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English: Example of a Titan game. Deutsch: Spi...

Example of a Titan game. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

TITAN was once one of my favourite face-to-face board games, but it isn’t a game that has aged well.  I still enjoy computer game variants for solo play [1].

How does it work?

In essence each player has stacks of fantasy creatures that move about a map with restricted directions of movement.  A stack can recruit a new creature when it moves into a new space that the stack is native to, and with enough of the right creature can recruit a higher level creature.  For example a stack with two centaurs can recruit a lion in the plains, but is out of luck in the brush.

A stack with seven creatures cannot recruit, it must split into two new stacks first. A player starts with two stacks, and can build up to twelve.

Only one stack can occupy given hex on the map, and a player must move at least one stack each turn.  If stacks belonging to two players collide, then there can be at most one stack left afterwards once the battle is resolved [2]. The battles are resolved on separate battle lands which reflect the terrain types.

Each player has a leader called the Titan that gets stronger as the player wins battles, conversely if the Titan is eliminated so is the player [3].  In this case the victor receives the loser’s stack markers and may now have more armies.

What was good about it?

There is a large random factor in TITAN, but there is also a fair amount of tactics.  The restricted movement options on the main game board encourage strategic planning, and often patience, as you try to wait for the right number to move and muster on.

There is also a strong risk assessment, particularly face to face, as to whether a given move is safe.  Some players will jump you in even fights, others are more cautious, so learning to read opponents is useful here.

The battle lands for the tactical combats are somewhat limited, but do encourage good use of ground by altering movement and/or combat effectiveness.  Again, knowing your opponents is useful here as it may affect a decision to fight or run if the odds are close.

It is also relatively easy to estimate the odds – creatures have two stats (strength and skill), and multiplying them together give a point value that is a fairly accurate assessment of a creature’s value.

Why does it suck now?

First up is the elimination mechanic.  In a full game of six players the primary map quickly gets very crowded, and players can lose stacks early.  This is then compounded by the requirement to always move a stack, which can force a Titan stack into an early engagement that it is not ready for, and suddenly you have one player sitting to the side twiddling his or her thumbs.

Even once a 2nd and 3rd player is eliminated, the resolution can take some time [4]. So you need to have an alternative form of entertainment – anime, card games, something, anything – for those who are waiting.

It is also entirely possible for two titans to eliminate each other in the same battle. This can result in either no winner [5], or someone else suddenly winning a game through no effort of their own.

The second issue is the sheer amount of time TITAN can take to play.  The basic set up is stacks move on the main board, and then combats are resolved separately before the next player has a turn.  Any given combat can be quick, but can also take another 5 – 15 minutes depending on the power of the creatures and the skills of the players.

Rinse and repeat until there is at most one.

The third issue is a literal example of “That which does not kill me, makes me stronger”, alternatively expressed as “You are what your Titan eats”.  As a player wins battles he accumulates victory points [6], and every hundred points gives the Titan an extra strength point.

At 400 points, a Titan stack can be teleported to attack any other stack on the roll of a six.  This can, mercifully, shorten a game.  It can also be used to enable a Titan to eat smaller stacks until it is unstoppable, and past a certain point failing to defeat a Titan will only make it stronger.

This can make the end game painfully frustrating for the players on the losing end of a runaway Titan.

Even back in the mid to late 80s when I was playing Titan semi-regularly I had friends who refused to play it at all because of these flaws. Most days now I’d tend to agree with them.

Why was TITAN reissued?

TITAN was recently reissued in 2008 by Valley Games.  The reissue featured updated graphics, board designs, etc but identical rules (at least as far as I know).  There was even an “expansion” which was essentially the addition of miniatures for the Titans with no changes to gameplay (again, at least as far as I know).

The question I ask, somewhat plaintively, is “Why?”

Game design has moved on since 1980.

Games are now better balanced, elimination mechanisms are almost unheard of, and elements of cooperation between players are becoming increasingly popular.  One example of this is the astonishingly successful Settlers of Catan (1995). Another intriguing example is Serenissima (1996) where you can go to war with another player, but it isn’t recommended [7].

I liked TITAN as a board game once, today there are better choices and I do question the re-issue as a result.

How do I play Titan now?

Mostly on the excellent java implementation Colossus which is available on SourceForge. The biggest advantage of this is the sheer speed of play, even against 5 AIs a game can be resolved in 5 – 15 minutes. Compared to hours for six players face-to-face this is quite attractive.

The Colossus version also has a series of alternate maps and creatures. As an example here’s my victorious Titan stack from a game last night:

From the Abyssal variant of Colossus

I’ve also just discovered an iPad app based on the Valley Games reissue.  I’ll be testing that shortly, and may report back on it later.

But either way, with the computer games available I doubt that I’ll ever be in a hurry to play the actual board game again.

[1] The java rendition Colossus is quite good, and I just bought an iPad version that I may review separately.

[2] Both stacks can die.

[3] And, yes, a player with massively powerful armies elsewhere can lose if caught with a weakly protected Titan stack.

[4] Hours to be honest, especially with skilled players involved.

[5] There can be at most one.

[6] As mentioned earlier these are calculated as the strength times the skill of the creatures slain.

[7] In my experiences of Serenissima with four players, the two who trade will come 1st and 2nd, the two that go to war will come 3rd and 4th.