playing surface allows for an assortment of different strategies to be experimented with over multiple plays.
Leviathan does have a whack-a-mole feel to it for the Pequod player, but that’s exactly what a hunt like this is. You’re searching for one specific whale, but have a pod of four and two decoys to deal with. Wading through that can be frustrating, in a good way, and it’s quite exhilarating when you score the prize!
On the flip side, the whale player always has perfect information. The whale cards can be looked at any time, and seeing every move of the Pequod opens options for feints, evasions and even head-on attacks. The whale player definitely feels much more in command, as they should, since the seas are Moby Dick’s domain as he defies these interlopers. As the hunt advances, the whale player feels the pressure, and must balance good defense with a strong offense, to destroy the Pequod and her hunters as quickly as possible.
If you enjoy tactical games, and would love to have one that you can throw in your pocket to have on the go, this is right up your alley. This is an interesting filler, with a lite wargame feel to it. Give this one a look when it comes to Kickstarter next week.
Company Website: https://www.pastgo.net/
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/PastGoPlay
Note: Print and Play files for this game were provided to me for this preview.