App Review – Neuroshima Hex by Portal Games

The Neuroshima Hex app has been around for quite a while. Big Daddy Creations originally did it and it was actually not bad. But it became buggy as hell and the multiplayer (at least asynchronous) became virtually unusable.

I enjoyed playing it but finally it just subsided and went away as playing it with friends became more of a chore than an enjoyable time.

So when Portal Games announced that not only had they taken over the app, but that it would be coming out in September 2021, a lot of people cheered like never before.

But there was still some trepidation.

Portal hasn’t been brilliant at asynchronous multiplayer, including the Tides of Time app that almost called for it.

I was heartened when they said that not only would it have asynchronous play, but that those who owned the original app would get it as a free upgrade.

In addition, even though only the four base game factions would be available at start, if you owned the expansion factions, they would be free when they were implemented too!

Holy shit!

Talk about looking after your customers, especially when they’re not technically yours! (if we bought the Big Daddy version).

That was amazing news.

So the base game app came out. It’s available on iOS and Android.

How is it?

Let’s take a look.

Neuroshima Hex is a strategy game for 1-4 players, though it really works best at 2 (considering how small the board is, I can’t imagine playing with more than 2 as a dueling game).

It was designed by Michał Oracz with artwork by a number of different people.

Each player plays a faction in a post-apocalyptic world where the main issue is survival.

The factions have different strengths and weaknesses that makes playing with each on an exercise in figuring out how best to play them.

Some do better in melee attacks. Some in maneuver. Some in ranged. It’s all quite varied.

The map is a small hex grid where you will be placing units on your turn, trying to position them so that you can do damage to your opponent’s Headquarters.

The units with numbers on them are the HQs.

Each turn, you will draw three tiles and discard one (except at the beginning, where you won’t have any choice and won’t be discarding).

If it’s a unit, you’ll place it on the map somewhere where it will hopefully do the most good. If it has a triangle and number on a hexside, then any opposing unit directly adjacent to it will take that much damage during combat (most units can only take one damage but a unit with a shield can take two hits). If it has an elongated blade with a number on the hexside, then it will do ranged damage to the first enemy unit along that hex row.

There are action tiles as well that may let you move a unit or perhaps destroy an enemy unit with one shot. There will also be some support units that, if you connect them with yours, will give them some benefit.

1

You always have the option to just discard a tile if you don’t want to play it (most likely it’s when you’re not ready to battle and you have a battle tile).

The idea is to reduce your opponent’s HQ to zero hit points. If all players have put all of their tiles out, then the player with the most HQ hit points left is the winner.

Some of the tiles that you can play are battle tiles, which will initiate a battle if you play them (you can discard them). The circled number on each unit is the initiative level. Combat goes from Initiative 4 to 3 to 2 etc, down to 0 (your HQ unless it’s been buffed).

If a unit is destroyed by a unit with higher initiative, tough luck. That unit won’t get to attack before being destroyed.

Thus, it’s a tactical puzzle of how best to place your units for the most effect.

Also, if the map is filled with the last unit you placed, then a battle will automatically happen.

That’s basically it.

The gameplay is really simple. The complexity is in how to play each faction well. It’s something that I’m ok at, as I have won almost 50% of my games (note, I’ve only played 6 games). However, I do have a tendency to lose big, where my HQ either runs out of hit points or is far below what my opponent has.

It’s quite exhilerating.

Is Nueroshima Hex a knife fight in a phone booth (oops! I used the forbidden phrase!) or is it a boring exercise in placing tiles and not doing anything meaningful?

I always did enjoy this game, though I have never actually played it on the table.

But the app version has been stellar.

Until it crapped out.

For the game, I will just say that I enjoy it immensely at two players because I love the “duel” aspect of it (again, I can’t imagine this small map being played with 3 or 4 players). I’m not always big on direct conflict games, but I’ll make a special place in my heart for Neuroshima Hex.

So the game is great.

How is the app?

It’s amazing what Portal Games has done with this and I hope it continues as they bring more of the expansion factions into it (and it’s already awesome that they’ll make even the expansions a free upgrade if you already owned them before).

I’ve been playing multiple asynchronous games with my friends since the new app came out a few weeks ago and I have almost nothing but positive things to say about it.

Let me get the bad (or just weird) things out of the way first.

This may have been fixed with further updates, but when the game first came out, I was invited to multiple games and I couldn’t see them in my online games list.

When I invited somebody else to a game, suddenly all of my invites appeared.

That was weird.

Since then, I haven’t had trouble with invites, but I have always had at least one game going on, so maybe that’s why I could see it?

I don’t know.

That’s nothing major, but something to maybe be aware of.

There are a couple of other asynchronous online play issues, sadly.

Some friends of mine are in multiple games with other players. For some reason, a few of their games have just bugged out, where it says it’s one player’s turn but that player can’t do anything.

That’s happened to me once, but thankfully not often. I hope Portal fixes it soon.

Another one is just a minor annoyance.

I love that you can undo a move and placement. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to. It’s not like you’re drawing cards or executing combat (and if you do a battle, you can’t undo after that point).

However, when I’m seeing the recap of the other player’s turn when I’m taking mine (though yay for recaps! I love that the app does this and hate it when there is no replay, I’m looking at you, Asmodee), I don’t need to see it every time my opponent undoes a move or their entire turn.

Just show me what the player ultimately did. That’s all I need to see.

The most important things (ok, maybe hyperbole) about asynchronous multiplayer games is timers and notifications that it’s your turn.

Some games just give players a set amount of time, similar to a chess clock. So if you put “45 days,” then a player’s timer starts when it’s their turn and stops when they’ve taken it. If the total time taken hits 45 days, then you’re out of time.

Others have a turn clock, where you have a set amount of time to take your turn when it’s your turn.

Neuroshima Hex appears to do the latter. I say “appears” because there is no indication of time in this game that I can see. I have no idea how much time is left in the game or whether it’s a total time thing or a turn time thing.

I do know that whatever it is, it’s pretty generous. I didn’t get notifications it was my turn and forgot for a couple of days. I think it was at least 3 days since I had taken my turn and I was still able to do so.

Maybe it’s infinite?

Mentioning notifications, that’s the other thing that was lacking, at least on iOS. You never got a notice that it was your turn.

Portal has since updated that and notifications are working!

No badges, so you have to remember you received a notification if you can’t get to it right away.

But it’s a start.

One final niggling bit is that it would be nice to have a “next game” button within the game rather than having to go back to the menu. Too few app developers include that (Digidiced does wonderfully with that but even the Concordia app makes you go back to the lobby to get to your next game)

The UI of the app is very nicely laid out, though I do have one niggle with it.

During your turn, the first thing you do will be discarding one of your three tiles. Often I forget that, or maybe I mean to press on a tile to get a description. If I press a tile, I would like to be able to move my finger away from it and have nothing happen.

Instead, if you even touch a tile in this part of your turn, that tile will be discarded.

You have to press “undo” to get the tile back and start over.

That being said, I love that you can tap and hold a tile and have the description come up.

That’s actually quite intuitive.

Not only does the description describe the unit, but each ability it has is highlighted too. This will make it so you can understand other units with the same symbols (like the Ranged Attack above, which many units have).

When you place a tile, you are able to then rotate it as much as you want to make sure you are placing it in the correct orientation. Tapping the unit again will then confirm that you are done with it (and again, you can always undo it).

If a unit has an arrow on it, that means it can move one hex or even just rotate in its own hex. This is easily done by just tapping on the unit.

Other than the above-mentioned multiplayer issues, I’d have to say that Portal did an excellent job with this app. It is so much better than the original and they are taking care of their customers who have spent time and money with the old version.

If they continue supporting it (and the fact that they’ve promised all of the expansions makes me hopeful that they will), this will be a killer app and one of my go-to two-player asynchronous experiences.

Even the AIs aren’t too bad. I’ve only played the Easy AI but there are three levels and I would be willing to bet that the Hard one will be quite a challenge (unless you live and breathe Neuroshima Hex, of course).

While the app thus far is very good, I do hope that Portal Games fixes the online issues soon. I know one player at least who won’t play anymore until the bugs are fixed because all of his games are getting stuck.

Neuroshima Hex is available on iOS and Android at $5.99 US (unless you already had the old app, in which case it’s free!)

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

And if you’ve played the game before at 3 or 4 players, let me know how it works with that!

2 Comments on “App Review – Neuroshima Hex by Portal Games

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