March of the Ants

The ants go marching one by one. Hoorah! Hoorah!

Publisher: Weird City Games
Designer: Ryan Swisher and Tim Eisner
Players: 1 – 5
Time: 60 – 90 min.

The BLUF

Explore, Evolve, Emerge Victorious. March of the Ants is a medium-light weight 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) game in a small package!

In the Box

March of the Ants packs a lot of bite in a small package. The game components are well made and the art is charmingly interesting. The game includes 5 player “nest” mats, which will hold the players various tokens and evolution cards. Each player also has a quick reference card for Ant Battles and Colony Points. The game includes 25 hexagon tiles, each uniquely named and numbered with subterranean artwork and varying collection sites. Each color has 36 larvae/ant cubes and 1 player marker. Additionally, there are 30 wooden food tokens, 15 punchboard wormhole/centipede tokens, 1 leaf round marker, a sun/moon active player marker and 1 Score Track.

4th Wall Break: I don’t really like insects, but ants are the most interesting to me…as long as they aren’t in my pants.

Initial Thoughts

Admittedly, I don’t play 4X games as often as I would like but when I first heard that March of the Ants was a 4X that played in a miniscule amount of time compared to other 4X games, I was sold.

The Reaction mechanic immediately caught my eye and I knew I was going to enjoy the game. When a player takes an action other than rest, each other player may perform an associated Reaction and Reactions have no cost. It’s an awesome way to keep players invested in the game and to allow players to gain minor benefits.

Honestly, the theme does not interest me at all. I wasn’t put off by the theme per se, but I wouldn’t say I was incredibly excited to play a game about warring ant colonies. Thankfully, the game’s theme does not detract from the experience and strategy. The artwork was reminiscent of older school textbooks, and I enjoyed that.

As I skimmed over the cards in the game, adding scientific terms on the cards was a nice touch! The layout of the cards is clean and easy to read.

The inclusion of a solo and co-op play mode caught my interest as well and that is a great inclusion for the game (and in my opinion is the strongest game mode of March of the Ants).

How to Play

March of the Ants is played over several rounds, depending on player count. There is a short and long game available, which scales the rounds well. In this review, I played 3 games at the normal round length and 3 games Solo/Co-op.

The rounds represent the passing seasons, which is a nice thematic touch and each round is comprised of three phases: Worker, Soldier and Queen.

 

Worker Phase 

Players take turns choosing one of five available actions and paying its’ cost:

Explore

Pay 1 Food and draw 1 hex. Place it adjacent to a hex where you have an ant. It must be connected to a tunnel of the hex you are exploring from. Move one or more ants from an adjacent hex to the explored hex.

  • Reaction: Each other player may place on larvae from their larvae chamber into a hex they inhabit or the Great Tunnel.

March:

Pay 1 Food and move up to five steps, moving larvae first and then ants.

  • Reaction: Each other player may move one ant one step.

Forage:

Pay 1 Food and draw two cards.

  • Reaction: Each other player may gain one larvae.

Play a Card:

Pay the cost in Larvae/Ants and play one card from your hand. There are 3 types of cards in the game, Events, Evolutions, and Colony Goals.

  • Events are one-time effects.
  • Evolutions grant a caste bonus on the body segment it occupies in relation to the 3 phases; head (Soldier), thorax (Worker) and abdomen (Queen).
  • Colony Goals are unique goals for your colony to accomplish to earn points!

  • Reaction: Each other player may discard a card from the hand to draw a card.

Rest:

Players rest when they no longer have resources to pay for actions; or there are no actions they wish to take.

4th Wall Break: Who would have thought that a quick nap would be the undoing of such an awesome game?! See my Final Thoughts.

Soldier Phase 

READY, FIGHT!

Battles are resolved in all contested hexes, where there are more than two players present and more ants than collection sites available. Battles have 5 stages:

  1. Army Strength: The number of each players ants in the hex.
  2. Ferocity: Players may discard a card to gain an additional strength value.
  3. Outcome: Add the ferocity to your strength number.
  4. Casualties: MEDIC! The loser loses ants equal to the Army Strength of the winner and the winner loses ants equal to half of the loser’s strength.
  5. Spoils: The winner gains 1 Colony Point and may move ants present in the hex to any unoccupied collection sites.

4th Wall Break: Check out those sweet ant hills! Get it? *sigh*

The invader is considered the ant colony that does not control the black bolded collection site with arrows and defenders win all ties.

The black player discards Ferocity 4 to bump his overall strength to 5 in Water's Edge. The yellow player did not discard a card and will fight with 7 strength. The black player will lose a total of 7 ants or all of them if it's less than 7. The yellow player will lose 3 ants. He can then move any of his ants into unoccupied collection sites. 

The black and red players each discard Ferocity of 3 in Underleaf, raising their armies strength to 5. This would be mutual destruction however the winner is allowed to leave 1 Lone Survivor ant. 

Ant battles are some of the most brutal 4X battles I've taken part of.  

Centipede battles 

If a player explores a hex with a centipede icon, place 1 centipede token onto the hex. During the Soldier Phase, discard the top card of the deck. The centipede’s strength is equal to the discarded card. The ants may then discard a Ferocity card. The centipede discards a second card from the top of the deck, adding strength to the previous card. Casualties and Spoils are assessed as per normal rules (excluding giving Colony Points to the centipede if it wins).

Queen Phase

During this phase, players collect resources!

4th Wall Break: Food resources are extremely vital (and scarce) in the game and can oftentimes feel unfair.

Harvest the resources from all the collection sites your ants control.

Feed the horde! One food token feeds 4 ants. Larvae do not need to be fed. If all of a player’s food is consumed and ants remain unfed, you must pay 1 larvae to feed 1 unfed ant. If you cannot feed an ant with food or larvae, you must destroy that ant.

Sound the trumpets and announce the royal decree! After all ants have been fed, each player decides if they will take five larvae or two food. (There is no royal decree in the final round).

After these phases are complete, the ants slumber (Hey, even worker ants need a power nap!). Advance the round marker one space and the second player to rest is now the starting player; rinse and repeat!

How to Win

The player who accumulates the most Colony Points, wins!

Players gain colony points during play through battles, colony point collection sites, cards, and evolved ant bodies. During each slumber, players score points by controlling inner meadow hexes (hexes directly adjacent to the Great Tunnel) and Colony Goals. At the end of the game, a player scores three points for the following:

Largest Brood – The most larvae.

Greatest Stores – The most food.

Untold Potential – The most cards in hand.

Positives and Negatives

Positives:

  • 4X experience in less than 90 minutes.
  • Very small footprint for a 4X game and easy set-up/tear down.
  • Evolving your ant body is extremely fascinating and provides deep(er) strategy.
  • Solo and Co-Op mode is wonderful!
  • When you have food and ants, the game is fun!
  • Rules are simple and streamlined. The rulebook is well thought out and easy to follow and understand.
  • The reactions to each action keep players involved and the pace of the game fluid.

Negatives:

  • Resting. This action killed the game for me and felt clunky and oppressive to have a round end suddenly. Perhaps it’s not as bad in a 5-player game, but with 2/3/4 players, it was not an enjoyable outcome.
  • Food. Or the lack thereof. Food is used in both feeding your ants and taking meaningful actions. It felt awkward to use 1 resource for 2 pivotal mechanics in the game.

Final Thoughts

March of the Ants is a good game plagued by one oppressive choice, resting. The strategy is deep, decisions are meaningful and the core game is tight. Tension is abundant and your fight for survival is crucial in feeding your army. If there is errata to the rest action or even a good house rule, I can see myself playing March of the Ants far more often. While I cannot honestly knock March of the Ants for its theme, I didn’t particularly enjoy the warring colonies of ants fighting each other.

As it stands, after numerous plays, I believe the solitaire and co-op mode are the strongest option available. Players work together to maximize the efficiency of their turns, and the rest action is used only when necessary.

March of the Ants falls into a weird category for me because the solo/co-op is superior than the competitive game in my opinion.

I give March of the Ants 6.5 larvae out of 10 for competitive play.

I give Solitaire/Co-Op Play 7.5 larvae out of 10.