Coming soon: Meeple Force!
With Needy Cat Games well into its third year now, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we got here. I haven’t got a single doubt in my mind that we owe a lot of our success to the fact that Sophie and I have been working in the games industry on some level for the majority of our careers, which has meant we’ve got an extensive network of contacts in all sorts of interesting places!
When I first left Games Workshop and launched Needy Cat, back when I was working from a cramped space in the corner of our spare room, I was able to send out several emails and find work that kept us going for pretty much the whole first year.
I think building networks like this is utterly vital for any small business, and not just for finding work. A network of people in your industry becomes your safety net – they’re friends, acquaintances and contacts that you can turn to for advice, last-minute favours (this goes both ways!) and emotional support. This is one of the biggest reasons why we’re so proud of the Nottingham Tabletop Industry Collective – we’re helping people build their own networks, and I couldn’t be happier. Also, we’re lucky enough to be at the point where we’re able to start giving people the kind of helping we had when we were first starting out, and that’s awesome. With that in mind, I wanted to do a blog post to talk about something an old friend of ours has been working on!
So yeah, we’ve recently been chatting to old buddy Jon from Wartorn Games, who we know from the days when we were all retail managers in London for Games Workshop. We bumped into Jon at Salute back in April, where he was running demos of a game that’s going to be hitting Kickstarter towards the end of this month: Meeple Force! We were immediately intrigued. It looked like a right laugh, a dexterity-based battle game with chunky pieces and gloriously retro artwork. Even if it hadn’t been designed by someone we knew, we’d have been interested – as it was, we were dead keen to help Jon spread the word, and we soon arranged for him to come and run us a demo here at the office.
You can watch the video here, but before you do, I want to tell you a bit more about the game.
Meeple Force is an asymmetrical dexterity-based combat game for two to five players. As I said up above, the theme is dripping with nostalgia – everything from the character design to the art direction, from the rulebook layout to the colour palette, screams “80s Saturday morning cartoons and their associated toy lines”. When I was flicking through some of the promo material at Salute I was reminded of the little eight-page comics you used to get packaged along with He Man or Transformers toys. Basically, if you’re of A Certain Age (hello!) this game will speak to you. Or, more likely, it will screech dramatically at you while heavy metal guitar riffs blast all around.
The game features the deadly warriors of Meeple Force: Roach, Oni-kage, Lobo Wulf and their fantastically named leader, Chad Thunderguns. In a full five-player game each player will control one of them, and in smaller games you’ll divvy them up between the “good guy” players. They will be facing off against the (diabolical and sneering, if they’re doing it properly) Swarm Lord, who controls a legion of expendable bad guys.
The game comes with a series of scenarios, following the Meeple Force as they battle to wipe the Swarm Lord’s forces off the face off the face of Veridi Prime. Each scenario can be played by itself as a one-off game – ideal if you’ve got some friends round and you just want to crack out something fun to unwind over a couple of drinks – but you can also link them together into an ongoing campaign. Either way, all players will have the chance to level up their fighters during a battle – the heroes can unlock new skills and equipment, while the Swarm Lord can upgrade their minions.
Okay, so I’ve buried the lede here. I haven’t spoken about the coolest part of this game, or the part that makes it so accessible, so unpredictable and *so much fun*! What makes this stand out from other one-vs-many games where a bunch of charismatic heroes fights wave after wave of enemies is the fact that it’s completely dexterity-based. Each character is represented a printed standee (featuring that lovely artwork) attached to a weighted disc, which isn’t a million miles from the ones used in PitchCar, and the game is played on a flat surface dotted with 3D card scenery. Moving your fighters around this battlefield is achieved by flicking them, and ranged attacks are made by flicking funky-looking ammo tokens. It’s all very tactile, and there’s a nice weight to the components; this core element of gameplay reminded me of Flick ‘Em Up, but I found the character pieces here so much more satisfying to send flying across the table. Conversely, the ammo tokens are a bit of a weird shape, so they don’t always fly straight - adding a bit of welcome unpredictability, and making movement feel very different from shooting. (Anyone who’s played Cube Quest will know that weird-shaped components adds a level of utter hilarity to a dexterity game. Dear god, I love Cube Quest. Anyone fancy a game?)
Gameplay is simple, with the forces taking turns to activate a hero (on the Meeple Force turns) or battle group (groups of bad guys, who all have the same base colour). It rattles along at a great pace, but it’s far from mindless action – there’s a fair bit of strategy involved in activation order and how you move. There are also some fantastic special rules that really jazz things up, especially the ones regarding special equipment, much of which has unique components which are just sheer fun to use. Take Roach’s boomerang, for example – a bespoke token which you can flick three times to represent its curving flight. Technically it’s a one-use item, but if you can “catch” it by hitting Roach with the third flick, you don’t lose it. It’s quirky, and fun, and it’s just one example of the dozens of clever little design features that you’ll find throughout the game.
In short, playing through the game is fun in so many ways. There’s the sense of achievement when you pull off a tricky shot, the shared hilarity when someone utterly flubs an easy flick, the satisfaction of upgrading your characters and the constant surprise of new, interesting mechanics.
In case you can’t tell, we really enjoyed playing the game, and we can’t wait to play it again. The fact that it’s being made by a lovely guy we know is just a bonus! Meeple Force is going to be hitting Kickstarter very soon - the 26th of September, to be precise! If you’re interested and you want to check it out, check out Wartorn Games on Facebook, and tell ‘em Needy Cat Games sent you ;)