Full disclosure: A review copy of Amoeba was provided by IDW Games.
Alright, we’re back with more games from IDW! Been a while since I’ve reviewed much from them, but we should have some coming down the pipeline in the coming months, such as a Sonic game, a Batman game, another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game (no, not that one), and Towers of Arkhanos in a few months. In the meantime, let’s take a look at Amoeba!
In Amoeba, you play as increasingly numerous bunches of single-celled organisms. You’re not trying to evolve into a duck; you’re just trying to become more numerous. Collect some nuclei, split up your opponents, and keep growing! Will you be able to become more cells, or will your opponents split the difference?
Not much, here, either. Shuffle the tiles:
Give each player 3. Give every player some Nuclei markers:
Set out the die:
Once you’ve done, that, you should be ready to start!
Whole game is pretty much laying tiles. On your turn, roll the die, and you may play that many tiles anywhere on the board.
When you place a tile, you can place it offset by half a tile if it matches up that way. You can also place it normally, or, if there’s a gap, you may cover the gap with a tile. You cannot place on top of a tile that’s on top of another tile.
If you ever complete an amoeba (a green blob) of at least two segments (little circles; we call them doots), you may place one of your Nuclei Markers in it to designate that it’s your blob.
Your opponents, if they’re feeling spiteful, may also place a tile on top of other tiles to split your amoeba up, as long as they follow these rules:
- All amoebae formed must be at least two segments. The person who played the tile gets the larger / largest segment; the person who was originally in control of that amoeba gets the smaller / smallest segment. Any unclaimed segments are also claimed by the person who played the tile.
- The tile played to divide that amoeba cannot be played on tiles that are on top of other tiles. Consistent with other rules.
Play continues until all tiles have been played. At that point, count the amoeba segments controlled by various players; one doot is one point. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I’d leave it to two players. At higher player counts, there’s a lot of time between turns for you, so it’s hard to set up combos or do anything beyond watch as players dump unwanted tiles on places you were planning to build. Additionally, big amoebae, should they get built, get absolutely torn to shreds at higher player counts, as they’re divided pretty much equally among all players. To that end, generally, I’m a bigger fan of this game at two players. There’s more to do, you play more tiles, and it feels more tactical, in that sense.
- Take what you can. If you can get a two, take a two. If you can get a three, take a three. I wouldn’t recommend going much higher than that unless you can do so by covering a gap and making it tough for your opponents to split you up; a four will likely end up as two twos, and anything larger than that is going to attract unwanted attention.
- Split everything. As soon as you get the chance to! You should consistently go after your opponents’ big amoebae; immediately carve off a two that they can get relegated to. Bonus points if you can split it into something like a two and two threes; it means they get the two and you get two unsplittable threes, which will definitely help you down the road.
- If you can’t do anything useful, you might as well make sure nobody else can, either. Play to try and make a giant blob that nobody can finish, add extra endpoints to something another player showed interest in; it’s basically like the Cathedral from Carcassonne’s first expansion, but the whole game is about making cities instead of anything else. To that end, making cities that players can’t complete is still useful.
- Also, if you can’t do anything useful, get rid of your least useful tiles first. This means that you’ll hopefully draw more useful tiles that will play off of your remaining tiles, which is helpful. If all your tiles are the same level of bad, just … make a giant blob I guess?
- Create gaps that you can use to your advantage. Gaps are the only way that you can cover tiles without splitting an amoeba, which means that you should be making lots of them. Not enough that your opponents can emulate your strategy, but definitely enough that you can reshape massive blobs to perhaps carve off a few points for yourself? That’s generally the ideal form of this strategy, if you can make it work.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Solidly portable. Small box, everything fits snugly inside; it’s a good on-the-go size, which I always appreciate.
- The die is … startlingly nice? It’s just very large, a very solid weight, and engraved? It’s rather impressive.
- Cute concept. It’s an interesting spin on the classic tile-laying formula, since you can split tiles by playing on top of them and you can play tiles in that staggered fashion I showed y’all earlier. It’s also just an interesting game to play because it disincentivizes massive plays (just … too much). I also like the theme a lot! Amoebas are cute.
- Playing on top of gaps is interesting. It’s the closest you can get to splitting up huge, unfinished amoebae. I think that’s where most of the strategy lies, but it’s tough to do well.
- Rolling a 1 has a fun way of making your turn less interesting. It’s just a half-turn, and similar to Rhino Hero: Super Battle, if you only roll poorly you’re going to have a bad time in the game. Unlike RHSB, however, you don’t get to build a multi-foot-tall apartment complex, so the construction aspect of the game isn’t doing double time to redeem it.
- It would be nice to have a way to cycle your hand. Eventually it just kind of fills up with … junk.
- Analysis paralysis isn’t too great in this one. It’s not the worst; I’d say a bit worse than normal for tile-laying games because players have to account for the splits as well as where other players can play.
- It’s not clear what you do when the Nuclei Markers run out. The game offers no guidance one way or the other. We kind of just take more from the unused ones, but it would be interesting if you were only limited to those; it kind of forces a minimum score-to-beat of 20.
- Players are remarkably unwilling to make giant amoebae. It’s not terribly surprising. If you make the biggest one, you’re unlikely to get to keep it. Other players will just keep splitting it down and down and down, which isn’t terribly exciting. What ends up happening is an increasing number of players make 2 – 3 doot amoebae, since they can’t be stolen by other players, which isn’t the most exciting.
- I’m not sure an equal number of every type of tile was the best move, here. In Carcassonne, for instance, there are varying numbers of tiles because some tiles aren’t that interesting to play (for instance, the “city on all sides” tiles, because they just make massive cities that are tough to close. I think a similar varying would have worked well for this one. As it stands, there are so many tiles that people don’t want to play, so they end up becoming part of what we call “The Mother Doot”; a giant Amoebablob that never gets completed. It feels unsatisfying while the game is played and leads to a lot of turns where you don’t feel like you have anything useful to do, despite having more tiles (since you keep the junk and play the good ones). This is, ironically, why I’m opposed to a similar hand structure for Carcassonne (though others like it).
- Being unable to split incomplete amoebae makes the game a bit frustrating. When you’ve got The Mother Doot formed and it’s a 20- or 30-tile blob, it would be fun to split it up to make some scoreable amoebae that are hard to steal (since they already have a tile on top of them). I may see if playing with this variant makes the game more interesting for me.
- Lots of downtime between turns. When it’s not my turn there’s not much to do (being able to cover the previous tiles does kind of change the board state significantly enough that it makes planning hard). With the analysis paralysis (and choosing which tiles you want to play on your turn), it means that turns in Amoeba tend to feel … long.
- The insert is disappointingly brittle? The tiles have already cut gashes through it, which is odd.
Overall: 5 / 10
Overall, Amoeba’s not for me. I think that I get what it’s doing, but what it’s doing and what I want from a tile-laying game aren’t really aligned, here. This has a bit more take-that (from the splitting), a bit lengthier decision-making (again, due to the splitting), and an occasionally-frustrating turn limiter (rolling 1s is a pain). That would occasionally be fine if the tiles were distributed in a way that frustrated me less, but there are many times that a player will exclaim the equivalent of “all I’ve got are consonants” in Scrabble. Actually, that’s a pretty apt comparison. Imagine if every letter in Scrabble were equally likely. That seems great for the letters you want, but once you end up with 6 Z’s on your board and you’re spelling ZA every turn, you’re going to run into some problems around how interesting the game feels to players. Add in that you can’t split up the massive blob that inevitably forms from the dumped tiles and you’ve got a game that just plays … fine. I’d be interested to see if some variants evolve, but beyond that I think this one’s likely not staying in my collection long-term. The major appeal for this is breaking up other players’ amoebae, so if you’re into a tile-laying take-that game, Amoeba might be for you! It just … wasn’t for me, unfortunately.