17 September 2022
In Termite Towers, players control rival termite colonies laying eggs, burrowing into decaying wood piles and constructing impressive towers from the chewed and digested remnants. They do this by rolling dice representing their termites and assigning them to various tasks.
Termite Towers has some beautifully-realised components – the double-layer player boards with gaps for placing eggs, dice and cubes feel both luxurious and practical. On the right you’ve got a grid for placing your termite wall sections in Tetris-block-like style, and in the centre there are slots for marking the minor bonuses you can score for completing lines. The termite dice too are appealing – four sets of custom dice in player colours, with termite heads for the pips and big versions for the ‘soldier’ dice, which can bump smaller dice out the way.
There’s something deeply frustrating about this game – it feels like it has a lot of potential, and hints of good ideas, and the production is mostly solid, but the overall experience feels self-evidently inadequate.
The mechanic, for example, of digging tunnels out of wood piles into the tableau of facedown cards beneath, is reminiscent in a good way of how 7 Wonders Duel handles two-player drafting. It’s a genuinely cool twist on the Patience card-pyramid and I’m sure we’ll see it used in games to come. But here, you set up six pyramids of five cards each at the start of the game. They swamp the table in a mass of cards, and the importance of each gets watered down to the point you no longer feel very invested.
Similarly, though you seemingly have a lot of actions to choose from, this is deceptive. What you lack is a range of strategies. There are only two ways to score: taking blueprint cards and building the appropriate bit of wall to score them, or qualifying for objective cards. Nothing else you do matters. What looks, at first, like choice, is actually one task broken down into steps, which you have to perform in sequence by placing workers on all the different bits.
For example, gaining extra workers in the form of dice is a laborious process of placing an egg, getting two dice of identical value onto that egg and then hatching it. You can go and collect wood, but for reasons which aren’t thematically clear it comes in three shades and for some reason termites don’t like blending shades of wood so you have to make sure you’re collecting the right type. But then the woodpile cards use a majority control mechanic, so if you don’t have the most workers there you won’t get what you wanted, which can impact other actions you wanted to do, meaning your whole turn was wasted.
Indeed it’s quite possible to find yourself behind with no means of catching up. Opportunities for scoring points are scarce, and it’s all open information, so you might find one player has obviously lost with quite a bit of the game left to go. The upgrades for completing lines in your tower are a cool idea, but they do so little – and score you zero points – there’s no value in pursuing them unless you get them by accident.
There are so many seeds of cool mechanics in this game, but it feels shockingly under playtested, unpolished and haphazard in its execution. When playing with under four players, the instruction manual suggests two completely separate ways of blocking off some of the spaces, one of which requires a laborious process of rolling and rerolling dice for every card, every round. If the designers couldn’t decide on a basic mechanic most players would use every game, maybe, just maybe, the game wasn’t ready to publish?
For a game that looks so inviting and boasts several genuinely great ideas, it’s sad to play it and discover what appeared to be a thriving, complex ecosystem is just a pile of dead wood.
PLAY IT? NO
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED Waggle Dance
Termite Towers reimplements a lot of the mechanics of Waggle Dance, which uses bees instead of termites. The main difference is that Waggle Dance, despite being an earlier version, feels a bit tighter and well-thought-out. If you want a simpler, better version of this – albeit lacking some of the twists – go for the original.
Designer: Mike Nudd
Publisher: Bright Eye Games
Time: 60-75 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 12 Action cards
- 30 Queen termite cards
- 30 Blueprint cards
- 30 Wood pile cards
- 60 Worker termite dice
- 20 Soldier termite dice
- 144 Wood cubes
- 16 Egg tokens
- 4 Player boards
- 32 Tunnels
- 28 Bonus markers
- 4 Reference cards
- 1 First player card
- 24 Solo cards
- 8 Objective cards
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This review came from Tabletop Gaming Magazine, which is home to all of the latest and greatest tabletop goodness. Whether you're a board gamer, card gamer, wargamer, RPG player or all of the above, find your copy here.Get your magazine here
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