Saturday, June 07, 2008

Black Hole

And now for another game that has been in my collection for over 10 years but which I have never played, Black Hole. This is one of the Metagaming microgames from the '70s. I almost felt bad cutting up the counter sheet, as this game was in mint condition before I played it, but I told myself that I would play everything that came up, so there you go.

The plot of the game is that in the future, there are companies that mine asteroids in the asteroid belt beyond Mars, in order to gather minerals that have already been plundered from Earth. Well, two mining companies happen to try to lay claim to the same asteroid at the same time, and they come to blows. To make things more interesting, this asteroid is unique; it is in the shape of a torus, and has a micro black hole at the center.

The map itself is one of those where all edges bleed onto each other. So, if you leave the west side of the map, you re-enter from the right. If you leave the north end of the map, you re-enter from the south, and so on. In addition, half of the map is the "outside" of the ring, with limited laser fire range, and slower movement. On the "inside" of the ring you can move a bit faster North-to-South, and laser weapons have their range increased from 1 hex to 18 hexes. Yeah, you can pretty much hit anything with a laser on the inside of the ring.

Your combat units are various vehicles. The ones with nastier weapons move slower, while those with the lighter weapons move faster. In addition, the fastest units can do a special movement on the inside of the ring, where they "jump," or fly, to the other side of the ring, but at the risk of disappearing into the black hole. In addition, on the inside of the ring, units with missiles can just fire a missle at a unit on the other side of the ring, rather than normal missile movement.

Normal missile movement has you shotting missiles up to a range of 6 hexes. If the missile hasn't hit a target or a mountain (which blocks missiles) at the end of that turn, that missile stays in play. Next turn, the missile will move 20 hexes, but in a straight line only. It will keep flying until it hits a mountain and detonates, or hits a combat unit (from either side!) and detonates. This makes missile combat a bit gonzo. I think this was supposed to add to the fun of the game, but I personally found it a bit annoying. Overall, I don't think missiles are near as good as lasers, though they do have their uses.

One other thing; your units don't start on the asteroid. Each turn, you can land up to 4 units by dropping them onto the asteroid from your orbiting spaceships. You can try to land a unit anywhere on the ring, but it is MUCH safer to try this on the outside. The closer you get to the inside center of the ring, the higher chance of not landing where you intended, or just getting sucked into the black hole, all together. This adds a bit of fun in seeing how risky you want to be with your landing choices, but some bad dice rolls can really mess you up.

In the end, I found that the game was just too much on the momentum of dice rolls. Get a number of good rolls in a row, and you can decimate your opponent before they can really land any significant forces on the asteroid. On the flip side, with a few bad dice rolls in a row you can get overwhelmed no matter what your strategy is. It felt like the game was just too influenced by the dice. With that, and the fact that missile combat wasn't as fun as advertised, I don't think I'll ever be playing this one again.

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