Trias is a great new board game for two to five players by a promising new designer. Ralf Lehmkuhl formed the company Gecko Games for this release -- his first publication. The art is by Doris Matthaus (one of my favorites) and at Essen Spiel 2002 -- where the game premiered, Ralf was selling the game from a booth shared with Doris and Frank.
Trias alleges to simulate the breakup of Pangea during the Triassic period of the Mesozoic era. The players operate herds of early animals vying for dominance of the newly formed continents. Too much analysis of the theme might reveal some inaccuracy, but it's a wildly fun game regardless.
In Trias, the board is made up of 35 hexagons (and two missing hexes to represent water) forming a large hexagon surrounding the South Pole. This board simulates the mega-continent Pangea and inevitably summons forth the comment "oh, it looks like settlers." The terrain types are mountains, steppes, and woods. During the play of the game, the continent will break up to form smaller landmasses that move away from the Pole. As this occurs, players are moving their herds around the board jockying for profitable positions. About half of the total points awarded during the game are scored based on which player has herds dominant on these newly formed islands. The other half (or maybe a touch more) of the points are awarded during a final scoring round in which the players with dominant herd presence on each island score points equal to the size (in hexes) of the individual landmasses.
It sounds like a lot is going on, but the mechanisms for making this happen are simple and sweet. The game takes about an hour to play and there is really pretty little luck involved. The players on each turn cause continental drift, take some actions, correct overpopulation, and sometimes draw a new card. How the players choose to make all this happen determines the outcome.
There is a deck of 39 cards each of which has a terrain type listed (9 mountains, 16 steppes, 13 woods) except for one of the final ten cards which is the meteorite impact that ends the game. Each player has one card in hand at the beginning of each turn. The player may either, play the card and drift a tile of the depicted terrain type, or they may keep their card a secret for later use and flip the top card on the deck -- drifting that terrain type instead. During drift, the player must select a hex of the correct terrain type that is touching the outer ocean (which at some point in the game may touch every tile) and that is part of a landmass where that player has a herd presence. Then the player must move it to a new location where it touches (one of) the landmass(es) from which it came and is farther from the South Pole than where it started the drift. If this forms one or more new landmasses without connecting one or more together, then the landmass that now contains the drifted hex is scored -- two points to the player(s) with the most herd present and one to the player(s) with the second most. A result of these drift rules is that a landmass consisting of a single lone tile may not be drifted (though it might be reincorporated with another landmass).
After the drift is complete, the player has four action points to spend on four possible uses. Another drift (of any terrain type) costs three of these points. Moving one herd one space costs one of them. Reproducing -- adding a herd to the board where another herd already sits, costs one. And rescuing swimmers (up to three, but no more -- anywhere on the board) costs one. Swimmers happen when a hex drifts out from under herds…the herds stay there.
When these actions are complete, any herds of that player that are still swimming or violating the terrain stacking limit (two for mountain, three for steppe, and four for woods) are removed from the board to the player's stockpile. If during the drift phase, the player used the card in his hand, then he now draws a replacement.
When the meteorite card is drawn, it is revealed to all and a new final turn starts. Each player gets a turn with no drift and only two action points to play through and then final scoring is done. The player with the most points wins.
The game play is tight with never enough action points to accomplish everything you want without bogging down into slow play. There's a surprising amount to consider and it's best if the players are doing their thinking while the others are acting. I think it is a bit weak with five players since control is lost to an extent that distracts, but it's still fun. At the time of this writing, Funagain Games is selling it for $26.95.
Go. Buy. Play!