Tabletop Tuesday: Melee by Indie Board and Games

The King has died childless and the land has had its last days of peace and prosperity. Now the power-hungry nobles each see their opportunity to seize the throne and launch a war without mercy to assert their own rights. Only force of arms, and the gold to pay for it, matters. Who shall succeed to grab the throne in the chaos that ensues?

Melee is a short and enjoyable 20-minute wargame for 2-4 players from the designer of Coup. In Melee, you want to be the first person to capture an opponent’s castle, at which point the game ends immediately, or to be the one with the most land and gold at the end of the year.

Money is tight, and gold is used in the game both to build new units and to attack. The more gold you have and spend on your troops, the more motivated they will be and the higher your probability of success. Each player starts the game with a Castle, one unit of foot soldiers, and 15 gold coins. The game begins with a drafting session in which the players purchase units (soldiers, knights, camps and catapults) and bid on special abilities that will enhance your income, attack, or other options in the game. Afterwards, the game is played over four turns (seasons), and in each turn players simultaneously choose one of three potential actions: (a) tax, (b) build new units, or (c) move and attack. Each turn ends with players collecting income.

To attack, the player moves their unit into an occupied area, then secretly decides how much gold they’ll spend to inspire their troops. The defender then has to guess how much the attacker has spent. If the defender guesses wrong, the attack succeeds; if the defender is correct, the attack fails and the player lose their unit. Regardless of whether or not the attack was a success, the attacker has spent their gold, so the trade-off in attacking that one must judge is whether to be cheap now so they can conserve gold for future turns, or be liberal and increase their chances now but limit their options in future rounds.

The different abilities available in each game make for varied strategies and strong replayability as no two games are alike. After the initial strategic planning stage, Melee is fast and highly interactive. Beware as the game can end suddenly with a bold attack on an inadequately defended castle, making for a game that can be both brutish and short. My group experienced this firsthand as we spent several minutes familiarizing ourselves with the rules to the game only to have it end in half that time.

Melee, as I’ve said, is short and enjoyable and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a quick game to play. I just recommend paying close attention to what’s going on in a game that involves more than just yourself and one other. Games with 3 or 4 players can end very quickly if you’re not paying attention.

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