Terror in Meeple City, a board game designed by Antoine Bauza and Ludovic Maublanc. Repos Games, £44.99, Website
Reviewed by Brian Ennis
In a previous life Terror in Meeple City (TIMC for short) was known as Rampage. Anyone familiar with the classic 80’s arcade game of the same name will immediately know why: in TIMC, players take control of daikaiju, giant monsters in the Godzilla mould, tasked with destroying a city and consuming the residents.
A confession: TIMC was an impulse buy and once that had impulse had passed it was one I fully expected to regret. It is a relatively simple, dexterity-based game with colourful cartoon characters, not the kind of thing my gaming group of hardcore strategists usually go for. Happily, I was wrong: now, a gaming session rarely goes by without a quick game.
Everything in the box is well-made and sturdy, which is just as well as it has to take quite a bashing. The art style is cartoonish but detailed, with lots of little jokes hidden on the board and in the box art, and the wooden pieces are satisfyingly chunky. My only problem with the components is the endless supply of stickers – there are eighty wooden townsfolk who need sticking (front and back), which gets tiring rather quickly. Fortunately, it only needs doing once.
You start the game by building the city using cardboard floors, held up by the titular meeples, cute wooden pieces shaped like people. This can take a while but is surprisingly fun, and will probably appeal to younger players as much as the main game. Once the city is built players place their four-inch high wooden monsters in separate corners, and they’re good to go.
Each turn, players can take two actions: move their monster by flicking the disc representing its feet; throw a nearby vehicle by placing it their monster’s head and flicking it; jump on an adjacent building by dropping their monster on it; or use their breath weapon, putting their chin on their monster’s head and blowing. Once they’re done they eat any nearby meeples that they’ve dislodged from the safety of the buildings, and they’re done.
That’s pretty much it, but the three-dimensional, tactile nature of the game makes it unpredicatable and often hilarious. Buildings lean at crazy angles and refuse to topple, your friends blow until they’re blue in the face and fail to dislodge a single meeple, a lucky ricochet off a nearby glass comes back onto the board and levels half the city. The game rewards you for messing with the other players, offering bonus points for knocking them over in any way you can. It is far more satisfying than it should be when you flick a little wooden fire engine soaring over the Meeple City high-rises to smash another player’s monster into a building, spilling a load of meeples right in front of you.
There is more to the game than mindless destruction, however. Meeples only score you points if you collect them in coloured sets, forcing you to move around the board looking for the right kind of people to snack on. Knocking over other monsters gives you one of their teeth as a trophy, scoring points and reducing the number of meeples they can munch each turn. Knock enough meeples off the board and they retaliate, rescuing victims from your guts or calling in air strikes. It’s not high-brow stuff and doesn’t rival the long-term strategy and planning of most board games, but there’s enough depth here to make you consider your turn, while being simple enough for all the family. And, like all dexterity-based games, you will get better as you play, with all the satisfaction of learning a new skill.
The game is not perfect. Sometimes one player will soar ahead after a lucky first couple of rounds, and it becomes a drag for the others. Because of the game’s three-dimensional nature, strange situations crop up for which the rules are unprepared, such as important pieces getting wedged underneath other pieces, making a player’s turn impossible. The game includes optional cards that give your daikaiju unique powers, designed to add longevity and variety but actually destroying any sense of balance. And if you play against an engineer, be prepared to lose. Every time. Those people are even better at knocking things down than they are at building them.
In spite of these flaws, TIMC is still worth picking up. It will never be the first-out-the-box game, the game that you organise your gaming nights around. But it is the kind of game you come back to, time and again, in a spare half-an-hour, simple enough to pick up again straight away and silly enough to know that you will always have a blast playing it. After all, who doesn’t want to pretend that they are Godzilla, even if it’s just for half an hour?