Thursday, 12 January 2012

Meltdown 2020

Box Cover
Meltdown 2020 is designed by Corne van Moorsel and published by Cwali. It is for 1-5 players aged 8 and up and plays in about 45 minutes. The theme behind the game is that the players are organisers of rescue teams on an island where seven Nuclear Reactors are beginning to malfunction. Each turn players get to know which reactors are affected and manoeuvre their vehicles to rescue their colour meeples and move them to the airport where they are flown to safety.
An example of a playing area with Radiation counters and a few rescued Meeples
The game box contains 12 Tiles, 20 Meeples in each of 5 colours, 3 Vehicles in each of 5 colours, 1 Phases Board, 15 Radiation Counters and an 8 sided Die. I will take the tiles first as they are placed together to create the playing area. Each tile consists of 7 Hexes, on 7 of the tiles one of the hexes is a nuclear reactor, on 2 of the other tiles one of the hexes is an airport. All the other hexes have coloured markers for placement of all the Meeples and the vehicles at game set-up (some hexes have 2 such markers).
Tile with Airport
Tile with Nuclear Reactor No3

The 3 vehicles are a minibus which can carry 4 people but only move 2, a Saloon car which can move 3 and carry 3 and a Helicopter which can carry 2 and move 4.

The Cardboard Vehicles
A round is governed by the Phase Board. The first thing that happens is the die is rolled and a Radiation Marker placed on the corresponding Nuclear Reactor, then everyone in player order gets to move their Minibus. The die is rolled again and another Radiation marker placed and the saloon cars are moved, finally the die is rolled again but this time a marker is removed (if there is one) and the Helicopters moved. The final phase of a turn is reactors radiating, the strength of the radiation is defined by the number of discs on a reactor and distance from them, radiation from multiple reactors accumulate. All meeples have 3 states, happy, ill, and very ill; their orientation (lying on their side, on their back) reflects the level of illness whilst those that have taken three or more lots of radiation are removed from the board. Vehicles of different players are not permitted to occupy the same space except at an airport.
Phase Board
So how does this play? We played this four player over Christmas and it went down very well, the mechanics work perfectly and there was a certain amount of tactical play in blocking the passage of your opponents vehicles whilst desperately getting your own meeples to the airfield. There was also a certain amount of logistics involved, getting your helicopter to sweep meeples up from distant locations and depositing them in groups for the slower vehicles to pick up; I tried to be systematic and ignored responding to the early nuclear Markers assuming that there would be some losses – unfortunately for me there were a large number of 8’s rolled meaning that fewer Radiation markers appeared on the board and my tactics were doomed.
Radiation markers - good and stocky
I am always interested in games that play solo, most just mimic the game and it becomes more of a puzzle solving exercise. I played this twice solo, first just using one colour as per the rules (the rules do not give separate solo rules), secondly using all the colours. The one colour version was quick and very dull, there was never a game there, it was just me seeing what numbers I rolled on the die and seeing how lucky I was. The multicolour version worked a lot better, I stuck to the rule that only one vehicle colour could occupy a hex and that each colour could only rescue its own meeples. Like most solo versions of games it was still a puzzle, in this case how do I avoid getting in my own way whilst maximising the movement of all the vehicles, but I did get a feeling of some control over what was happening.
Phase board with saved Meeples aligned by health in the solo game.
Cwali manage to fit everything into a nice sized box, no wasted space, the wooden bits are robust, but here comes my one and only complaint of the game, the vehicle pieces are bent pieces of card that “clip” together at the top – or rather that is what they are supposed to do, it only works with the smallest vehicles. The card tears at the bottom and you end up with floppy bits of card that keep coming unclipped midgame knocking meeples over as they do, remembering that meeple orientation is important in this game. Why they did not go with a piece of card in a plastic stand or even wooden representations of the vehicles I have no idea. 
Minibus - folded
Helicopter - unfolded

To finish on a high note, Meltdown is an excellent game with well balanced mechanics, it is a lightweight game and probably best as a session starter. I am glad I managed to pick up a copy as its not available through many UK outlets. 

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