So I first saw Trench a couple of months ago on one of the Facebook board game groups and initially although slightly intrigued by the geometry and elegant Modernist design, I didn’t really give it a second thought. Over the next few weeks I’ve seen a steady stream of good reports about the game culminating with Larry Cruz and Josh Tolpa from The Boardgame Group both ordering a copy from Rui. Well as I knew that both Josh and Larry wouldn’t be interested in the game if there wasn’t something to it, I contacted Rui who was kind enough to send me a copy. Rui is an Indy games developer living out in Portugal and the postal services being what they are between here and Portugal, the game took a little while to arrive. It was definitely worth the wait though!
The first thing you notice about Trench is that the game’s production is really slick. The board and pieces are plastic but don’t suffer from it. There’s a nice feel to the playing pieces and because of some careful choice of materials they move with just enough resistance on the board to give a sense of gravitas to your move. The white and black playing pieces both come in their own draw string bag so the contents of the box look very tidy, which if you’re border line OCD like me you’ll probably find very pleasing. The rules are in several languages but they’re well laid out and bar the odd error in the English, are easy to follow allowing you to start playing within about 15 minutes.
The theme behind Trench is perhaps a little unlikely given the games’ very aesthetic design. It’s an abstract simulation of trench warfare in the first world war. The pieces represent a general, colonels, captains, sergeants and soldiers that are setup in a formation reminiscent of classical Roman diamond shaped army deployments. The line down the centre of the board represents a trench and the board has mainly black or mainly white squares representing the two sides in the conflict. When I first saw the board I was a little distracted by the fact that the colouring of the pieces did mean that they merged into the board a little. Reading further in the rules I learned that this was exactly what Rui had intended! The board and pieces are designed that way to make it harder for your opponent to distinguish what you’re doing…camouflage!
The Game Play
Like chess the board is eight squares by eight squares with the “trench” running horizontally across the board from corner to corner. The squares on one side are mostly black and on the other are mostly white. Your pieces are laid out in a diamond shape in one corner starting with one general, two colonels, three captains, four sergeants and six soldiers. Each has a pictogram on the bottom showing the directions it can move in but as you might expect the larger pieces can move in increasingly more ways than the smaller ones. No piece in Trench can “jump” other pieces. The pieces also increase in the range that they can move and hence the range that they can attack from with the general moving five squares and the soldiers moving one square. This rather nicely simulates range in warfare. Pieces take each other by moving onto an occupied square.
Now we come to the game mechanic that really makes Trench.The trench itself. Pieces that end their move in the trench are said to be occupying it and this gives them several interesting powers. Pieces occupying the trench cannot be attacked by the opposing player from their side of the board. The opposing player either needs to get pieces into the trench or outflank their opponent attacking the trench from behind. Pieces in the trench don’t need to stop their movement once they’ve taken the first piece they encounter on moving out of the trench, but can carry on to take more pieces if they have the movement to do so…in other words they can “break out” of the trench. Just like in chess where the battle is for the centre of the board in trench it’s all about holding and exploiting the trench.
The game ends when one or other player has eliminated all his/her opponent’s pieces or after 50 moves (25 by each player). The pieces are then counted each one having a points value and the winner is the player who after two complete games has the most points. If it’s a draw then a third game is played in sudden death mode where the first player to 40 points wins.
Trench has the feel of being a game that is simple to learn but takes a lifetime to master. I think it could have general consumer market appeal beyond the gaming community but it’s still a mind bender of a game for a keen gamer. The simple rules belie a depth of game play and strategy, whilst the skilled aesthetic design make this game a joy to play. If i have any criticisms they would be that the English rules, although easily decipherable, could do with one or two corrections and it would be good to have some way of keeping track of how many game turns you’d played given the 50 turns restriction on the length of the game. However, these are small concerns given the overall playability of the game. I honestly hope that Rui manages to find a good international distributor for this great game.
Rating: 4.5 Otters