Year Published: 2016
Designer: Tim Eisner, Ryan Swisher
Publisher: Weird City Games
Playtime: 70 minutes
One Sentence Synopsis: Aphids, and Parasites, and Spiders, OH MY!
A year has past since our tiny denizens first entered the meadow in March of the Ants, which I reviewed and still believe was one of the best lighter strategy games of 2015, but definitely one that slipped under the radar for most gamers outside of Kickstarter circles. If you missed it the first time around however, don’t fret, because this sleeper hit is on Kickstarter again, and it’s accompanied by an all new expansion Minions of the Meadow that adds some great new content to this already-solid game.
Unlike some expansions that simply add variations to existing content, giving you additional cards or components to enhance replayability and variety, Minions of the Meadow actually adds completely new subsets of cards and predators that greatly enhance player interaction and strategy, and two completely new features: Aphids and Major Workers. March of the Ants is such a tight design I was a little anxious that adding new mechanisms to a game that already presents players with hard choices on how to spend limited actions might actually disrupt the experience. However, I’m happy to report that’s not the case, and each of the new features integrates seamlessly with the original game, and feels like a very natural inclusion while you’re playing.
The two most major additions in Minions of the Meadow are the completely new Aphids and Major Workers. Aphids are represented by little green markers, and are generated by special new collection sites or card effects. Your ants can start herding an aphid if it inhabits the same collection site, and the aphid will follow the ant around until that ant is killed or you decide to drop it. While one aphid doesn’t do anything for you, creating a nice little group of them will give you bonuses, starting out with being able to draw a card, and eventually generating you a huge four colony points per turn. Aphids breed, too, so if you’re able to get two of them together you can more easily acquire new ones; that’s often easier said than done, though, and I actually found aphids pretty hard to get and benefit from. It’s definitely something you have to actively work towards, or even cooperate with another colony to achieve, but the dividends they pay are the equivalent of controlling hexes next to the Great Tunnel, and even surpass many colony goals.
Major Workers add a new tableau to the side of your main player board, giving you two new ant worker tokens you’re able to put into the meadow by taking a new action during the worker phase. Because Major Workers are so powerful, each giving a basic bonus of letting you put two larvae onto a contested hex once all actions are over, and expanding their powers as you evolve your species, every other person is able to take any reaction if you put one out. Still, the Major Workers are well worth it, and actually generate some additional ways of basically performing secondary actions as you complete your normal turns. Although I like how precious the base game makes each and every action decision, the Major Workers serve as a small alleviation of some of that pressure, and actually helped make me feel like I was able to do more on the board itself during each round.
Minions of the Meadow also includes two new subsets of cards for you to find while foraging. Tactics cards are the more minor of the two, in my opinion, and can be played during battle to not only contribute their ferocity value to your strength, but to generate an effect as well. One of the strengths of combat in March of the Ants is it’s largely calculable going in…you know your relative strength compared to the other person, so the ferocity card each person plays is the only real question mark; it’s enough to keep things interesting, while not allowing for hugely random swings and upsets that are the bane and frustration of many a gamer who likes self determination in their strategy games. The tactics cards don’t disupt that dynamic, but do add just a small extra layer that really enhances the possibilities and improves the interplay.
The second new card subtype is the Parasite. As the name suggests, these are evolutions and colony goals you’re able to play on other people, infecting their colony and possibly generating you special bonuses at their expense, or even at the expense of all the other players who interact with the host. This is another thing I was a little anxious about when I first saw it was adding a way to play persistent, negative effect cards on other people, but like the rest of the expansion’s features it’s actually implemented in a very balanced way, and I think greatly enhances player interaction. The effects aren’t game-breaking, but certainly give a leg up to the host who played them. For example, a Parasite evolution might deny other players except the parasite reactions to anything done by the host player, and double the reaction’s effect for the parasite to boot. Positive as the results may be for the parasite, however, the cards may actually help the infected player in some ways as well: the host gets to count any Parasite evolutions played on their tableau towards any complete evolutions, and towards the total card count for that evolution type when determining bonuses. The host can remove the parasitic effect by playing a new card on top of the old one, at which point things just return to normal.
Finally, the expansion also adds two new Predators alongside the ranks of Centipedes that can be played into the meadow by other players. The Black Centipede is a particularly nasty baddie that actually buffs the army strength of all other centipedes in the meadow by an additional ferocity card. Additionally, the Black Centipede itself gains more strength the later in the game it’s fighting, adding one extra ferocity card drawn according to the round number. The trapdoor spider isn’t quite as strong as the Black Centipede, but it inhabits all collection sites in its space and actually jumps from hex-to-hex as it tries to make its way off the board. The spider gets three total cards during combat, but will only kill one ant regardless of whether it wins or loses.
COG Takeaway: Minions of the Meadow adds some great new content to March of the Ants without disturbing the original game’s tight and streamlined design. The new tactics card subset enhances the battle system while preserving the ability to calculate odds, and the new parasitic evolution and colony cards add some excellent direct player interaction that changes the game in persistent but temporary ways. Major Workers and Aphids likewise fit in neatly with the game’s existing mechanisms, and feel right at home within the colony-building ant theme; Major Workers especially add some differentiation to your busy little bodies on the board, and give you new ways to effectively take small, additional actions just by using your Major Workers for normal tasks. All-in-all an impressive expansion that adds some very worthwhile features while preserving everything I loved about the original, including its quick pace and ease-of-use. Visit the game on Kickstarter today!