Let’s Play! Battleship Express (boardgame review)

When it comes to brand name American board games, there seems to be two schools of thought on how to pump out more products that cash in on the popularity of a decades old franchise.  You can either pair an existing game with a popular license (Super Mario Yahtzee, Monopoly: Spongebob Squarepants), or you can take that popular brand name and slap it on a game that has nothing to do with the original product.  Such is the case with Battleship Express.

There are boats in Battleship Express.  It’s a strange observation to make, I know – but I point this out because, with that single solitary exception, this game nothing in common with Battleship.  Zero.  Zip. Bupkiss.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  After all, the original Battleship was a lot of fun when you were 6.  Like Connect 4 and Hungry Hungry Hippos, it’s the sort of game that doesn’t have much appeal outside of its target demographic.  Unlike the original Battleship, Battleship Express is game that definitely casts a wider net.

So how different is it?  Battleship Express is a dice rolling combat game designed by legendary game designer Reiner Knizia.  (Don’t look so shocked – with more than 500 board games under his belt, I’d be more surprised if this one wasn’t designed by Knizia).  Each player starts the game with five boat cards, and each boat has an attack rating and a defense rating.  Players will target ships in each other’s fleets, roll the number of dice equal to their attack rating, and try to take out the opposition.  The first person to eliminate all of the other persons ships (or in the case of a 3 or 4 player game, a certain number of ships) is the winner.

Things can get a little more complicated than that, but only if you want them to.  Battleship Express comes with both a basic and an advanced formula, and switching between them is as simple as flipping over your boat cards to reveal the advanced side.

Before we get into the advanced tactics, though, there are still a few basics that we need to cover.  In both versions of the game, ship placement is of vital importance.  You’ll need to move a ship to the front of your fleet if you want to attack with it, but doing so makes that ship vulnerable as players are only allowed to attack the first two ships in a fleet.

And since this is a dice rolling game, the dice themselves play the most important role of all.  Five of a die’s six sides will show a different color, and each of these colors corresponds to one of the ships in your opponents fleet.  The sixth side show a blast, which acts as a wild card.  To sink a target, you’ll need to roll as many dice that match your target’s color as that target’s defense rating.  So if you’re attacking the Patrol Boat (purple, Defense of 3) you’ll need to roll three purple to sink it (or two purple and a wild card).

If you don’t manage to get all three purple on your first roll, you can put the purple you did manage to roll off to the side and re-roll your remaining dice.  If after that second roll you still haven’t sunk your target, the boat stays afloat and no damage is taken.

The advanced rules add a bit more fun into the mix – and honestly, unless you’re playing with children, the basic rules are going to get pretty dull pretty quickly.  In the advanced game, each ship has specific attacks.  The submarine, for example, can attack any ship in the fleet (not just the first two) and can sink an enemy with a single wildcard regardless of their defences.  The battleship on the other hand, can roll four times to attack instead of two – but wild cards won’t count as hits.

Battleship Express is probably the most fun you’ll ever have with the Battleship name, but that’s not really saying much.  If you want to introduce someone to a dice-rolling combat game like Risk, Heroscape, or Axis & Allies, Battleship Express provides some pretty excellent training wheels.  For everyone else?  It’s a fine little time-killer if you have a 10 minute game session to fill up, but this isn’t one you’re going to be writing home about.

Jim Squires

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